Awaken the Power of Older Women.
I am in several online groups for older women where the prevailing content is jokes at our expense. Incontinence is a recurring theme, along with making fun of older women’s looks and desires. Self-deprecating humor is great, up to a point. But too much of it degrades our self-image. Why is an advocate for older women’s empowerment on those groups? For one thing, I was naïve enough to think I could talk about my work and my books—until one group booted me for daring to mention my novel, Brilliant Charming Bastard. While a constant diet of constipation jokes is acceptable, the word ‘bastard’ apparently “goes against community standards.”
Why do some Women of a Certain Age gravitate toward putting ourselves down? I can’t think of a corollary in any other marginalized segment of society. Are there online groups where people with disabilities chuckle at ableist jokes? That seems unlikely. The people I know who have disabilities, including my adult son, are busy organizing for positive change and building a shared culture.
So why aren’t we unified in doing the same thing? We can become a dominant force in society. The number of older women in the United States is huge and grows daily. Think of all we have going for us: We have been warriors in every social justice battle from Vietnam War protests through Second Wave Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement. Why haven’t we turned our prodigious energies to raising up our sister crones?
It’s true that we live in a sexist and ageist society. The external messages are relentless. The Geena Davis Institute recently published a study showing that older women are significantly underrepresented in the media. And when older women do show up onscreen, we are too often shown as feckless or demented. Those images reinforce other ageist and sexist forces. The “OK Boomer” division between generations was fragmented even further by the “Karen” meme, which began as a way to call out racist behavior and soon morphed into white men putting down older white women who expressed any opinion at all. We can name many forms of external gendered ageism, including the utter failure of advertisers to address the wishes of our demographic, despite our enormous purchasing power. But there is another factor at play: Our own internal bias.
Ever since we were young, we have been subjected to negative messages about elders. Even though we are now older and wiser, it is no surprise when we still harbor ageist and sexist ideas that were easy to swallow in our youth. Remember “Never trust anyone over forty?” It was somebody else back then, not us. Remember Martha Mitchell, the “crazy old lady” of the Watergate era? It turns out Martha was trying to blow the whistle on Richard Nixon and was drugged, kidnapped, and vilified for her trouble. When older women gather online to laugh at self-putdowns, internalized gendered ageism is at work. And while most of us don’t enjoy a steady diet of forgetfulness jokes, that doesn’t mean we are free of internalized bias.
Internal ageist and sexist bias can stop us from living our lives to the fullest. It can also keep us from building networks that celebrate our strengths. The book I tried to mention in an online group, Brilliant Charming Bastard, is about three successful women in their sixties who ditch their mutual lying manfriend and start their own company. And while it is true that older women are starting new ventures in record numbers, it is rare to find that aspect of our vivid lives represented in stories or onscreen.
Awaken the Power of Older Women
Older women become a force to be reckoned with as we shed our false ideas and join together. It is time to cast aside the prejudices we harbor against our very selves. None of us alone can rewrite the social narrative about older women, but as each of us pushes back on the negative messages we carry, we will free ourselves to create a new culture of change.
What does it look like in practice to awaken the power of older women? Here are some suggestions on how, and I would love to hear your ideas at Stella [at] stellafosse.com.
Make affirmations: When you experience a negative thought about your age, counter it with an opposing idea. If you forget something, remind yourself that your memories are rich. If you notice a wrinkle, remind yourself that wisdom shows on your face. We are strong and old. We are beautiful and old. We are smart and old.
Get in touch with yourself: Just a minute or two of meditation each day can bring us home to our authentic selves, away from society’s projections and our internal biases.
Strengthen your body: Find ways to move and strengthen your body that work for you right now. Walk, do chair exercises, swim, lift weights. Being strong is not the same as being young.
Enjoy your body: Your sexiness is something you own, not something society gives you. We can be old and sensual. We can be old and sexy. Joan Price’s books are a great place to learn more.
Develop your creative side: Play is part of our birthright at every stage of life. Do something creative that you enjoy, whether it is cooking, writing, gardening, or painting. Do it for the simple joy of the thing. My free online storywriting course is one way to begin.
Cultivate friendships with age-positive others: There may be people in your life who are ageist, and that can be difficult. One way to counter their influence is to cultivate friendships with age-positive people. Make age-positive friends at church, in a political action group, in an OLLI class. Once you are looking for that vibe, folks who share it will stand out.
Connect with organizations that promote positive aging: While the age positive culture is still developing, there are many organizations and resources at hand. Resources like Next Avenue and Old School Clearinghouse, podcasts like Hey Boomer and magazines like Crunchy Tales are just the start.
Seek out age-positive culture: There are already books and photo collections and other art celebrating women and men of a certain age. More to come, certainly, but look online for ideas, including on the Stella webpage. To name just a few: Free Fall by Rae Padilla Francoeur is a terrific memoir that will remind you of just how alive you are right now. Wise Women, a photographic celebration by Joyce Tenneson, will remind you how beautiful we are.
Do good in the world: Find a cause that you believe in and a way to help others. There is no better way to demonstrate our worth, including to ourselves.
Pushing back on our own gendered ageism is key to an enjoyable older life. Recognizing our biases and countering them is the foundation tfor age-positive networks. As we practice our own creativity, we can create more age-positive stories and art, and strengthen the culture to benefit ourselves, our peers, and crones in training.
It is time to awaken the sleeping goddess.