It’s an exciting time to be an older woman. This wasn’t always so for me. I remember the pain of realizing, around the time I turned fifty, that people, especially men, were looking right through me as though I was invisible. I also became aware of career opportunities that were closing because of my gender and age while men were seen as viable leaders into their eighties. Don’t get me wrong — there is still plenty of ageism mixed with sexism and racism in our country — but something new is also happening for older women. There are currently some exhilarating role models of powerful older women who are refusing to be invisible. Consider these examples offered by Jessica Bennett of the New York Times:
- Susan Zirinsky will become the head of CBS News in March at the age of sixty-six. She will be the first woman in this position and the oldest person to assume the role, replacing Les Moonves who was ousted for sexual harassment as a result of the #MeToo movement.
- Nancy Pelosi, re-elected at the age of seventy-eight as the Speaker of the House, is the most powerful elected woman in US history.
- Maxine Waters, at the age of seventy-nine, is the first woman and the first African American to lead the powerful Finance Committee in the House of Representatives.
- Glenn Close beat out four younger women for the Golden Globe for Best Actress at the age of seventy-one.
- Donna Shalala is the oldest member, at the age of seventy-eight, of the newly elected Democratic freshman class of the House of Representatives.
- Christiane Amanpour, sixty-one, replaced Charlie Rose, also ousted for sexual harassment, on PBS last year.
- And let’s not forget Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the incredible RBG — who is eighty-five.
Bennett writes that there are now “more women over 50 in this country today than at any other point in history, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.” She cites Susan Douglas, a professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, as saying “a demographic revolution” is occurring. Nearly a third of women aged sixty-five to sixty-nine are still working, up from 15 percent in the late 1980s, according to a recent study by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. Some 18 percent of women aged seventy to seventy-four work, up from 8 percent.
Older women in general are also speaking out against the cultural stereotypes that they are bossy, useless, unhappy, and in the way. Mary Pipher of the New York Times notes that women are beginning to speak openly about the pleasures of being older, which resonates with me. There are, of course, health challenges that can occur as part of aging, but the risks that come with age are often outweighed by positive changes, such as the following:
- Many older women describe themselves as vibrant, energetic, and happy.
- We know ourselves and have developed emotional intelligence and empathy for others.
- As Pipher notes, we find freedom from the male gaze. Once I realized I had become invisible to men as a woman over fifty, I felt a sense of relief to be free from catcalls on the street, sexual harassment, and other unwanted attention. I could just be.
- While I still care about staying fit and enjoying clothes, I stay fit for myself and my health, and I buy and wear clothes to please myself instead of to impress others.
- Many older women report feeling good about developing resilience after facing and surviving losses and disappointments. It’s a powerful feeling to know you can handle almost anything.
- Being older can also mean saying “no” more easily to things we do not want to do, being less anxious in general, and having more clarity about our intentions.
- Pipher also notes that “women are connected to a rich web of women friends” and long-term partners and have “emotional health insurance policies” that are priceless. This can be true at any age.
Let’s celebrate older women — and hear them roar!
Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’
Originally published at www.annelitwin.com on February 18, 2019.