Katrien De Graeve - LiLI

Description of the PI

katriendegraeve.jpgKatrien De Graeve is associate professor in gender studies and principal investigator of the LiLI project. Her work has consistently focused on inequalities in the personal spheres of life. Trained in sociolinguistics and anthropology, she uses ethnographic research and discourse analytic methodologies to study the role of power in shaping intimacies. After meandering through various topics, from transnational adoptive parenting practices to non-monogamous intimate relationships, she has become increasingly intrigued by the fields of sexuality and ageing studies.

More information on her research and publications can be found here.

Description of the project

Later-in-life intimacy is still a taboo. It is often ignored or assumed to not exist. And if there is attention for older people's sexuality, it is often from a medical point of view. This taboo affects all genders, but women often face more negative judgement than men and do so earlier in life. Moreover, women are presumed to lose sexual interest earlier than men, and their purported attractiveness is more negatively affected by the fading of youthful looks than men’s. Women’s sexual desires are assumed to disappear with ageing, and when older women do express their sexuality, this is often considered inappropriate or even gross. Successful ageing narratives, on the other hand, stress that women can (and should) remain sexually active and attractive with ageing. However, in this narrative, sexuality is seen as both resulting from and a necessary condition for a healthy and energetic old age. While successful ageing discourses create acceptance for sexuality later in life, they hold sexuality reserved for those older people who keep themselves looking young and fit, and relegate asexuality to the realm of pathology. Both the narratives of decline and the successful ageing narratives reproduce ageist, stereotypical and harmful views on older women’s intimacy and sexuality. We urgently need a different story.
The LiLI project aims to develop an affirmative story of intimacy and (a)sexuality that is grounded in the knowledge and lived experiences of older women themselves. We are particularly interested in the diverse experiences and ideas that have the potential to destabilize prevailing stereotypes. The 'unruly' experiences and insights of women who are marginalized by the mainstream because of their age, gender, sexuality, relationship style, ability, ethnicity, etc., are crucial for the development of a critical and affirmative theory of older women’s sexuality.

More information on the project can be found on the website (to be announced)