Posted: 14 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST
Susan Zerinsky, age 66 and 5’1” tall, has just become the first woman to head the legendary CBS News division. Yes, that CBS News, as in Murrow and Cronkite, which once set the gold standard for broadcast journalism, of late severely tarnished by #MeToo scandals necessitating the firings of Charlie Rose and Les Moonves. Zerinsky came to CBS at age 20, worked her way up, has produced “48 Hours” for years, exercises seven days a week, boxes, lift weights, does Pilates, and has taken SLT classes because she heard they might make her taller. Of the sexual misconduct at CBS, she vigilantly declares, “#MeToo isn’t behind us, it’s part of us.”
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is working from home since being released from the hospital after surgery for two malignant nodules on her left lung. She’s 85 and this was her third bout with cancer. She expects to be back on the bench shortly.
Florida Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, ran for this seat at age 78, because she was tired of getting mad at Trump and not doing anything. She is the oldest ”Freshman” in her House of Representatives class.
There is enormous press coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the youngest woman in that class (just 29), but little about Shalala, while much press attention to the once and now again Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, 78, has been devoted to wondering if she’s too old to do the job. Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California, 80, who now chairs the influential House Financial Services Committee, breathes fire. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular vote for the Presidency at age 69, watched the election get stolen from her, picked herself up after a grueling campaign and devastating disappointment, and now continues doing work mostly in the cause of women’s equality and empowerment.
In praise of old women? You bet. Notice the “old,” not the euphemistic ”older.” Older than who or what? Let’s free the word “old” from all cutesy, infantilizing euphemisms—“senior,” “golden age,” “oldster,” and similar sins against the English language. Not for nothing was the archetype of the Crone born from poetic imagination. After all, what is perpetual youth but arrested development?
Recently, Jessica Bennett, prize-winning journalist, author, and gender editor of the New York Times (at a mere age 38), wrote a terrific piece that reminded me I hadn’t addressed this issue in far too long. Bennett noted of course that men lead major organizations and nations well into their seventh and eighth decades, retaining power and prominence—and, I’d add, welcome or unwelcome access to much younger women. The current “demographic revolution,” as termed by Prof. Susan Douglas of the University of Michigan, is the result of a half century of Women’s Movement activism from the 1970s straight through to #MeToo. And lifespan has a lot to do with it.
Such a demographic shift was unthinkable when women faced a high risk of dying in childbirth or could enter careers political and otherwise only after their children were grown. But in 2016 the average lifespan of women in the US was 81.1 compared with men’s 76.1, and some 18 percent of women age 70 to 74 are employed. Having a job later in life is more common among women with higher education and savings, Bennett reminds us, while those not employed are more likely to have poor health and low savings, and be dependent on Social Security.
We live in a youth-obsessed culture that propagandizes girls of 13 they need to be anorexic to look glamorous and should shave their pubic hair to seem even younger. The Women’s Movement itself has followed this trend by prioritizing the concerns of younger women and supporting emerging young leaders. That’s perfectly understandable, since the future is theirs, as is the task of carrying on the work. But like everything else, it shouldn’t be an either/or choice, especially when we can opt for both/and.
In some people, age can certainly atrophy a capacity for experimentation, risk, energy, and openness to new ideas, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Furthermore, age has compensatory gifts. Not so much “wisdom,” which some folks, old or young, have and some frankly don’t. But with aging you accumulate experience that you simply couldn’t have acquired earlier. It depends on what you do with it, yes, but you need to have acquired experience even to make that decision. Skill, which is formed by practice—another form of experience—can be another privilege of age. For instance, except for the rare Mozart, the longer an artist can manage to live, generally the better her or his work will become.
Then there’s sex. Some women blossom into a fuller or even entirely different sexuality. Others luxuriate in being alone, able to sprawl diagonally across the bed, and pleasure only themselves. One recently widowed friend chuckled to me, “If I miss cuddling, I’ll get myself a puppy.” There’s also such relief at not sweating the small stuff like you used to, because you’ve learned it passes and is ultimately unimportant. In fact, in retrospect you can’t believe you expended such “passion in a waste of shame“ on certain undeserving crises or persons. In any case, there’s a rejuvenation in energy and intellect that resembles the feminist epiphany, when you realize you actually like who you are.
Christiane Amanpour, 61, says a whole new chapter of her life has opened in replacing Charlie Rose on PBS (there is justice after all). My sister-cofounders of the Women’s Media Center, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, are respectively 83 and almost 85, and they tire their younger aides out. Oprah Winfrey is 65. I could go on but you get the point: we don’t lack role models; we lack consciousness of ageism, particularly when combined with sexism. Actor Dame Helen Mirren quipped, “As James Bond gets more and more geriatric, his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying.”
