March 2020

In Our Prime

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When feminist, scholar, media critic and author Susan J. Douglas (The Mommy Myth, Where the Girls Are) writes, “So here we are, on our puppet strings,” she is addressing “women of a certain age”—and she means it not as a wail of surrender but as a call to arms. Her book In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead will inflame the hearts of both those who participated in the feminist movement of the 1970s and those who cut their teeth on #MeToo.

This rallying cry hearkens back to a long history of gender and age discrimination, from the patriarchal laws of colonial America that denied women their property rights, to the suffragists’ long fight for the right to vote, to the “coiling together of ageism and misogyny [that] served as a powerful weapon against Hillary Clinton in 2016.” From such “turnstile moments” have come history’s inspiring activists: FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins; Dolores Huerta of the National Farm Workers Association; co-founder of Ms. magazine Gloria Steinem; the Gray Panthers’ founder Maggie Kuhn; and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now is the time, Douglas urges her aging contemporaries, to pass the feminist-activist torch to the next generation.

Thanks to the constant barrage of print, television and social media, ageism (or anti-aging) seems to be everywhere. It’s rampant across advertising campaigns, thriving in the largely unregulated cosmetics industry and inherent in Big Pharma marketing, where “age itself is a condition that needs treatment.” Without vigilance and action, Douglas warns, prejudicial attitudes can become government policies.

She pays special attention to current perspectives on the fate of Social Security. With statistical evidence always in hand, Douglas points out that women tend to outlive men while earning less over their lifetimes and so are more vulnerable to changes in this long-standing retirement benefit. The personal can become political: Keep an eye on your future, she advises her younger counterparts, and share your awareness with others. The collective consciousness-raising of the 1970s needs a comeback.

Inspiration can also come from celebrity “visibility revolts,” as when ageist stereotypes are demolished on screen in shows like “Grace and Frankie,” which follows in the footsteps of “The Golden Girls.” With humor and aplomb, Douglas makes a convincing case for how to end the war on older women and reinvent what aging can mean.

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