About Sue Westwood

Dr Sue Westwood is a lecturer at the University of Surrey, specialising in gerontology and the socio-legal aspects of ageing, gender and sexuality. She has published several papers and book chapters and has a monograph and three co-edited volumes currently under construction, including (with R. Harding and R. Fletcher) Cycles of Care: ReValuing the Possibilities of Connection; (with E. Peel and R. Harding) Ageing & Sexualities: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Ashgate) and (with E. Price) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Individuals Living with Dementia: Theoretical, practical and rights-based perspectives (Routledge).

Sue is co-organiser of the ESCR-funded seminar series ‘Older LGBT Adults: Minding the Knowledge Gaps’ and a member of the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender (CRAG) and the International Care Ethics (ICE) Observatory. Sue is a member of the British Society of Gerontology, the Socio-Legal Studies Association and the Law and Society Association. She is also on the Executive Committee of the ‘Law, Ageing and Society’ Collaborative Research Network (CRN), Law & Society Association, and is a Global Affiliate of ‘The Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative’, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.

Mark Neary’s Tribunal: Unequal access to justice

Read Mark’s blog on trying to self-advocate in a housing battle on behalf of Mark and his disabled son, with no Legal Aid (since cuts), and so no legal representative, up against a powerful local authority’s barrister. Appalling. Shows vividly the power imbalance created by lack of funding for Legal Aid in social welfare disputes. The disempowered are further disempowered by a judicial process to which they do not have equal access.

Key authorship on alternative care/kinship models to nuclear family

With the current media frenzy about the royal couple and their baby, I thought it timely to consider scholarship on alternatives to the nuclear family. Here’s a list to be starting off with, which hopefully others will help to grow, with their own suggestions:

  1. Auchmuty, Rosemary (2009) ‘Beyond Couples? Burden v the United Kingdom (2008)’. Feminist Legal Studies, 17: 205-218.
  2. Barker, Nicola (2006) ‘Sex and the Civil Partnership Act: The Future of (Non) Conjugality?’ Feminist Legal Studies, 14(2): 241-259.
  3. Barker, Nicola (2012) Not the Marrying Kind: A Feminist Critique of Same-Sex Marriage. Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan
  4. Boyd, Susan and Young, Claire F.L. (2003) ‘“From Same-Sex to No Sex”?: Trends Towards Recognition of (Same-Sex) Relationships in Canada’, Seattle Journal for Social Justice, 1(3): 757–793
  5. Browne, Kath (2011) ‘“By partner we mean …”: Alternative geographies of “gay marriage”’ Sexualities, 14(1): 100-122
  6. Conaghan Joanne and Grabham, Emily (2007) ‘Sexuality and the Citizen Carer’ Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 58: 325-341
  7. Fineman, Martha A (1994) The Neutered Mother, The Sexual Family and other Twentieth Century Tragedies, London: Routledge
  8. Fineman, Martha A (2004) The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency. New York: The New Press
  9. Harding, Rosie (2011) Regulating Sexuality: legal consciousness in lesbian and gay lives. Abingdon: Routledge.
  10. Peel, Elizabeth and Harding, Rosie (2008) ‘Editorial Introduction: Recognizing and Celebrating Same-Sex Relationships: Beyond the Normative Debate’, Sexualities, 11: 659- 666
  11. Polikoff, Nancy D. (2008) Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Law. Boston: Beacon Press
  12. Richardson, Diane (2004) ‘Locating Sexualities: From Here to Normality’, Sexualities, 7: 391-411
  13. Robson, Ruthann (2009) ‘Compulsory Matrimony’, in M. Fineman, J. Jackson and A. Romero (eds) Feminist and Queer Legal Theory: Intimate Encounters, Uncomfortable Conversations, pp 313-328 Aldershot: Ashgate
  14. Roseneil, Sasha (2004) ‘Why we should Care about Friends: An Argument for Queering the Care Imaginary in Social Policy’, Social Policy & Society 3(4): 409–419
  15. Roseneil, Sasha and Budgeon, Shelley (2004) ‘Cultures of Intimacy and Care beyond “The Family”: Personal Life and Social Change in the Early 21st Century’, Current Sociology, 52(2): 135-159.
  16. Stychin, Carl (2006) ‘‘‘Las Vegas is not where we are’: Queer readings of the Civil Partnership Act’, Political Geography, 25: 899-920
  17. Warner, Michael (2000) The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.


Recent publications on researching older lesbians

Two new articles by Sue Westwood have recently been published on researching older lesbians. The first was a very brief essay in a compilation a compendium edited by Sally-Marie Bamford and Jessica Watson, entitled ‘Has the sisterhood forgotten older women?’ Sue’s piece, ‘We are Older Women Too’ highlighted the marginalision of older lesbians from discourse about older women and ‘LGBT’ ageing research. Sue has also just had a paper published in the Journal of Lesbian Studies‘Researching Older Lesbians: Problems and Partial Solutions’ explores practical and ethical issues arising from Sue’s empirical research with older lesbians as part of wider PhD research project on LGB ageing and equality. The article highlights the difficulties and power dynamics involved in researching older lesbians, and suggests a more collaborative way of working:

Abstract: There is a lack of research about older lesbians, who can be considered not only a “hidden population” but also a population in hiding. Yet older lesbians hold vital historical and cultural narratives which are, in turn, the heritage of younger lesbians. They also have much to contribute to understandings about gender, sexuality and ageing, and to their currently unmet needs in terms of age-related housing, health and social care provision. This article reflects on some of the issues that make it difficult to access older lesbians for research purposes. It identifies four problematic areas in researching older lesbians: definitions, access, representative sampling, and ethical issues.  It suggests that participative action research  might offer a means of widening access and engaging with older lesbians in a more collaborative way.

