For Once, I’m Part of a Revolution

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.

Published by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson (One Minnesota Writer)

Kathleen Cassen Mickelson is a Minnesota-based writer who is also an editor, parent, cook, dog owner, photographer, gardener, yoga student, idealist, and traveler.

11 thoughts on “For Once, I’m Part of a Revolution

  1. Well stated. I get this all the time as a middle age woman who kayaks and camps (usually by myself) “I did that when I was younger but would never do that without a man or by myself at your age.” Really! It says more about themselves than about me as a middle aged woman who is independent enough to do things on my own. Yeah- can’t count the times of the car dealership thing too. We represent what the next generation of women can be. If we speak our minds, show our grey hair, present our hobbies and our passions on whatever is the “new” media we are not limiting ourselves to how other people view us. We start to set a new social norm. Great post!!!

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    1. Thank you! I figured I would be speaking for an awful lot of people with this particular musing. Every time I come back to this post, I remember something else that I didn’t include, like being told, “wow, I don’t know how I would do starting guitar lessons at this age” when I started my music lessons last summer. Or laughing at myself when I realized I was going to fly to England by myself a couple of years ago and that it was going to be the first time I crossed the pond alone. Why should traveling alone be a big deal? There are so many things to do, to experience, that limiting ourselves based on age or gender is just silly. And the whole “but you need to be careful” thing falls under a completely different topic about safety and being smart, not under being older and female.

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      1. I just love this! I get the horrified looks about traveling back a forth to Europe by myself all the time! For me it is nothing but in someone else’s reality it can be impossible to comprehend. I think one on safety should be one we both could write about.😊

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  2. Yes, well said. Re the facebook photo comparison, we live in such an image-obsessed society, I’m not surprised. Re the “Minneapolis StarTribune” article, just another example of news media trying to define our constantly changing demographic in a superficial, digestible way. And re your son-in-law, I don’t understand his comment either! Yeah, I want to look and feel young, but I don’t “pretend.” I don’t dye my hair, or use cream to smooth my crows’ feet (tho nothing against someone who does). And I watch YouTube clips occasionally, but I’m usually alone when I do so…so who am I trying to impress? I would argue that younger people need to get off the internet and read more books. Anyway…great essay, and on this 50th anniversary year of (the real) Woodstock: Peace and Love!

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    1. Hi Pete! That Facebook photo thing just hit me so wrong right away, even though I know plenty of people have fun with that kind of stuff. But the image-obsession is really limiting in so many ways and it’s hard to get around it. My son-in-law is actually a good guy, just for the record; he just made me furrow my brow and get writing this time. I probably need to speak up sooner, but I have to think about things for such a long time that I usually miss the moment. And that’s why I’m a writer. Peace and love to you, too! The 50th anniversary Woodstock is happening on my 60th birthday. How cool is that?

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  3. Kathleen, I adore this strong piece. Count me in on the revolution. I have a few years on you. And I continue to write and create and live, with a seasoned perspective on life. There’s value in that, in what we’ve learned, what we offer to this world. We are a powerful force.

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    1. Yes, Audrey, we are! You offer the world gorgeous photography and writing and there’s not reason to think you won’t continue to do so for a long, long time. Aren’t you excited to share your talents with your granddaughter as she blooms into another strong woman?

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  4. I think what your son-in-law is really implying, is that the kids want something left to themselves, and us selfish old bastards are taking over and not bowing down to their superior technical skills. Instead of ‘kids today’, it’s old folks today’. I’m not old. You’re not old. It’s just a societal construct. Trying to shove us into neat boxes. I refuse to be boxed, I refuse to stop learning new things, and I refuse to be what someone else says I should be. Shove over, I want a seat on the Revolution train.

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