By VICTORIA SARNE
I am unapologetically making the case for shining the spotlight on older women. Their ability and willingness to continue contributing to society should not be de-valued because of an artificial mathematical deadline. Let’s deconstruct the aging myth that allows older men to still be considered attractive, interesting and respected but sticks a “best by” label on women then parks us on an imaginary shelf as if we should accept becoming passively invisible.
What is not a myth is that the world is becoming more female-centric and for several good reasons. Let’s examine the facts, some of which have been stated by Joseph T Coughlin of MIT. He says women are better prepared for life after middle age than most men. Ask any man in your family or friends what they plan to do when they retire and they will usually respond with something along the lines of “I can’t wait to stop work and put my feet up, maybe travel or play more golf.” Ask a woman and she will be much more likely to have a well-prepared proactive plan, often as bold as starting a business, becoming an entrepreneur or volunteering, taking up a cause, travelling, joining a club, socialising regularly with friends, or seeing more of the grandchildren. The list is infinite and I have yet to meet the woman who says she just wants to retire and do nothing – it’s not in our DNA.
The fact is that the lives we orchestrate for ourselves have prepared us to be the “workhorses”, in some cases juggling careers and family duties. making multi-tasking and time management seem effortless so that it is taken for granted. But let’s not take it for granted. Instead let’s look at those responsibilities then talk about how they prepare us for an interesting and productive “life after…”.
First of all, longevity is on our side. It is important to acknowledge that more of us are statistically going to outlive our partners preparing us mentally for the time, if and when it comes, that we will have to go it alone. Or if we are single that we will continue to do that responsibly. Joseph Coughlin argues that older women will rule the world and that as people get older, the future will be female for a variety of reasons: we are better educated than men; we are the chief care-givers; crisis managers and we are the ministers of finance, with responsibility for managing households, medical, education, holiday and luxury expenditures. We are researchers with proactive strategies to keep it all ticking over in a reasonably sane manner. Either way, single or in a relationship, life has taught us as women to be self-sufficient whereas the same is not always true of our male counterparts who place a lot of reliance on our “doing our job” by prioritising their needs, making their lives comfortable or helping support their careers.
Coughlin also states categorically that the future in business, will be driven by older women. He says: “One of the greatest under-appreciated sources of innovation and new business may in fact be women over 50 with new ideas, lots of life ahead of them and with the verve to get it done. They are becoming engines of innovation in their own right by starting consulting companies, new stores, online sites or other choices.” Additionally, freedom from time-consuming, energy draining, home-making duties means we can focus this energy both socially and politically to challenge injustices, protect our communities and improve our environment.
Despite the current challenges in the world and the still prevalent male dominance, change is always possible and the power to change lies within us. Older women are now slowly gaining more of the recognition they deserve but it’s a process. I think instead of apologising for not living up to some imaginary superficial standard for female-hood, we should promote the real value we have to offer with our resilience, energy and creativity. We are credible; let’s put that experience on the table and accelerate the momentum. Let’s communicate, collaborate and get it together. An orchestra resonates louder than a lone trumpet.
• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.lifelineswritingservice.com.