Tommy Hilfiger Sounds Ageist

In this week’s Time Magazine, designer Tommy Hilfiger says he doesn’t like to see people wearing floral prints.

I think they really don’t have great taste. Why would you want to wear a print you see on a bedspread or wallpaper in an older person’s home?

Hilfiger

Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. Why would you disrespect a whole group of people based on nothing but age? That’s textbook ageism, my friend, and at sixty-one you should know better. Think I’m overreacting? Try this: why don’t you repeat that sentence but instead of older, use the adjective black. How does that look?

If it’s not okay the one way, it’s not okay the other, Tommy. I will assume you’re a nice guy and didn’t mean it, and if so, that makes my point: we’re so comfortable insulting people based on age that we don’t hear ourselves. It’s not intentional or conscious, just an easy stereotype to slip into. So next time, try to be a little more careful, won’t you? Maybe, in so doing, you can set an example for the rest of the world.

Is Feminism a Bad Word?

Younger women start their sentences with, I’m not a feminist, but...” In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg wrote,

We accepted the negative caricature of a bra-burning, humorless, man-hating feminist. She was not someone we wanted to emulate…In our defense, my friends and I truly, if naïvely, believed that the world did not need feminists anymore. We mistakenly thought that there was nothing left to fight for.

Feminism has fallen out of favor. This is partly because it has been taken over by extremists. Lately, for example, it’s considered bad feminist form to diet, lest one be perceived as selling one’s soul in compliance with cultural norms of beauty. (Dang, right after I got back to goal with Weight Watchers!) In an article in Elle Magazine, Marisa Meltzer said,

There’s a thread of old-school feminist thought that says taking pleasure in being admired for our looks is participating in our own oppression…

Lynne going crazy 002

Me, considering giving up.

Daughter, please. There’s also a thread of feminist thought that says make up your own mind about what you want to take pleasure in. Just don’t let anybody limit you based on gender.

The feminist movement (a) made some mistakes and (b) got co-opted by the forces of capitalism. Unfortunately, the message of feminism was perverted from “you can be whatever you want to be” to “you must be a spectacular over-achiever.” Women are expected to be perfect mothers and partners while running corporations, and they’re freaking out and opting out.

Although we’ve opened up classrooms and board rooms, allowing women to go where only men have gone before, we’ve ignored the fact that women have wombs, ovaries and breasts, plus the talent for perpetuating the human race. This requires a little more effort and time, which they’re not getting. They’re expected to pop out babies on their lunch hours and get right back to work, pumping breast milk in the ladies’ room while wolfing a sandwich at their desks.

It’s horrendous. A nightmare. I’d be pissed, too. But instead of competing with each other for the title of Superwoman, we should recognize that women face similar difficulties and challenges in work and life. That used to be the basis for feminism. Our common difficulties impelled us to band together and fix things. We rejoiced in our collective power to shape a society that for too long had taken our contributions for granted while barring us from real power.

Back in the day, we wanted to be liberated from stereotypes that said we couldn’t be astronauts or fire fighters, and from rules that we should act or look a certain way to keep society from feeling threatened. Yes, some of us took it too far. Some of us became narcissistic assholes. If you were raised by one, I apologize.

But here’s one of the coolest, most empowering things I, as an old broad, can share with you. If you don’t like something? Change it, alone or collectively. Remember, there is more power in numbers, so you might get a couple hundred thousand sisters to join you in your mission. Call it whatever you want, but do something. Make yourself proud.

You can wallow in the nastiness of what is, or stand up, hose off the mud, and create a better world for yourself and other humans. If not for yourself, for your daughters and sons. At least, please try.

Disillusioned, and Grateful for It

I first wrote this post for Heather Black Wood’s blog From Shadow to Seen. Per Heather, FSTS is “a project created by two women who were inspired to develop a venue that would encourage other women to share their short memoirs, poetry or original artwork with the world, thereby emerging from the shadows to be seen.” There’s more about FSTS at the end of the post. 

By the time you get old, you will have been disillusioned many times. This can be a good thing. To illustrate from my own experience:

Disillusionment #1

In my twenties, I was proud to call myself a perfectionist. One day my boss, smiling sadly, told me perfectionists fear criticism. The words rang true and he knew it. Humiliated, I slunk back to my desk.

But there were bigger lessons ahead.

