In January Time4Help project organized its second webinar for an international audience with the topic of how mature femininity is seen in western culture and media. In addition, there was another presentation about how the sandwich generation copes with time management.

Krzysztof Polak is a Polish researcher, lecturer and entrepreneur specialized in semiotic research. He has been involved with over 240 projects on semiotics. Semiotic research studies signs and symbols for example in mass media.

Krzysztof Polak

A semiotic square of mature femininity

Polak has studied and summarized main characteristics of mature femininity presented in various media into a semiotic square analysis.

The four main characteristics are independent maturity, enslaved maturity, celebrated maturity and upgraded or mounted maturity.

Female roles in Polish films represent often independent maturity. An ageing woman is described to be independent and to follow her own rules. It is typical for her to break conventional rules, take control and fight against stereotypes.

Polak considers for example the wife of the main male character in the House of Cards series as a representative of independent maturity. These movie characters can be also grannies wearing a mini skirt, using rough language and not being upset about getting older.

Enslaved maturity takes an opposite approach. These ageing women think that life is currently a fight for survival for them. They try to do their best to survive. It is typical for these characters to try to cope with the changing world around them and feel to be trapped between two worlds.

Enslaved femininity shows in sayings like a woman becomes invisible after turning 40 years. In addition, texts written about menopause, sadness, depression and diseases are typical.  Polak finds an enslaved character in the series The Wife played by Glenn Close as well as in countless films about menopausal women.

Polak thinks that enslaved women do not know who they are anymore, they may think their bodies look like the ones of grannies and ageing seems to be for them an era of giving up and ending up to be bitter.

Characters representing celebrated maturity see themselves in an optimistic way. It is typical for them to do the things they wanted to do when they were young. They also hope that things get better one day.

You can hear these characters say that the older they get the more they like themselves or that they have the right to be imperfect with their cellulite. Polak refers to these female characters as wise and wonderful women who value life.

The fourth character represents upgraded or mounted maturity. In general, she wants to update her outer appearances and stop and hide signs of ageing with the help of beauty treatments. She believes also in her inner beauty and thinks that the best times are still ahead of her. This makes her content with her identity and age. Polak sees that e.g. Samantha in the Sex in the City series represents such a character.

When Polak completed this four-field model two years ago, he thought that the celebrated and mounted characteristics could improve best the quality of Polish ageing women both in private and working life. In two years´ time, however, women in Poland have changed a lot.

”In Poland we have perhaps a tendency for conservative thinking so those two female characters seemed familiar at that time but the situation has changed rapidly. In two years´ time women have become more active and taken part in strikes so maybe it would be the time to change those recommendations”, he thinks now.

Sandwich generation tries to cope

Polish associate professor Alicja Grześkowiak from the Wroclaw University of Economics and Business is specialized in socio-economic issues such as labour market, educational processes, human capital, competences, quality of life and regional diversification.

She shared the results of a recent study on the sandwich generation in Belgium, Finland, Italy, Poland and the UK. She focused on time management issues of people who are trying to combine working life and taking care of their children and ageing parents or parents-in-law.

The survey was completed end of 2020 and the main sample had over 2500 people answering questions on time management and other aspects of giving care. In addition, the main sample was completed so that about 200 people represented the sandwich generation in each country.

Working sandwich generation refers to people who work over 15 hours a week and take care of their children and ageing parents over three hours a week.

In the main sample of this survey the highest numbers from people belonging to the sandwich generation were in Italy and Poland and the lowest in the UK.

Finns and Italians felt that they had most to say to their working hours and had an opportunity to teleworking. Taking a few days off work was easiest for Italian and Polish people. It seemed to be hardest for the British people.

The Britons also felt that lack of time and financial issues were burdening them most.  Belgians and Finns had least of similar worries. Italians and Britons felt that belonging to the sandwich generation affected their own health condition more than in other countries.

Most frequently care for the elderly was household duties such as going shopping, cleaning and taking care of health and medical needs. Help related to hygiene was a most frequent need in Poland and the UK. In general, matters related to financial support did not seem to be very relevant in this survey. In all of the countries women were responsible for most of the care. Compared with men in other countries, Italian men seem to have highest interest for providing care.

Next webinar deals with new masculinity

Alicia Garcia-Madrid Colado from Spain gave a short summary of the latest Gender equality index statistics that is a comparative survey on equality issues in the EU countries.

She also promised that the Spanish team will give presentation in the next webinar with the topic of new masculinity.

This Time4Help webinar had an international audience with participants from Belgium, Poland, Spain, Egypt, Serbia, Russia and Finland.

The Time4Help project partners in Belgium, Finland, Poland and Spain will organize national events during 2021 so please follow the web sites and let´s keep in touch.

Contact information in Finland:

Kaija Villman, kaija.villman(at)

Text: Päivi Kapiainen-Heiskanen