Most of my patients are older adults, vibrant retirees, eager to make the most of their newfound freedom and explore new passions. Others are empty nesters, adjusting to the bittersweet reality of having their children leave home. And then there are the baby boomers, who are facing the challenges of aging with determination and a desire for continued personal growth. As society continues to prioritize youth and marginalize seniors, it is important to recognize the unique value that older women bring to the table. Baby boomer women, who grew up during the feminist movement of the sixties and seventies, have fought for equal rights and challenged negative stereotypes. However, they now find themselves in a world that often overlook their contributions.
The Challenges of Aging and Remembering the Legacy of the Women’s Movement
As women age, they face unique personal challenges that raise profound questions about their roles in society. The traditional goals of reproduction and child-rearing are no longer applicable, and careers may be in the past. Many older women find themselves in limited identities, such as caring for grandchildren or fulfilling caregiving roles for family members. For those who have spent a lifetime trying to make a difference, these limited roles can be difficult to bear.
Many of them fought the battles undertaken by the women’s movement of the sixties and seventies and laid the foundation for generations of activists dedicated to equal rights, reproductive freedom, LGBTQ+ rights, anti-ageism, and more. From the civil rights movement to the shelter movement, older women have been influenced by these struggles and the impact of these movements on older women and their social influence in our social fabric cannot be ignored.
We question how the women’s movement has affected women of age. The women who took what they learned as activists in the civil rights movement and applied it to the rampant sexism of the civil-rights and black-power movements – who participated in the first sweeping consciousness-raising process that Bettina Aptheker called “learning to name our oppression” – these women are still too young to have been included in Coming of Age. But that phase of the women’s movement spawned two generations of equal rights, abortion rights, lesbian and gay rights, anti-ageism, and AIDS activists; a devoted, beleaguered army of caretakers of abused women and children in the shelter movement; and labor groups such as the CLUW and Women in the Trades, to name only a few “special interest” groups. Many old women, someplace along the line, have been affected by those struggles. In a youth-oriented society, aging women are often seen as invisible and diminished. The physical signs of aging, such as dry skin and wrinkles, are contrasted with the societal ideals of youth, beauty, vitality, and accomplishment. Jean Shinoda Bolen, a Jungian psychotherapist, aptly stated that becoming an older woman in a youth-oriented patriarchy is to become invisible, a nonentity. The “aging” woman, with her dry skin and wrinkled body, does not represent the pretty, sexy, vital, or accomplished; she is considered to be in her dimmed time. Jungian psychotherapist and author Jean Shinoda Bolen have said, “In a youth-oriented patriarchy, especially, to become an older woman is to become invisible: a nonentity.” Or, as historian Bettina Aptheker said in a public lecture of older people, especially women, “We’re either invisible, or we’re in the way.”This perception raises questions about the future and value of older women in society.
Elderly women today face personal challenges, triggering some profound questions–among them: What is their role as they age? Reproduction is no longer a goal; nor is raising children. If they had a career, it is in the past, or nearly so, and they feel they need something different but what?. Traditional roles for midlife or older women, such as caring for grandchildren or caregiving for a husband or other family member–are still common for women; these limited identities may be difficult to bear for those who spent a lifetime trying to make a difference. Needless to say that some of us, still are battling “those dragons” as Studs Terkel said when dedicating his book, Coming of Age, that we face when dealing with our own “dark night of the soul”. We perceive this phase, often, as an explosion of a deep sense of meaninglessness. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything, one feels unvalued and drifting without a clear intention.
Then, what’s the future for this woman? What role should aging women play in our society? In a society where ageism and feminism are prevalent, it becomes crucial to address the future of older women. Empowering older women is not just about breaking barriers and changing stereotypes, but also about recognizing their immense value and contributions. As we strive for equality, it is essential to create opportunities that allow aging women to continue making a difference in various spheres of life. By embracing their wisdom, experience, and unique perspectives, society can benefit tremendously from the guidance and mentorship of these trailblazing women. It is time to challenge societal norms and ensure that older women are given the respect and platform they deserve to continue shaping our future.
Embracing Wisdom and Redefining Roles
While society may overlook the value of older women, there is a wealth of wisdom and experience that comes with age. Older women have lived through significant social changes and have valuable insights to offer. Their experiences can serve as a guide for younger generations and contribute to the collective wisdom of society.
Instead of accepting limited identities, older women have the opportunity to redefine their roles in society. They can break free from societal expectations and explore new avenues for personal growth and fulfillment. Mentoring younger individuals, engaging in community activism, pursuing creative endeavors, and advocating for causes they are passionate about are just a few examples of how older women can contribute to society. By reinventing themselves and using their wisdom to create and enrich the next generations of fighters, they could play a crucial role in enhancing our communities and, by the same token, value their background and history. Creating intergenerational relationships, and connections with younger individuals, older women can pass on their wisdom, share their experiences, and bridge the generation gap. These relationships benefit both parties, as younger individuals gain valuable insights while older women remain engaged and connected to the world around them.
Overcoming Ageism and Unleashing Your Power
Ageism is a pervasive issue that affects older women disproportionately. By challenging ageist stereotypes and advocating for equal treatment, older women can create a more inclusive society. Recognizing the contributions of older women and providing them with opportunities for continued growth and participation will help combat ageism. Older women need to be seen and heard in all aspects of society. Media, advertising, and popular culture should reflect the diversity of women of all ages. By showcasing the accomplishments and stories of older women, society can break free from the narrow focus on youth and celebrate the contributions of all individuals. Representation matters!
Older women have played significant roles in shaping society and continue to have much to offer. It is essential that we recognize their value, embrace their wisdom, and provide opportunities for them to redefine their roles. By challenging ageist stereotypes, fostering intergenerational relationships, and designing new spaces and opportunities for older women to be part of our communities, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society that appreciates the unique contributions of older women. Let us celebrate their accomplishments and ensure that their voices are heard and valued in a space and time where age does not limit one’s potential or worth. By empowering older women, we can collectively work towards a more equitable and progressive society for all.