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Now You See Her, Now You Don’t

I’m not too keen on what we do to older women in this society. It seems we have become quite adept at making them invisible and that bothers me deeply, partly because I will eventually be an older woman myself and also because I have this nagging sense that I’ve unwittingly played a role in perpetuating this tendency to marginalize older women.

There are many wonderful books about the phases of a woman’s life – from Joan Borysenko to Christiane Northrup and Jean Shinoda Bolen – but my mental model has essentially three phases: the maiden, the mother and the crone (like the waxing, full and waning phases of the moon.) But unlike some of the ancient cultures which appear to have reverence for the wisdom of age, our western society tends to diminish it or – worse yet – turn away from our older women as if they didn’t exist. This is what I mean when I say we “make invisible”. Take a look and you’ll see it all around you – from the “anti-aging” creams to the subtle and not so subtle “tuning out” that occurs in our board rooms and at our dinner tables. I know it’s ugly and we don’t like to talk about it, but I’m going there. You with me?

When I took belly dancing a few years ago when I was swollen with a baby in my belly, I looked around the room and marveled at the beauty of all the different women – all shapes, sizes and ages – moving in their bodies. The instructor told us about the women in her family and how her heritage (Lebanese) is one that believes a woman’s belly dance gets better and richer with age – because they have lived more and experienced more and can add that into their dance. She said the elder woman of a family will often be the last to dance in accordance with this belief, and I imagined a room brought to silence by the sheer power of a wise woman dancing her life story.

And yet, when I look at my own culture and the older women in my life, I see a very different picture. I watch as older women fight to be heard (literally yelling at times), are dismissed and not taken seriously for their thoughts or ideas, and are silenced or excluded from the conversation. In truth, we could make the case that we do this with our very young and our very old in this society, but I’m most curious about the women.

And how am I culpable? What are the subtle– and not so subtle – ways I perpetuate this cultural behavior as a “full moon” woman? I start with me because I believe change begins with each of us asking ourselves that question. If we are to rewrite the script for how we will be perceived as older women, we must begin by taking responsibility for our role in “making invisible” the older women in our lives today. Start there. Go there.