In fact, although US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more people over 65—almost 20 percent—are still employed than at any point since the 1960s, women over 50 have the hardest time finding a job. (Not that they don’t work, even when jobless, given all the unpaid, invisible labor women perform lifelong at home and in their communities.)
This is not plain ageism like discrimination against old men who are neither wealthy nor powerful. Ageism against women is uniquely bound up with reproductive capacity and patriarchal sexual preferences. It always comes back to sex and reproduction, which is why those two basic human rights to self-determination remain both starting place and goal for feminism.
Me, I turn 78 in a few weeks, and the reason I can’t quite believe that’s true is not denial but because inside I am basically, oh, 39-40ish. Do I wish my body was younger and without pains in places I didn’t even know I had? Absolutely. But although I’d willingly exchange this body for one of my younger ones, I would not exchange what’s in my mind and spirit for younger versions by even five seconds. I’m busier and happier than I’ve ever been. I love younger women—mentoring them and learning from them—and I’m grateful for and relieved by their unapologetic, fierce feminism. I’m optimistic and cynical at once. I’m no longer fearful of getting furious when I want to be, and I seek approval only from those I truly respect. All this—plus having had decades to develop a wry sense of humor, a practiced capacity to be mindful of every moment of every day, a fascination with humanity’s growing knowledge of the universe (including the thrills of science and awe at the universe), and a sense of absurdity regarding my creative, clumsy, adaptive, cruel, evolving species—gets me through.
So this is in praise of old women. Especially because this spring, 84-year-old Glenda Jackson is bringing to Broadway what theater critics abroad have unanimously declared the greatest single performance of our era: King Lear herself.
So offend, trivialize, or ignore old women at your peril. Respect, support, and welcome the talents and years we have to offer, and together we become women (and men) for the ages.
I love this woman’s writing but especially this week as she celebrates being “old” a word I now use to define myself at 74. Like Robin, I would not trade this age for another because lived experience continues to widen my horizons, brings me joy, creates a space for gratitude to blossom over the simplest of things.
Unlike Robin, I would not trade this aging body for a younger one, even though I am vulnerable to illness due to a chronic stomach condition and an extreme sensitivity to western drugs and Nature’s plight… Why? because it has taken me a whole lifetime to love this little body that is the physical manifestation of the rest of me, and now I feel the deepest compassion for her – an amazing reversal from a life time filled with the filth of Woman’s self hatred.
Warning contains images of rape in the history of art portrayed through the pornographic male gaze According to the myth, Danae was the only child of the King of Argos who longed for a male heir. After an oracle declared that Danae would indeed bear a son, but that he would kill his grandfather, the […]
Warning: contains images of rape portrayed through the lens of the objectifying pornographic male gaze
When I reflected on the discovery of a rape fresco from ancient Pompeii that depicted Leda and the swan, I did not mention that the image of the rape of Leda by Zeus along with related images of Zeus raping Europa as a bull and raping Danae as a shower of gold are favorite themes in the history of western art up to the present day. Myths of rape not only give artists permission to paint or sculpt naked women but also to normalize rape as an aspect of culture. In the imagination of western artists, noble or immortal women are portrayed as passively accepting and even enjoying being raped. The fact that these women are understood to be icons of female beauty delivers the message that female beauty invites rape.
I am beginning to…
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(Above: Snow geese in flight)
In the eastern pre-dawn glow I watched the Sand hill Cranes drift out of the pale blue, their gracefully downward curved gray wings and extended feet gently touching the field as the Earth and I witnessed this most gracious of descents. Their haunting cries strike a note like no other, leaving wonder in their wake…
To begin this day with roses in the sky, the appearance of these birds, followed by a luminous sunrise was a gift that transported me back to the Bosque del Apache where I witnessed these birds as individuals and as huge flocks soaring over my head by the hundreds, their long graceful necks and heads, full bodies and great gray outstretched wings responding to some collective cue that determined their immediate direction.
What struck me forcibly was how these birds interact intimately, as individuals and as a group. My first moments at the Bosque were spent at one of the ponds where I was able to listen to individuals calling out to each other from at least four directions while being answered by those on the water, long before small groups appeared on the horizon to join the twelve in front of me. Their individual conversation is as astonishingly musical, and so constant that I am left marveling over what these exchanges might mean…
Collectively these birds do not exhibit any particular flight pattern as they fly in pairs or groups from one feeding place to another on the sedge covered, cattail tipped, rust colored marshes, but then most will winter here until spring migration calls them home to the North…
The Snow geese were another matter entirely. Whenever they took flight they did so en masse and to see hundreds – even thousands of these birds circling in the air a number of times before deciding upon a direction – pure white feathers against an azure sky – was bewildering, almost beyond comprehension.
The “bird woman” in me has never had an experience that could compare with visiting this Refuge. I spent the entire visit in a state of mind-body awe. Not only is the location astonishing – great brown reptilian dragons stretching across the plains – deep blue, and apparently endless marshlands mirroring the sky, coupled by the many species of birds that winter over in this place made bird watching a Miracle of Life.
