“I have not remarried because I am more independent than most of the men I meet” (127). So asserts one of the women in this study of widowhood in Jamaica, and attendant issues such as family life, work and health. Originally carried out for her PhD dissertation, this important piece of research by Joan Rawlins is based on the complex lives of midlife and older women from the working-class community of August Town and the middle-class suburb of Hope Pastures in Kingston, Jamaica.
The book is divided into five main chapters which address issues such as family life and power relations; the work the women do in and out of the home; lack of concern about their health; ambivalent feelings about their sexuality; and how they perceive widowhood. The study, carried out between 1990 and 1991, and focusing on women between the ages 50 and 74, seeks to disrupt the dominant discourses, the prevailing sentiments expressed in mainstream society on this cohort, and expose alternative ones that the women themselves raise with the researcher.
Rawlins uses case studies as part of the research methodology. Each case evolves with clarity and underscores the lived realities of the women interviewed. From these, she draws out theoretical arguments about women and the process of ageing. She specifically defines women in midlife as those who are essentially no longer able to bear children. Women in ‘midlife’ are those between 50 and 59 years old, while ‘older’ ones are 60 to 74 years old. Principally concerned with the biased perceptions that predominate in society about women of these age groups, Rawlins raises a few feminist concerns. She points out that older women and those in midlife are perceived as having very little power, if any at all, over their lives and that they are affected by the gendered division of labour, which automatically allocates them certain ‘female’ jobs, such as childrearing. Rawlins also finds that women in this age group are seen as non-sexual beings and are presumed by family and society to be ‘dependent.’