For more information, please contact Sue Westwood (s.westwood@keele.ac.uk).  The article can be accessed on the Journal of Lesbian Studies or by contacting Sue.

Jane Traies is another researcher also publishing about older lesbians. Jane is working on a research project about older lesbians, based at the University of Sussex,  building the first-ever comprehensive picture of older lesbian life in the UK. Jane has also recently had a chapter published,  ‘Women Like That: Older Lesbians in the UK’ in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing : Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, edited by Richard Ward et al. For more information about Jane’s project, see her website:  ‘Women Like That.’

Why we should care about the menopause

A couple of months ago I was telling a younger woman about some of the problems I was experiencing with the menopause. She appeared to be listening with what has to be called grudging tolerance, at best, until I came to the bit about hot flushes. I was only mentioning them in passing, while explaining about some new medication that was helping. But when I said ‘hot flushes’ she sniggered. Yes, sniggered is the only word for it. She sniggered as if there was something really absurd and ridiculous about hot flushes. She sniggered in a conspiratorial way as if I should snigger too. I did not. For me, there is no sniggering about hot flushes.

I have discovered that there is still silence, stigma, and  taboo, about the menopause that is both widespread and, most worryingly, prevalent among women, even right-on feminists. If you broach the subject, women ten years younger – fellow lesbians, or bi or straight –  hastily do the maths to work out how long before it is their turn, and then, with anxious relief (or concern), tell you. Women two decades younger look uncomfortable, as if you’ve just broken wind. Older women seem reluctant to discuss the menopause, once over, either declaring breezily ‘Oh I sailed through mine’ (never has such a less empathic thing been said between two women, in my view) or, with a slight shudder, ‘it will pass’ as if half-remembering horrors now consigned to memory. Then there are the women who point out that in Japan there is no word for menopause, or the marvels of HRT (not mentioning its risks and that it is contra-indicated for some women, including me), or who helpfully suggest some homeopathic remedy a friend of a friend said was ‘simply marvellous.’ There is always the sense that there is something I could, and should, be doing to fix my menopausal symptoms.

There is no public space for menopause, apart from  books and magazine articles usually exhorting, ‘successful ageing’– style, women to enjoy our menopause (preferably ‘naturally’). ‘Enjoy’ is another way of saying ‘cope with it discretely and don’t complain about it’ and is a view not shared by all. Other than that it is privatised, hidden away. There is no place – apart from jokes, or self-help websites or conspiratorial chats between fellow menopausal women – for the impact of the menopause, particularly chronic sleep deprivation and effects on concentration and memory, to be recognised. Not at work, not in education, not in the provision of goods and services (beyond medicine). ‘Pregnancy and maternity’ is a protected characteristic under the UK Equality Act, because of discrimination pregnant women and mothers (especially nursing mothers) can experience. Perhaps ‘Menopause’ should be too, not simply as a gender discrimination issue.

The marginalisation is undoubtedly rooted in ageism – in mainstream society and between women – and sexism, the menopause being inextricably linked to loss of fertility and women’s (heteronormative) reproductive social value. If I hear anything more about the ‘male menopause’ I shall scream, and not because of hormonal changes. Heterosexual men going through the ‘male menopause’ often trade in their original wives for younger models, starting a family all over again. Women going through the (real) menopause are saying goodbye to their chances of ever having any (more) birth children, whether they want them or not.

In the 1970’s a man shop assistant said, when I was being mildly assertive, ‘don’t worry about her, her period’s probably due.’ And this menopause issue feels somehow similar, something very sexist, but with the added dimension of ageism. It feels like social exclusion from/by a world geared up for young, virile, things who have no limits, and don’t want anything to do with someone who reminds them that there are limits, that our bodies change, and that, in the end, we die. It feels like another aspect of the false (masculine) denial of vulnerability as part of the human condition.  All (cisgender) women go through the menopause, for now at least. While for some it is plain sailing, for others it is not. We should embrace each other in care and solidarity before, during and afterwards, not leave women to go through the menopause silently, on the margins, and alone.

What price care?

There have been a couple of interesting articles in the UK this week about paying and motivating care staff. An article in Community Care this week highlighted that many UK care providers are not paying employees properly:


This of course goes to the heart of valuing care and carers, notions of care as a commodity, and considerations about under-funded care services and underpaid staff.

Another article in The Guardian this week, suggested employee ownership of care organisations is the way forward:


The staff, some of whom only work a day a week all have a personal financial ownership of the care organisation they work for. It’s an interesting idea. Is social enterprise really the solution to care’s woes? Or is it just another form of marketisation of care and is something more radical required?