Over the past few months, I’ve traversed the country speaking and reporting, and everywhere I go, I keep hearing the recurring theme of “reimagining.” This paradigm-changing phrase is a favorite of mine, and now it is morphing into a meme . . . especially around retelling our generational story and our her-story.
For post-50 women especially, this theme is empowering. On every level, from how we see and feel about our bodies to our potential to kickstart a new era of visionary entrepreneurship, we can surpass the limits of imagined stereotypes about aging and being women. We start by consciously reimagining alternative futures for ourselves—personally and professionally—and for our families and the world seven generations ahead.
Our future is ripe with possibility, yet something is bugging me. It’s like biting into a handful of juicy berries and discovering too late that a few had started to grow hair . . . and having nowhere to spit them out.
I keep feeling like the subtext, the underbelly, of our conversations is not front and center. Everywhere I go, I’m witnessing a new story called in, while an old one pulls in opposition, holding on for dear life in a death-defying tug of war for power over rather than with.
Many of us led the way in breaking through the glass ceiling. We’re all too familiar with those patriarchal old boys’ clubs, which held onto their silos of power for dear life, twisting our demands for equal opportunities and freedom of independent choice and success into a “them vs. us” conversation we never intended.
Now, as we strive to break through—or bypass—the silver ceiling, I can’t help feeling a disturbing sense of déjà vu. I keep putting on my foresight lens, but it’s the past that’s speaking to me. From deep within my belly, a question demands my attention: Haven’t we lived this story already?
I touched on this a bit when I wrote about the Boomer Business Summit, which itself was a top-notch conference. At one of the panels, about making money on the Boomer market, I sat taking notes in the last row, next to a lanky blond guy on his cell phone. Guess we both wanted a fast getaway if the material didn’t grab us. We exchanged cards, minimal chatter, and the session began.
As I glanced at his business card, I chuckled to myself. This was a guy who had already crossed my radar. I had wondered what he was up to with his website aimed at younger Boomer women. I just didn’t get him as someone passionate about women Boomers.
In fact, I couldn’t quite grok what he was doing in the aging field at all. It wasn’t until I explored his site that I learned he had formed a Boomer women platform simply because no one else was marketing to us.
He was in this business because post-50 women were a means, not because we are meaningful.
And that’s when the creepy sense of déjà vu wafted over me. Are we women being coopted again?
In the early ’70s, my cohorts were the Clio feminists who catalyzed and drove the second women’s movement. Part of this movement involved throwing off the medical nomenclature that had coopted us, robbing us of a place at the table even for control of our own bodies.
Women’s concerns were trivialized and our healthy emotions stigmatized with the label “hysterical.” We were treated accordingly to remove the dangerous craziness, emotionality, independence, and so forth that were apparently signs of that horrible disease of simply being female. (See Betty Friedan’s classic Feminine Mystique.)
Miriam Hawley and Judy Norsigian, among others, gave us permission to trust our own knowing and smarts, woman to woman, by creating a cooperative manual that was on every Boomer woman’s bookshelf, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Kind of our own Wikipedia of women’s health and wellness.
We began to see that the changes and differences in our bodies once classified in terms of disease and dysfunction were actually part of the natural cycle and beautiful variation in the female body.
Fast-forward 40 years, and here I am at another panel listening to another middle-aged man discuss research done for Big Pharma into sexual dysfunction in younger Boomer women.
He reported, “Most women are too embarrassed to talk about vaginal dryness.” They suffer in pain for years. It blew me away to find that women still don’t talk about these issues even with each other. I was less surprised to hear that they don’t speak with their physicians either, and that when some do, it’s around two years after the onset.
Worse: 93% of the women report a significant effect on their lives yet they continue to have painful sex . . . as often as once a week.
Hearing this man reveal such private details about the sacred space of women’s bodies brought another wave of déjà vu. I viscerally felt a trespass as yet another women’s health issue was trivialized as a dysfunction, as another path of women’s life cycles was coopted and made into a pathology. The natural changes of aging being discussed as though we were robotic Stepford Wives who had to get fixed, oiled up for our men. Just so Pharma can market and sell a product.
Which came first, the solution or the research?
And who says it’s a dysfunction anyway? Menopause occurs for a reason. Why is it so shameful, so scary, for us to talk about our changing bodies? Why aren’t women talking with each other? Why do we suffer in silence?
Pharma is always ready to fill the void with fear disguised as hope: Don’t lose your man to someone who doesn’t have this symptomology. You can eradicate this. You can stay young, ready, and able, desirable, rather than old and useless.
Something is terribly wrong here. Did we Clio feminists fail after all?
Haven’t I heard this story before?
An even older story comes to mind. Perhaps you’ve heard some version of it. In Greek mythology, the warrior-goddess Artemis is bathing in her sacred lake, hidden in privacy amid lush forest. Actaeon, in the forest on a hunt with his dogs, spies the goddess, vulnerable and unclothed. He is captivated by her beauty.
When Artemis catches him spying on her, she warns him never to speak again or he’ll be turned into a stag. Foolishly, he calls out to his hunting party and transforms immediately into a stag. His own hunting dogs tear him to shreds.
A woman’s feminine psyche, her sacred temples, are still fair game in a patriarchal culture. No, it’s not okay to spy, even under cover of the hunt for women’s health information. No, men shouldn’t speak for us about our most intimate concerns. But men are just as stuck in the patriarchy as we are, in the way things have always been done.
Many are just savvy businessmen in a culture still so infused with centuries of patriarchy that the sexism is almost on autopilot. After all, they can see the magazine headlines and book titles just as we can: how to keep your man, drive him crazy, keep him satisfied at all costs. Anti-aging is the name of the new money-making game, a game still rigged so that even if some women “win,” the men always do.
At least superficially. In truth, the only winners in this game are the businesses exploiting it.
Women today are stepping into their own power in many ways. On so many topics, we are using our own voices, speaking up. Yet we are still being coopted, and not just in the health arena. Have you noticed, for example, how many personal growth and transformative venues for and about women, online and off, are owned by men, even moderated and directed by men?
As women, we need to step up and own our conversations, our her-story telling. Women and men benefit from this, as we can see in many other arenas, such as business, where women are speaking up and leading, and the results benefit the companies, the shareholders, and the world.
What if we women reimagined a new ending that truly serves our womanhood vs. solely refilling big business’s deep pockets at our expense? What if we took control of the conversation about our bodies, ourselves? What if we could change that conversation, and the world, simply by taking one radical step—talking to each other?