The Road Ahead

Let’s say, if only for the sake of argument, that once this coronavirus pandemic has passed — or at least loosened its terrible global grip — the road ahead could be better, fairer, and brighter for everyone. This, of course, will never happen automatically, as if some big, hovering fairy godmother were to take pity on us all and compassionately wave her magic wand. No. It will take some doing on everyone’s part. Especially, I believe, on the part of older women.

Oh, really? You may ask. You think so, huh? How?

I have one, strong, immediate suggestion (and I welcome WOW readers’ suggestions as well): Read the new book, In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead, by Susan J. Douglas (W.W. Norton, NY, 2020), which has been called “required reading for those of us who are fifty or older – and everyone who (with any luck) someday will be” and labeled, “an informative and sharp call to arms.”

Author Susan Douglas is a professor of communication and media at the University of Michigan and the author of six other groundbreaking books, among them, Where the Girls Are: The Rise of Enlightened Sexism, and The Mommy Myth.

Now is the time, I believe — now that most of us older women are sheltering in place at home due to COVID-19 and we have more time to read books than we may have had in a long, long time — to read what Douglas has to say in this her newest book and to answer her call to arms.

“We [Baby Boomers] are women who changed history,” Douglas says, “women who are still changing history, women who now need to change the future, politically, economically, and culturally, and not just for us, but for those who will come after us.”

“And we also need to appreciate,” Douglas states, “how the anti-aging industrial complex […] is profoundly depoliticizing. It urges us to use a microscope to focus inward, when we need telescopes, to focus outward, as we did in the 1960s and beyond, to work, still, to make the world […] a better place.”

In her excellent New York Times review of In Our Prime, published March 10, Leslie Bennetts wrote, “[I]t’s hard to find anything here that a fair-minded reader could dispute — and also impossible to deny the political, economic and cultural potential of what Douglas describes as an incipient demographic revolution, albeit one that is ‘underappreciated’ and ‘undercovered’ to date.” She quickly adds, “Since the majority of older people [in the U.S.] are female, the demographic power of women in the second half of life is a sleeping giant that has only to be awakened to transform our society.”

Douglas’s words throughout this important book are sensible, sound, and in fact sisterly. She doesn’t ride a high horse. She doesn’t scold or wield a cudgel. She remains calm, and even at times, droll. Her voice is that of an intelligent and impassioned friend sharing coffee with you at your kitchen table. You hang onto her words because you want to. And need to.

In Our Prime was published just before the coronavirus struck with force, so there’s no mention of a pandemic in it. But the timing for Douglas’s call to arms couldn’t be better, in my view. The world needs to proceed on a new road ahead. Who better to bring heart, soul, life experience, energy, passion, compassion, time, and, yes, wisdom, to the task of finding our new way than older women? As Bennetts states in her New York Times review, “In this as in so much else, women are the logical candidates to lead us to a better world.”


Excerpt from In Our Prime:

Reinventing the Road Ahead

Through all of this – talking back to gendered ageism and to male political orthodoxy, building bridges with younger people, becoming more politically active and engaged – we can and will pick up where the great Maggie Kuhn left off and reinvent the road ahead.

It is time for us, everyday women, to enact our own visibility revolts. Our coming of age is happening at a very distinctive moment, when a resurgent feminism is crashing against a newly acceptable, even celebrated brew of racism, misogyny, and rank cruelty. Because there are so few media images out there of engaged, happy, gutsy older women who want to make the world a better place, we need to step into that role.

Let’s reclaim aspirational aging from Big Pharma and other carnival barkers who equate it with blowing bubbles with grandchildren or mainly focusing on ourselves. Aspirational aging is about staking our visibility in the world, being proud of and owning who we are, and making that confidence contagious.

Then younger women today will be even less tolerant of gendered ageism, less willing to comply with its exclusionary edicts than we are, especially if we blow wind in their sails. It is time – individually and collectively – to rip off the invisibility cloak. It is time to talk back. It is time to hold hands. Let’s do it now.