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Women Rowing North

Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age

By Mary Pipher
12-minute read
Audio available
Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age by Mary Pipher

Women Rowing North (2019) explores how women can continue to flourish as they enter their sixties and seventies. Through poignant stories from real women’s lives, these blinks examine the possibilities for happiness, friendship and community engagement in the later stages of life.

  • Older women looking for inspiration
  • Self-help enthusiasts seeking fresh insights
  • Those interested in gender politics

Mary Pipher is a clinical psychologist and author specializing in trauma, women’s mental health and the impact of culture on psychological well-being. Pipher has written several New York Times best sellers, including Reviving Ophelia and Another Country.

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Women Rowing North

Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age

By Mary Pipher
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age by Mary Pipher
Synopsis

Women Rowing North (2019) explores how women can continue to flourish as they enter their sixties and seventies. Through poignant stories from real women’s lives, these blinks examine the possibilities for happiness, friendship and community engagement in the later stages of life.

Key idea 1 of 7

Ageism, particularly against older women, is common in American society.

Growing older can be alienating and challenging, especially for women. The author, now in her seventies, recently came face-to-face with this challenge when a little girl approached her in a park and sweetly asked, “Where do old ladies come from?”

This question might seem astonishing. But it’s not really that surprising, given the extent to which American culture excludes and disempowers older women. This alienation is so widespread that this little girl’s confusion is understandable. Consider how often older American women are portrayed negatively in popular culture. For instance, mothers-in-law are commonly the butt of derisive jokes or viewed as bossy, nagging nuisances. The word ‘witch’ is often used to describe older women, as well.

While sexist ageism overtly portrays older women negatively, this sort of prejudice manifests in more subtle ways as well, like in the total erasure of older women from popular culture. There is a dire underrepresentation of older people, and particularly older women, in American films. A 2017 study conducted by the Media Diversity and Social Change Initiative found that less than 12 percent of films that won an Academy Award between 2014 and 2016 featured older people. More shockingly still, older women were featured in close to none of them.

This discrimination against older people in Hollywood is a reflection of the prejudice endemic in American society – a culture that values youth and beauty, while fearing and denigrating the aged. This fear and hatred, known as gerontophobia, was highlighted in a 2012 study by the Yale School of Public Health. The study assessed the extent to which social groups on Facebook dedicated to the elderly expressed disapproval of older people in their group descriptions. The researchers found that nearly all of them used negative stereotypes about the elderly, often denigrating and infantilizing them.

Ultimately, unkind and discriminatory attitudes toward older people stem from ignorance. While older people know how it feels to be a child, a teenager and a middle-aged person, no other age group has experienced being old. Thus, younger age groups struggle to imagine the reality of advanced age and may lack empathy and understanding. Ageism may be understandable, but it’s still hugely damaging. And not just to the old, but to the young, as well.

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