On Hearing and the Invisibility of the Old

ON HEARING AND THE INVISIBILITY OF THE OLD

I want to express my gratitude for an internet blog such as this one in its endeavor to make women more visible – at all ages and in all circumstances. The term “invisible women” covers so many topics in so many places that it is hard to know where to begin to talk about it. I chose the topic of “hearing.” Women with white hair and wrinkled faces and bad hearing look alike to those who are accustomed to being with different groups. American women tend to become invisible as individuals after menopause and even more so into old age. Elderly people, not just women, who become increasingly deaf are likely to find themselves isolated from the world around them. Other people often give up trying to talk to the deaf as too much of a struggle.

I lost some 80% of the hearing in my right ear when a tumor broke the eardrum years ago, but I can still hear reasonably well with my left ear, depending. My son and his wife suggested I was playing games if I said I couldn’t hear them because sometimes, obviously, I could even without my hearing aids. This prompted me to pay attention to whether and when I could hear. What made the difference? Sometimes air pressure — heavy, sullen days were the worst. Sometimes wax or dirt blocked my ears – getting them cleaned out by a professional from time to time made a difference. Too, if I had a sniffly nose and my eustachian tubes were clogged, my ability to hear went down.

I tended to miss some sound registers. I discovered that I could fill in with guesswork that took advantage of context and became so good at it as to deceive myself as well as others into believing I could hear well enough without the aids. Sometimes I encountered people who would speak in an aggressively soft voice, as if testing me. Then trying to hear became exhausting. When you have to guess, discard, and search again mentally to discover just what it is that you are hearing, having a conversation becomes hard work.

Too, just where a speaker was in physical relation to me was important. I needed to have someone looking at me when he or she spoke. If his or her head was turned, I couldn’t get the speech, often even with hearing aids in my ears. Generally, I could hear someone quite close; with more distance the problem increased. And other sounds intruding – music or television in the home, diners in a restaurant – would isolate me from companions even more.

Women should refuse to sit in neglected silence.

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