Before the trip I asked myself what was most important to me about this upcoming adventure into bird – land. I could answer this question with ease: Being fully present for the experience. Armed with the knowledge that my good camera and binoculars would interfere with being emotionally present I wisely left both behind. I took my IPhone to snap a few effortless pictures.
In retrospect I am even more grateful than I could have imagined about making this choice because I carry the sight and sounds of this ‘Vision of Bosque’ in my body and mind on a level that allows me to return to the Refuge, a place where time ceases to exist, without effort.
This morning the appearance of these same cranes was the trigger, but I note that almost any natural occurrence acts as a pathway to the birds at the Bosque – the willows that have turned rose red with the first frost outside my window, or the daily appearance of my flicker are perfect examples.
In a very real sense some part of me found a home at the Bosque del Apache, and remains there with my avian friends; a woman with wings who takes to the air as a new dawn draws near…
(dawn at the Bosque – cranes on the water – snow geese in the air)
The day after the November election I found parts of a road-killed owl after walking just a short distance beyond a bird that hadn’t been there minutes ago. Oh no, not an owl. Initially, although I was deeply distressed that I had found a dead owl, I was relieved that it wasn’t a great horned owl, my latest familiar.
Owls, women, and wisdom have been an aspect of our mythology millennia before the Greeks created Athena, goddess of war, (born from Zeus’s neck). How can any male identified woman become a “goddess of wisdom” when only a male perspective is acknowledged? Leave it to the Greeks I thought in disgust. We are still stuck with Plato and Aristotle…
All that was left on the road was one bloody but still perfect wing and one talon; both were still warm. I carefully picked both body parts up and brought them home to clean and dry. The outstretched wing of the Saw Whet owl now occupies a place of honor below the Nicho that contains broken potsherds of the Anasazi and a broken micacious pot I bought for myself on my birth day. The South is the direction that makes sacred the fragments of broken cultures and bodies, past and present through witnessing and feeling what is, both joyful and horrific.
For the past year I have been in an intimate relationship with great horned owls that sang to me from the white pines in Maine and followed me here to New Mexico hooting from the Cottonwoods. And during this period because of my relationship with owls I have been able to make a final peace with the woman, my mother, who betrayed her only daughter by being male identified, teaching her how to do the same…
As I cleaned the wing I remembered the little dream catcher that I had made for my mother on her birthday long ago… I used the feathers of a dead Saw Whet owl that had been road killed. My mother loved that present… Women and all owls, I reminded myself have been intertwined since the dawn of humankind with one shapeshifting into the other, and owls are women with wings who see through unholy darkness and delusion. It is these women who are capable of attaining wisdom.
The synchronicity associated with finding the dead body of any owl the morning after the election left me uneasy but finding this particular half eaten owl seemed to have a personal aspect to it. Long ago I had learned that I frequently tapped into the collective through personal experiences with Nature. If I had what was the message? Then I remembered a poem I had written about owls coming through the crack between worlds… manifesting in ordinary time. (I hoped that finding the owl didn’t mean that I would lose my new psychic connection to my dead mother- if I did who or what was going to fill that void in space?) The dead owl might indicate that my mother was starting to manifest in some concrete way and also that collectively woman’s power was on the rise. Although finding only one wing and talon indicated that my mother’s influence might only be periodic, and on a cultural level woman’s power was still very damaged with half the female population betraying the other by remaining male identified or indifferent it was still something. Out of death comes life…
The election results still lay over me, heavy like a shroud, wrapping me in a sticky white spider’s web of fear. I wanted to pull genuine hope out of what had happened. I hung onto the thread that some women had been elected to the House, that two were Indigenous, some Black, others Latino – Diversity was inherent in these choices but I also knew that women’s solidarity was sorely lacking, and it remained to be seen whether these women would act as woman – centered individuals.
The few token women in politics seemed to be male identified, siding with the “good old boys” who held most of the political power. I didn’t know the statistics yet but I guessed that similar to the horrific 2016 Presidential election most white Republican women voted for power over (still true). These women “stood behind their men”, mimicking their positions and excusing egregious actions because they were unable to stand alone. Emotionally bankrupt and dependent, they lived their lives through the men they supported betraying women as a group and as individuals in the most painful of ways even as they betrayed themselves. How many strong, bright, competent, brilliant women did I know that allowed a lesser man lead them around by the nose? Too many.
