From Crone to Mentor: A New Role for Older Women in Later YearsSeldom do we question how the women’s movement has affected women of age, those women who took what they learned as activists in the civil-rights movement and applied it to rampant sexism. 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. Elderly women today face different challenges, some triggering deep, personal questions—namely, 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. Other traditional caregiver roles—parenting the grandchildren, caring for a husband or other family members—are still available, but this new identity may be difficult to bear. The “aging” woman, with her dry skin and wrinkled body, is no longer regarded as pretty, sexy, vital, or accomplished; she is in her “dimmed time.” Jean Shinoda Bolen has said that “In a youth-oriented patriarchy, especially, to become an older woman is to become invisible: a nonentity.”
What’s the future for this woman? What role should older women play in our society? What, if anything, is the role of feminists, activist women?As Laura expressed when talking about “the highlight of her week,” perhaps we could create that new role where these fighters pass the baton; build a bridge to new generations of feminists, our sisters who still have a long road ahead of fighting for equality and identity. We need to find a way from which all generations of advocates of feminism can gain a way to replace the schism between “generations” with an understanding of scales. This will require a deep understanding of difference and especially, in this case, the marker of age as that difference. Younger generations are interested in how growing old has affected the perspective of older women who’ve struggled for decades with language-embedded sexism and rampant ageism in our culture.
Ageing Feminists – Who Are We Now?Within the baby-boomer crowd, we find three different “generations”—those born in the mid-1940s, the mid-1950s, and the early 1960s. All three find themselves lost in the battlefield. Members of the first generation, especially, often discouraged by the meager results of the equal-rights “victory,” have difficulty empowering themselves and their sisters. Weary of trying to raise others’ awareness, seeing their self-esteem slip away, they can’t help questioning, yet again, who they are. Battling their own dependency issues, they now consider retirement—and what do they see? Living 20, 30, 40 years on the edges of society, without an audience interested in their experiences, knowledge or wisdom.
Mentors, Sages, Baton-CarriersFollowing Laura’s first impressions, I have interviewed hundreds of older women who have stressed the importance of becoming mentors, sages, to help younger women meet their needs. One of them has said, “It’s not about me as an individual, anymore … I’ve done whatever I can to express my individuality, develop my personal self, now I want to contribute to the well-being of my daughters … and the Earth.” Others have remarked that the aging phase is a prime time to reinvent ourselves, to use the still-formidable energy of our mature years with compassion and wisdom. There is, after all, a difference between growing old and growing into an elder.
To become an elder takes work and a willingness to struggle continuously for awareness.This struggle for awareness demands a relentless engagement with life and its constantly emerging challenges.
The Depth of Older Women’s WisdomWomen need to understand that along with a left-brain linear intelligence, they also possess a deeper intelligence, more creative and respectful of life. Some call it intuition, but it is really a kind of an emotional intelligence, a spiritual force allowing those who have it to deal with both the quotidian and the divine. Imagine a world in which the wisdom and power of aging Goddesses guides us through our next challenges, with the shared goal of building a global village that is tolerant, nonviolent, and life affirming. It is time for all older women to tap into their wisdom, and guide people on a journey of healing and transformation. We need this for ourselves, and for the planet. It is time to nourish the soul, to mentor our daughters and sisters, and, at last, to regard our aging selves in a celebratory light.
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