Category Archives: beliefs
I’ve been pondering on a couple of articles I read lately. In Aging while female is not your worst nightmare, Lori Day poignantly describes the impact of ageism – summing it up in these words:
“The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.”
I remember my mother talking about feeling like she wasn’t heard, at meetings, interacting with sales clerks, and even in groups of friends. She was much older than 50 when it happened to her, but she was frustrated and indignant. Often, it was that thing that happens to all women sometimes – Mom would be in a meeting, she’d suggest something, and no one would say anything. Five minutes later, someone younger, or male, would suggest it and suddenly everyone thinks it’s a great idea. It used to drive her crazy.
But at least Mom gave me advance notice. I knew this was coming someday. Day, who is 51 or 52, bemoans the fact that no one warned her.
“I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street.”
She ends the article with a call to action:
“Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped.”
Then I read this article. Women Over 50 are Invisible? I Must Have Missed the Memo. Erica Jagger challenges the narrative that aging brings a new level of discrimination. She says:
“I could look at myself and see a middle-aged, cash-strapped, over-worked, and occasionally overwrought single mom. OR I could see a survivor who shed her Stepford Wife shell and now isn’t letting anyone dictate how she should live, who she should date, or what kind of sex she should have.”
She attributes her sense of well-being, despite being 52, to her attitude.
“Shrugging off society’s death knell to mature women takes audacity, something every 50-plus woman needs if she doesn’t want to go gently into that good night. Feeling invisible stems less from one’s appearance, and more from the value we put on other people’s often shallow judgments of middle-aged women. I think it’s my refusal to listen to the messages telling me I’ve passed my expiration date, and my determination to create a brilliant second act, that makes me seem younger than my years.”
So I’ve been pondering these articles and my own experience, thinking about the women I know, and trying to figure out where I stand. I think…
Fifty is not actually old. It may be the beginning of the crone stage of life, but just barely. At 50, I began to celebrate life. I realized that I really could do anything I wanted, without seeking anyone’s approval or permission. I took risks and made life changing decisions.
In my 50’s, I grew into myself. If something didn’t work out, I quit doing it and tried something different. I spoke up and spoke out (not that I was exactly shy and inhibited before) and I expanded my world.
But I also remember being 35 and in graduate school. In the middle of class, some older woman would raise her hand and I would roll my eyes, thinking, ‘Here we go again,” as she started a long and slightly off-topic tale of her experiences. I felt bad for doing it. I did. But sheesh. This woman (and there was more than one of her) had a story for every single situation, you know? Being old doesn’t automatically confer wisdom or make all your words golden and not every occasion has to be a sharing opportunity.
I’m almost 60. Well, just turned 59 – same thing. My life is super good – I have a career I love, with enough variety to keep me happy. I live with my partner, who I love. He’s fun and interesting, and we’re comfortable with each other. We have enough money to cover all our needs and many of our wants. I have delightful friends, who I enjoy; activities that keep me busy and are rewarding. I have amazing grandchildren, and even though one of my daughters lives very far away, we’re still close, and thank goodness, we live in the age of Skype and air travel.
I would not trade any part of my life for a chance to be younger. It took me 59 years to get here, and I have no desire to go back to being 40 or 30 or 20 – and, absolutely-no-way-in-hell, not a teenager.
So I’m not young. I’m a crone, and proud of it, but just beginning to come to terms with it. I don’t quite know what it means yet, or how I will grow into it.
Some thoughts I consider:
1. It’s ok to need help. (I know, of course it is. Particularly if it’s you that needs help, and not me – it’s totally ok for you.)
2. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.
3. It’s ok for other people to figure things out for themselves. Even if I already “know” the answer.
4. Sometimes, my right answer is not actually the right answer.
5. No matter how wise I am, not everyone is obliged to listen to me or agree with me. It’s up to me to say the things I think need to be said. I don’t have to make anyone hear me.
6. It’s ok if someone explains something to me that I already know. Even if I learned it the hard way, before they were born. It’s ok to just agree with them. I don’t always “already know,” and they can’t read my mind.
8. I am headed toward death. Seriously. People my age die all the time and only old people say, “But they were so young!” If I get to die without a long layover in dementia, I’ll consider myself lucky.
I’ve noticed that as we age, often, we simplify. We move to smaller places, strip our homes of everything except the most necessary or treasured belongings.
Maybe we strip our egos too, gradually scale down from strong active leader to wise consultant. From star to supporting character. Maybe our voices need to become softer so that other people can find their own voices, so they’ll be ready to carry on without us.
I’m not there yet – let me be clear – I’m not stepping aside right now. Life still has plenty of challenges and surprises for me. But I am letting go of some things, and feeling ok about it. Working on figuring out how the “growing old” thing works.
I can almost envision a time of being truly retired. Maybe not til I’m 80, but someday. I’ll take a leisurely walk on the beach every morning, read for sheer pleasure, and enjoy all the small moments. I won’t have a long to-do list to put off doing. If anyone wants my advice, they’ll have to email me, or call, or come visit. They’ll have to ask me what I think.
I’ll spend time with loved ones, family and friends. Maybe I’ll write, or volunteer to read at a nursing home or kindergarten. I’ll have little projects that will enrich my life without any effort to change the world – and do it content in the knowledge that y’all young people are out there working hard at all the things that matter.
That doesn’t sound so bad.
I got into a discussion that became an argument yesterday, on Facebook. I know, I know, that’s a bit ridiculous in itself. A Facebook argument with people I don’t really know, who don’t know me and don’t have any context for the things I say, is probably not all that productive. But I began clarifying my thoughts, and that led me to this post today, so maybe it was helpful
It started with this article by Betsy Karasik entitled “The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students.” But the more popular reference to it was “Sex between students and teachers should not be a crime.”