Disillusionment #2

I could always work with difficult people. They saw something in me, and nobody else would put up with them. Sure, it took a lot of time, so I had to bring work home because I fell behind at the office, but I felt good about myself. I felt special. Important. Years later, a therapist said I tolerated those people because I was trying to replicate my unsatisfactory relationship with my tyrannical and violent father. Normal people, said the shrink, wouldn’t put up with that treatment because they have good boundaries. They value their time. You don’t.

Oops.

Disillusionment #3

In my late thirties, I married a guy who was underemployed but I figured things would improve. Wrong. He was jobless for years, always with some excuse. He placated me by doing the laundry and making dinner, and telling me I was pretty and talented. Later I found out he was selling drugs and screwing other women during the day while I was at the office. When we had our last fight, he said he’d married me because he deserved not to have to work. “I earned you,” he said.

Filled with grief and feeling like a complete failure (and idiot), I divorced him. I still didn’t understand what I missed. Then I read the book The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. She said sociopaths target people who are mindlessly, hopelessly helpful. The ones who do it without thinking about it much.

Okay. That helped.

Finally, I see the light

Then I married a man who showed me you could be a good person without being a doormat. I realized part of the reason I had always rescued everybody was because it fed my ego to do so. I never asked myself if people were as good to me as I was to them, or why I was sacrificing myself for others without any reciprocity. I realized helping people gave me a sense of importance.

So in my mid-forties, I finally rejected the self-serving role of hero. Now, at fifty-nine, I’m an average Jane and that’s okay. Although my history is a bit grim, there may be parallels for your life.

If you often feel drained by other people, here’s a tip: when you’re asked to help or sacrifice, take a little chance, not an irrevocable commitment. Then look for reciprocity – time, effort, career help, etc. The next time they ask, respond accordingly.

I understand there’s a bit of risk in this approach. Not everything comes out evenly, and compassion is good. Also, the plan gets a little wobbly when you’re dealing with children or young people because they’re not fully formed. I cut them more slack than mature adults. Bottom line? Know why you’re doing something; dig deep.

You are every bit as precious as the next human. Treasure yourself.

That is what disillusionment taught me.

From Shadow To Seen seeks to engage and encourage participation in ways that inspire and promote artistic expression, understanding, and empathy. As we allow ourselves to participate and share our stories or works, it may move us forward—building a platform for exchange, enlightenment and hope. We hope the exchange will provide a quiet place where women may release a shadow and find themselves moving toward a more accepting light—emerging with a new found energy.

The One Thing About Aging That You Can Control

As we get older, we face a lot of challenges. Our looks change, our strength wanes, we lose loved ones, and we’re minimized by society. We try to celebrate the good and stay positive, but so much about getting older is difficult, and there’s not a darned thing you can do about it.

Except this:

“The one thing that is up to you is whether you will see getting old as a tragedy, or embark upon it as another of life’s great adventures.”

What an empowering statement. I borrowed it from Dr. Carol Orsborn’s new book, Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. For a more complete review, see the lower right margin of your screen. I first learned about Carol Orsborn’s point of view when I read this wonderful post. In it, she says, “What a waste of the human potential it is to define successful aging — or life, for that matter — in youth-centric terms of productivity, activity and vigor.” She goes on.

…those of us who can grow large enough to embrace the dark side of aging can organically have what the Eastern traditions call an “awakening.” We don’t need books to help us understand the transitory nature of life. We’re living it.

I love her idea that we’re on a path to enlightenment as we age. It’s such a positive way of looking at things.

Contrast that with the discouraging tone in Susan Jacoby’s Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age. I wrote about it here. Yes, there’s some truth to what Jacoby says, like why would you become wise in old age if you’ve been average-to-stupid all your life.

The two authors view old age through different perspectives. If I were dealing with grief, ill health, or other horrific negatives, for example, that could change my perspective. I regret to say that, around the time she wrote her book, Susan Jacoby was caring for a loved one during a lingering illness.

In exercising choice, I decided to stop playing the youth game. Oh, sure, I tried it. I got Botox a few times, and once I even did filler in my lip area to try to combat the deepening purse-string effect. But I felt like a fraud. Plus those needles hurt. Did you know before they give you filler the doctor comes at you with one of those painkiller needles they use at the dentist? The ones that look like they are meant for horses? But I digress.

Back to the idea of choice in older age: it’s a rich new phase we’re in, Second-Halfers. You can change your perspective and decide how you want to see things. Look closely: the lock on your jail cell is rusting. If you give the door a push, you might be able to break free, scamper down the hall and out the door into the sunlight.

