The Atlantic

The Invisibility of Older Women

As they age, women experience less public scrutiny—and entertain a wider set of choices about when and how they are seen.
Source: Christoph Hetzmannseder / Getty

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 film, The Lady Vanishes, a young woman on a train becomes disturbed by the sudden disappearance of a kindly older woman, a governess and music teacher. The latter, a spinster, is introduced to the viewer when she writes the letters of her name in the condensation on one of the train’s glass windowpanes, only to have them evaporate almost instantly. Within minutes, she is gone, and the other passengers, steward, and conductor claim to have never seen her. Asked to describe her, the young woman can only say she was “middle-aged and ordinary,” before admitting, “I can’t remember.” Later in the film, the older woman is reduced to “a hallucination, a subjective image, a character in a novel subconsciously remembered,” and even “nothing but lumps of raw flesh,” all before she is revealed as a British spy, the movie’s ultimate heroine in the final scene.

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