Background. Earlier in the week, a judge had released the teacher who raped a 14 year old girl. The girl killed herself, the rapist served 30 days in jail. Even when he violated the requirements of the treatment program he was attending, the rapist was not held accountable. The judge’s comments blamed the victim and revealed a total lack of understanding of how rapists function. There was a huge outcry against the judge, and, as I write this, it seems possible that both the rapist and the judge may experience some strong consequences.
Then comes Betsy Karasik’s article, suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t criminalize rape when it’s an adolescent and a teacher, that maybe teenage girls aren’t completely victims, that maybe men can’t really help themselves and we’re being unrealistic to expect them to.
Let me be perfectly clear. I do not agree with her. Do NOT agree. Do NOT AGREE. DO NOT AGREE with her.
Background. I’m a therapist – mental health – and I work primarily with people who have experienced abuse, particularly sexual abuse. One in four, or maybe one in three, women experience some kind of sexual assault or molestation. One in six men. That’s not always the issue my clients come to therapy to address, and it’s not always *the problem,* but it’s often part of the story.
So I’ve spent a lot of time listening to people talk about their experience of abuse. What happened, what they thought at the time, what they think now, and how they feel. I’ve got extensive training in a number of approaches to working with trauma, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I can talk all day about trauma and survivors and healing and moving to thriving ~ and will if you get me started. But I’m going to try to really stay on track here, which means I’m leaving out a lot more than I’m saying.
I believe that when people are abused, two things that happen that contribute greatly to long-term emotional suffering afterwards. First, we don’t experience our feelings when the trauma is happening. We’re focused on surviving. It’s not safe to feel our feelings, we just need to get through the trauma. And that’s protective. Numbing out or dissociating protects us from feeling the full impact of what’s happening.
That’s really helpful at the time, and helps us survive. But. It creates a whole new set of problems if we’re not able to reclaim the feelings and process them later – and really, who wants to do that??
The second thing that happens, typically, is that the victim ends up feeling like it was their own fault the trauma or abuse happened. Perpetrators of sexual abuse ~ and our culture in general ~ have a real talent for victim blaming in a way that often completely convinces the victim. From “I shouldn’t have gone to Walmart at night” to “I should have known better than to go with him,” to “But I wanted it ~ it’s totally my fault ~ I actually started flirting with him!” the victim is convinced something they did caused the abuse.
I don’t believe the victim is ever responsible for getting raped. People get raped because they cross paths with a rapist at a time when they’re vulnerable. It is always the rapist’s fault.
But believing that we had some control over the situation sometimes helps people believe that we can keep it from happening again. It feels protective. The desire to believe we can keep ourselves safe is really at the heart of lots of victim blaming.
So ~ when I first start working with a client, often, they’ll say, “Here’s what happened. I know it wasn’t my fault.” Then they tell me 35 other things that suggest they’re living their life like they totally think it was their fault.
And at some point, they say, “I know in my head that it wasn’t my fault ~ and that’s what everyone tells me ~ so I don’t know why I still feel like it’s my fault. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
That’s a powerful moment. The confession “I still feel like it’s my fault” carries a load of shame.
Carl Jung says, “Shame is a soul eating emotion.” Brené Brown says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
If I try to convince my client that it wasn’t their fault, that they shouldn’t feel like it was, I am adding to the shame they already carry. I’m dis-validating their feelings, telling them they’re wrong to feel the way they feel ~ which is part of what helps create the shame in the first place.
It’s more helpful to point out that of course they feel that way, it makes perfect sense, and then begin to look at how that works.
So that’s what I heard when I read Betsy Krasik’s article. I heard the same thing my clients often say ~ particularly ones who were teenagers when the abuse happened. “Men can’t control themselves,” “I was mature for my age,” and “I wanted it. I asked for it.”
I have no idea if Betsy Krasik was speaking from her own experience or other people’s ~ and I don’t think it matters. She’s not my client, and I’m not particularly concerned about changing her mind. But.
It seems like people are responding to Ms. Karasik the same way they dd to the judge who made the victim-blaming comments and the poor decision in sentencing. As if she should never have voiced the opinion, as if just saying her thoughts out loud was wrong.
Ms. Karasik got the “Asshole of the Day,” award. Someone said she had “just given a free pass to pedophiles,” as if her article would allow pedophiles to feel justified. Just for the record, pedophiles don’t need a free pass ~ they act based on their own motivations and already feel justified.
But I think our response to Ms. Karasik adds another layer of shame for people who have those thoughts. She isn’t a judge; she isn’t making decisions that affect sexual offenders. She said something that lots of people secretly believe. If we yell at her and act like she’s awful for saying those things, we pass that shame on to people who have the same questions, carry the same doubt.
We need to refute what Ms. Karasik says. We need to explain why she’s wrong. But we don’t need to act like she’s wrong for saying it. Lots of people won’t speak up because they *know* it’s *wrong* to feel that way. But if we can’t talk about it, how do we process those thoughts? How do we find “the facts of the matter”?
I think Ms. Krasik did us a service by speaking her mind. She opens the door to having a real conversation about it with people who secretly think she’s right. I don’t want to vilify her and shame her for speaking up. I want to thank her for putting her ideas out there. That’s what I was trying to say on Facebook yesterday.
“If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of *what we’re supposed to be* is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
― Brené Brown
Having listed some of the more pressing reasons that I may be called to reject Catholicism, I’ll begin to look at the reasons why I don’t want to do that.
At church today, Father Tony Gittins, from Chicago, was a guest homilist. I thought I had heard the name before, and when I google it, I see that he’s renowned for his teachings on discipleship and social justice. Cool.