Invisibility is a Choice

 Got your coffee? Here’s the “news” from Salon.com:

WOMEN OVER 50 ARE INVISIBLE

Rampant ageism and sexism have left women of a certain age virtually powerless in American society

Virtually powerless? Holy crap. I had no idea we were in this much trouble.

But first, great news!

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

I tweeted about the above article, and Jane Friedman responded. We’d met briefly before, when she was at Writer’s Digest Magazine. Jane is now a top editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, and a renowned publishing and media expert.

Turns out, she was bugged by this, too. We agreed to do a tandem blog – she would address the under-fifty perspective, and I – since today is my 59th birthday – the over-fifty. I know you’ll find her POV extremely interesting. Mine will probably be better, because I’m older, but as soon as the whippersnapper gets a few more wrinkles, she’ll be all right.

Okay, back to the article. The author, Tira Harpaz, is an accomplished woman. Yet, she feels invisible, and thinks we are, too. Her comments below describe the pain she’s feeling.

  • “It hits you in areas where you feel most vulnerable–a loss of attractiveness and sex appeal, the end of fertility, a glimpse of a slow, lingering decline.” 
  • “People I met at parties would look slightly disappointed and then look past me, and gradually, I began to shrink inside.”
  • “As I eased into the row, the 30-something man sitting in the window seat glanced up at me. It was a brief glance, but it conveyed disappointment and complete disinterest.”
  • “When the radiologist no longer asks if there’s any chance you’re pregnant. When the cashier at the movie theater, glancing indifferently at your gray roots, suggests you might want the senior discount, years before you might qualify. When people in the subway don’t really look at you as they politely offer you a seat.”

As much as I disagree with Harpaz, she’s not alone. You’ve heard it yourself. Maybe even felt it. However, today, I’m going to suggest an alternate explanation, one that might set you free. Sort of.

I think invisibility isn’t about age. It’s about gender. It’s about being female.

Let me make my argument. From the time we’re old enough to raise our hands in a classroom, we’re ignored in favor of the boys (AltermattJovanovic, & Perry1998). While boys often speak out of turn and assert themselves, little girls sit back, waiting for the teacher to call on them.

Invisible.

Per Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, school children were asked to perform a small task and then pay themselves what they thought they deserved. (First graders were asked to award themselves Hershey’s Kisses.) In first, fourth, seventh and tenth grades, girls consistently paid themselves 30% – 78% less than boys. 

Invisible.

In her new book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg laments how young, professional women discount themselves, from second-guessing their readiness for promotion to declining an offer to sit at the table with the decision-makers.

Invisible.

So it seems we don’t think that much of ourselves in the first place. Meanwhile, men, who occupy 96% of the top CEO jobs and 80% of Congress, don’t notice us unless we radiate fertility.

And then that goes away.

Whether it’s gender or age, women can change the culture, and they can start today. For more on this, read the excellent In the Company of Women – Indirect Aggression Among Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop, by Drs. Pat Heim and Susan Murphy. They cite research showing that women hang back, out of fear that other women will punish them if they act like they’re special. The authors call this the Power Dead-Even Rule, and it’s pretty chilling. You can read a summary of the most important points here.

We older women should model powerful behavior for our girls, and encourage them as if their futures depended on it. If I were counseling younger women, I’d say stop waiting for an invitation. Grab the reins and demonstrate your presence. Older women: You were raised to be nice, and to put others first. Are you still waiting for permission to live? Stop right now. Take off your shoes and walk on the lawn.

Finally, all of us need to support, rather than snipe at, powerful, amazing, barrier-busting women.

Sexism exists. So does ageism. (For proof, reread Ms. Harpaz’ statements, above). But if you feel as I do, you might agree that invisibility is a choice. And as for me? I choose to resist.

What do you think? Is this invisibility real, and if so, do you think it’s because of gender or age? Let me hear from you.

PS: Blogging with Jane is the best birthday present ever! Be sure to check out her post here.

Are We Allowed to Slow Down in Retirement?

Retiring but Not Shy

Several years ago, a friend and I were talking about what we would do after we “retired.” I wanted to start a new career writing, teaching part-time, doing public speaking gigs, and blogging. She wanted to start a preschool! After decades at our corporate jobs, this was how we viewed retirement.

I was reminded of our conversation as I read the excellent book Retiring but not Shy, by Ellen Cole and Mary Gergen. The book is a collection of essays by women psychologists on the subject of their own retirement. Although some essays were by women who retired a while back, the ones I found most troubling were by those who were either considering retirement or had recently retired.