After having been a woman’s advocate for so many years I had just come through a personal crisis thanks to the Kavanaugh travesty that forced me to take a new position towards women who betrayed themselves and other women by taking a neutral position regarding rape, or even worse supporting perpetrators directly or by making excuses for the one male who had endured abuse from an angry abused woman. Rape of any woman was a crime against all women. Rape of any woman was a crime against all humanity. I was finally able to give myself permission to separate from these female impersonators without guilt. What I was also able to do was to forgive them, knowing that but for some grace, intense personal suffering and an enormous amount of work I might still be one of them…
Along with the mountains of grief that I had been carrying for so long over betrayal of women by women and the rape of the earth I was also able to feel my rage, and hoped I could use this friendly red dragon wisely.
Rage allowed me to tap into my own power, and galvanized me to keep writing on behalf of abused women and the planet. It also helped me with crushing depression. Over the past two years I had fallen deeper and deeper under the spell of a madman and his minions who were running this country, riding the horses of unbridled power, hatred, and misogyny.
Thinking about woman – centered women coming into office offered me a flickering light in the growing darkness of humanity. But I also knew the chilling fact that the Senate had gained Republican seats. This suggested the obvious – that power and hatred were still “winning” in spite of the apparent successful takeover of the House. (So many seemed to be inexorably drawn to a power driven demented man that cared nothing for humanity and openly despised women and the earth).
As things stand now we are headed towards another holocaust.
I had to face it. The future still looked dark but the manifest presence of even one wing and talon of the owl now suggested to me that “the women with wings,” women centered women, might be manifesting in a concrete new way. The flickers of hope fanned more flames…
At the time of this writing I am choosing hope as I put my faith in owls and “the women with wings,” the women who, if they can garner more female support, can lead us out of this unholy darkness into the sweet stillness of long winter nights.
It is with deep humility that I throw myself on the mercy of Nature asking for her support. I need to hold onto this awareness to keep on advocating for women, for animals, for trees, for the Earth, not with guns, not by murdering innocent people, not by building more walls, not through war but through interconnectedness – and by remembering who I am – a woman who loves women – a woman with wings of her own – a woman who deeply respects the woman she has become. Compassion, forgiveness, and ruthless honesty are the weapons I wield; these are the bones of my authentic woman – power.
I make this commitment on one of the two holidays we celebrate for the “heroes of war,” Veteran’s day… one of only two days a year American’s celebrate their dead… Let’s remember that as we celebrate this day we also tacitly support the normality of rape in war.
The irony does not escape me.
( Top picture is one taken of one of the house lizards a while back – 2nd picture is one of the house lizards sunning himself today (his mate disappears every time I go to take a picture but she’s out too), and the 3rd picture is the little compost lizard in his lair taken at noon. All are sunning themselves as I write!)
There is a wily sagebrush lizard
peeking out of star dry flowers
sunning himself on
brittle decaying leaves.
All but two of his
kind have disappeared
since the night freeze settled
blackening few tender plants.
How brilliant that he
should choose such a practical
abode, a circular container
warmed by an autumn sun,
full of rotting greenery!
Assured of food from insects
for a while yet,
his eyes are narrow slits when
he slumbers, dreaming his next meal.
the variety of bugs
who still visit this
compost heap in
at high noon,
oblivious to Lizard’s
canny presence in their midst!
It is mid October (10/18) and the mountain peaks wear snowy hats. Here in the valley we have had more rain in the last ten days than we have had all year … the first flakes swirl. The dark eyed juncos have arrived. For the last few days I have been noticing the absence of my house lizards who seem to have vanished with the heat. There are only two left out of the original 6 and these two hide behind the slat closest to the door, slipping out to sunbathe when the sun warms my adobe walls.
When I first met the “compost lizard” I knew he wasn’t one that lived here all summer. Earlier in the season I had a large compost lizard that moved to the south wall as it got cooler. So where did the small compost lizard come from, clever little fellow? A compost heap is a lizard heaven of sorts with all the leftovers watered routinely to keep the worms happy, and with heat trapped in a round plastic cylinder the wind is kept at bay. At noontime I go out to visit him noting his blue belly hoping that he will stay around a bit longer, perhaps fattening himself up for an intermittent winter sleep. I would like to think that he will find a safe burrow in this mountain of debris, and that we shall meet again in spring.
I recently read that adolescent lizards are more active in the fall, this might account for the sudden appearance of the compost lizard. I also learned that occasionally lizards will “hibernate” together… I wonder if this might be true for my two house lizards who are currently hunkered down behind the slats and the house… I will be watching to see how long they stay there.
Lizards are not active during winter; they enter a state of dormancy called brumation which is not the same as hibernation. With both, metabolic processes slow down but with brumation the lizards alternate dormancy with activity. They need to drink water to avoid dehydration. Lizards build up a high level of glycogen (sugar) that can be used for muscle activity. They also need less oxygen to breathe and this is a good thing because some dig holes in mud where oxygen levels are lower. Other lizards will hide underground in old burrows, in a hole in a tree or under leaves. I love knowing that my lizards will still be around even if I don’t see them!