Why Being an Older Woman Rocks!

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!   Photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg courtesy of Supreme Court of the United States (PD-USGov) Photo of Donna Shalala courtesy of United States Congress (PD-USGov) Photo of Maxine Waters courtesy of House of Representatives (PD-USGov)]]>

The Beauty Culture and Age: What’s Wrong with Christine Lagarde?

A coaching client recently asked me for the names of older women who are public figures and could be role models for her. She had just turned fifty years old and realized that her self-image was of a much younger woman, which was getting in her way professionally. She was struggling to “find her voice” and speak out more at work. Her boss had recently given her feedback that she was viewed as lacking confidence. Through reflection, she became aware that her self-talk, reflecting her “young self,” undermined her confidence by telling her that she did not know enough or had not yet earned the right to express her opinions. In addition to having a young self-image, she felt pressure to color her hair to hide the grey and to dress like a much younger woman, all of which may have reinforced her own perception, and the perception of others, that she was less experienced. The only woman in public life whom we could both think of, though, who embraces her age and is seen as powerful is Christine Lagarde. Christine Lagarde was appointed in 2011 to be the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She is fifty-nine years old and has beautiful white hair. She is a great role model for my client—she is confident, powerful, and attractive, and she embraces her age. Having role models as we age is important, especially in the United States, where our youth-focused culture can be dismissive and even discriminatory toward older women and older men in terms of hiring and promotions. While these economic challenges are real, feeling good about your life experience and having the confidence to draw from it to find your voice and demonstrate leadership presence is also important. I recommended that my client develop a ritual with her friends to embrace and celebrate her inner Chrone. She’s not a little girl or a young woman any more—she has wisdom to offer that she needs to embrace. What’s wrong with Christine Lagarde? Nothing. I’m sure she has critics and detractors, as all powerful people do, but she also has beautiful white hair, projects confidence and a strong leadership presence, and provides a great role model for women on many levels. Who are your role models?   Image credit: Image courtesy of International Monetary Fund