Like my friend and I, these bright, well-educated women had laundry lists of all the incredible new tasks and initiatives they would undertake. Retirement meant converting from busy/busy to busy/busy. Beyond financial security, many seemed afraid that giving up their jobs meant they would no longer “matter.” These stellar professionals, some of minority ethnicity, feared being marginalized by society after retirement.

Especially for us feminists, it’s hard to imagine walking away from the battlefield. We struggled against the social tide for those degrees, titles, professions and salaries. The achievement of professional stature became our our identity, our source of power, our protective shield.

When I gave up my profession, I didn’t feel special anymore, and looking back, this was where my post-retirement life got interesting. I found myself tackling some heavy questions.

  • Did I have value to society without my work? Does anybody?
  • Did I fear a judgment I’d attached to others who didn’t work? (As a society, this question has implications with elders as well as stay-at-home parents.)
  • Would I ever have the confidence not to work? To give up positional power? To still see myself as special, even without the hard-won mantle of office?

Ultimately, the greatest triumph of my sixth decade was gaining a sense of self-worth exclusive of my profession. To value myself without the suit and heels meant I had to view the rest of society in a more forgiving way. to look beyond the uniform and titles – or lack thereof.

In the book, one of the writers asks: if work equates to feminism and independence, to what does retirement equate?

I have come to see retirement as a time of enlightenment and the letting go of ego.

One writer says “I believe that even in retirement women must contribute to make a difference, to be perceived as powerful and to have power.” But powerful in whose estimation? We cannot make society respect us – we can only respect ourselves. And as for feminist battles, can’t we just model feminist principles as we putter in the yard, go to church, or help out down at the shelter? Why do we need to start a new national/international effort toward whatsis?

Will we ever accept that we are good enough?

The Best Argument for Mindfulness

One of the joys of my marriage is that Bill and I both like to read, and occasionally to each other. He’ll share a particularly moving passage; I’ll share a turn of phrase that delights. A few days ago he read something that got under my skin, that maybe even changed my life.

He was reading The Ship by C.S. Forester, a beautiful, thick-paged old book published in 1943. Forester wrote the Hornblower series, among other works. Here’s the passage that affected me:

The Captain experienced a feeling of elation…He was a man who was profoundly interested in the art of living. Rembrandt gave him pleasure, and so did the Fifth Symphony; so did bouillabaisse at Marseilles or Southern cooking at New Orleans or a properly served Yorkshire pudding in the North of England; so did a pretty girl or an elegant woman; so did a successful winning hazard from a difficult position at billiards, or a Vienna Coup at bridge; and so did success in battle. These were the things that gilded the bitter pill of life which everyone had to swallow. They were as important as life and death; not because they were very important, but because life and death were not very important.

How profoundly these words affect me! In them I feel the comfort of knowing that life’s difficulties aren’t unique to me. I also understand that there’s a way to build resilience to the bitter pill(s) all of us will eventually be compelled to swallow. It is this: whenever possible we should be fully present, absorbing every sweet morsel of life that’s available to us, storing it in our memories for the hard times.

As Bill and I discussed the passage, he told me that during a recent family blowup – I told you we’re brawlers, apparently. Lately it seems that way – he would have trouble falling asleep. At those times he’d call up the sweet memories of holding our 10-month-old grandson. The two of them have such a bond; after a nap, and after finishing his sippy cup of formula, Andrew will snuggle with Grandpa in the recliner. He’ll examine his toys and talk in his happy, wordless way, occasionally arching back to grab Bill’s nose or hang upside down, studying the world from that perspective before wriggling around to be set on the floor.

I get happy just thinking of that.

Right now, I’m sitting in a quiet hideaway – a part of the cruise ship where we’re spending our spring break before returning to our babysitting duties. The hideaway is silent, thanks to my resourceful sweetheart who found the audio controls and cut the disco music to this cocktail lounge that is deserted at eight in the morning.

Bill sits twenty feet away from me, reading. I see him framed against the sea, and feel almost teary with gratitude that we are still healthy and able, and that we enjoy each other’s company. He makes me laugh; earlier we were considering the size of a new ship. “It’d have to be big,” Bill said. “You figure, four thousand passengers at five hundred pounds each…”

I’m also feeling a bit more understanding about those who seek the finer things in life, not purely for consumption’s sake, or the drive for status, but as a pleasant positive to offset the inevitable negative.

Whatever we have can be taken away. Better to lay in supplies for that cold inevitability. A better argument for mindfulness, I haven’t found.

