I’ve been thinking a lot about being an older woman who writes, edits, helps run a poetry journal, and uses social media. I don’t usually consider how old I am (late 50s) as I go about my daily life, because age is merely a state of mind, an acknowledgement I’ve had some time to consider how to be on this planet. But, of late, there has been a lot of discussion about older women successfully using their power more often and in more public ways. Glenn Close, 71, made news with her speech at the Golden Globes. Susan Zirinsky, 66, made news when she landed the job of taking over CBS. Nancy Pelosi, 78, has just been re-elected as Speaker of the House. I’m loving that these women are all older than I am and still making a difference.
That this is a topic of discussion at all is a good indicator of what I’ve known for a long time: women over 50 are often left out of consideration as people who do good work, embrace new technology, take risks, exude desirability. But we are here, doing our business with grace, skill, and compassion for those around us. We are here with an understanding of the power of gratitude as well as of the damage bitterness and anger can do, which is important since there’s plenty to be angry about. We are here with a sense of fearlessness because what do we have to lose by stepping up and out?
This topic wasn’t on my mind at all the day that my son-in-law made a comment about how much he disliked older people using YouTube while pretending to be young. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but his comment immediately followed my own story about the poetry journal I help run getting its own YouTube channel. I bristled and then got quiet because I may have misunderstood what he was really saying; there are plenty of people who pretend to be something they aren’t, especially if they don’t accept their own aging. It irritated me, nevertheless. Social media is there for anyone who understands how to use it, and older people that use it are not usually interested in pretending to be younger. I certainly don’t want to repeat my twenties, thank you very much. But I do want to know what new things I can learn and use to make life more interesting, get my work done, and maybe even make a difference somewhere. None of this was gender-specific; this was all about age.
It was right after that when I noticed the swirling discussion everywhere in the news about older women and visibility, power, working longer, ignoring the idea that it might be time to take up knitting. (Why is knitting associated with relaxing and retiring anyway? Knitting is complicated and creative and requires some strong concentration.) In an article that ran in the Minneapolis StarTribune on January 11, this whole idea of older women remaining healthy and productive was referred to as a demographic revolution. Really? Just living our lives as if we believe in our own importance is a revolution? Well, all right then. Count me in. I know damn well men who keep on working are viewed differently.
I then pondered how my co-editor and I made a decision not to have our photos on the masthead at our poetry journal because we didn’t want anyone to have a preconceived idea about what kind of work we did or would accept. We are both women over 50 and we absolutely came to that decision out of our experiences of being ignored or assumed to be something we aren’t because of our genders and ages. Just try going shopping for a new car. Take a guy with you and see which one of you gets talked to first. Yes, I had that specific experience not too long ago.
I’m rethinking that decision about not using our photos, although the point is still valid about not giving people ammunition to assume anything about us. I’m in the business of using words well, after all. Read my words first and then see if you can figure out who I am. But I’m torn between putting up my photo and captioning it with something like, yes, this is what your editor looks like, and leaving it all a mystery.
In the meantime, there’s a popular thing going around on Facebook: a photo of when people first joined the platform side-by-side with a current one to see how much everyone has aged. I don’t for the life of me see the point. Who cares how much we’ve aged? I’d much rather look at what we’ve done.
And then look forward to all the things left to do, like continuing to shatter ideas about ageism, sexism, and possibility.