Nurse Was Right to Refuse CPR

A couple weeks ago a nurse made international headlines when she refused to perform CPR on an elderly, dying woman in Bakersfield, California. The tape of the frantic 911 dispatcher was played over and over again. Newscasters spoke of the need to expand “good Samaritan” laws. The country was outraged.

Somewhat surprisingly, the woman’s family declined to sue, saying she had wanted no extreme measures to prolong her life.

Extreme measures? It’s just CPR, right?

Maybe not. In some cases, denying CPR may be the most humane option.

The following is a quote from the horrendously enlightening article, How Doctors Die by Dr. Ken Murray. I read it a year ago but it was so profound, it stayed with me. I’ll never forget this:

Some doctors are so afraid of having their Do Not Resuscitate orders ignored that they have NO CODE tattooed on their chests.

What could cause doctors to fear life-saving measures? Here’s an excerpt of one doctor describing resuscitation measures:

The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the intensive care unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist.

Did you know CPR often breaks ribs? I didn’t either. Here’s more:

Feeding into the problem are unrealistic expectations of what doctors can accomplish. Many people think of CPR as a reliable lifesaver when, in fact, the results are usually poor. If a patient suffers from severe illness, old age, or a terminal disease, the odds of a good outcome from CPR are infinitesimal, while the odds of suffering are overwhelming.

This article in Forbes laments the fact that there was no “Do Not Resuscitate” order on file at the home, and I agree. However, even if you have such an order on file with the facility, over-zealous or lawsuit-shy staff may completely disregard them. “Jack,” who had such orders on file only to have them ignored, was lucky enough to be removed from life support by the doctor who wrote this article. The doctor said:

Although he had thoroughly documented his wishes, Jack hadn’t died as he’d hoped. The system had intervened. One of the nurses, I later found out, even reported my actions (i.e. complying with Jack’s DNR orders) as a possible homicide.

It’s difficult to imaging leaving a patient to die without taking measures to revive her. However, I read the Murray article before the Bakersfield incident occurred, and thus my first thought was that the nurse was a hero, courageous enough to honor the patient’s wishes. It’s apparent that the family felt the same way.

But I still kind of feel like getting a tattoo.

Facebook Erases Me, and I Feel Liberated

A couple days ago my Timeline and Activity Log on Facebook disappeared. Three years of posts, links, and interaction erased! All that remained of me on FB were my About page and photos. I was outraged! I was in despair! So much of my life history zapped into nothingness. How dare they! (Ha ha. Like Facebook owes me anything. A good wake-up call.)

Silver Lining #1

Soon, I got my brains back. I remembered that as a Boomer, I grew up without any of this electronic crap. How important was it, really? Sure, if the photos were ever lost, that would be a bummer, but with digital photography, I’ve got so many photos on my hard drive right now, would I even notice?

Silver Lining #2

But all that Internet history erased, lost as a historical record. I would never be able to back and access it again. And then I thought – Really? Would I ever have done that, seriously? And don’t I feel better to have that big chunk of data scrubbed from their data base? Kind of a relief, even though I’m not one to post topless photos of myself smoking a bong. But still. Clean slate!

Silver Lining #3

Have you ever wondered what you’d do if one of your networks became unusable, say they started charging or went belly-up or redesigned the site in a way that you hated?

When I thought FB erased me, I quickly made an alternate plan. I would leave my page intact, but add a referral to my profile on Google+, LinkedIn, or somewhere else. Who cares where? There’ll always be a place to “live” on the Internet.

Because here’s another stupid situation that suddenly provides a brilliant solution: Have you ever felt frustrated that you’re connecting with the same people on multiple networks? (i.e. Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads, Google+, etc.)? Doesn’t it seem like overkill? What good is all that duplication?

However, it could be useful, because if you left one platform, you could go somewhere else and most of your friends would still be in touch with you. (If you’re one of those people with 20,000 Twitter followers, I’m sorry. I guess.)

Maybe that’s how this saturation of social networking is going to end up. The people who really like what we have to say, or want to keep up with what we’re doing, will always be with us. The rest? They’ll churn and reattach, to us somehow, or to someone else.

The upside of all this crazy profusion of platforms is we’re all cross-networking. And the result of that? I think we become our own presence, our own brand. If one platform is sold or shuts down or becomes a corporate asshole, we pivot to another. Our followers follow, because we’ve made it a point to be WORTH following. And life goes on. This, I think, is the future, and the only path to true independence as a web-reliant entrepreneur.

For what it’s worth, Facebook restored my life. And I just really don’t care.