Book Review: In Our Prime

 In Our Prime Book

I like the idea of “In Our Prime” — that prime means aging and not youth.

Currently, I am watching a show on HULU called Mrs. America, which takes us to the era of the early 1970s when the ERA movement was active, strong, and fighting for equal rights for all women in America. Phyllis Schlafly is the nemesis who fights against the big names, like Gloria Steinem, who we all know fought for the ratification of the ERA across all states in America. It is an interesting look at the era and how women fought one another in a fight that seemingly should have united the sex rather than divide.

It is out of this context of thinking about this era and these great female leaders that I have picked up the book In Our Prime How Older Women are Reinventing the Road Ahead by Susan J. Douglas. The book focuses on women of the Baby Boomer generation and how they are perceived by society, politics, and media today. It has been close to 50 years since the fight to ratify equal rights for women played out. This book takes a look at where the movement is today for older women, i.e. post 50 years old.

As an aside, one thing that bothers me about this book is she groups everyone 50+ as a Baby Boomer. This is not accurate. It is about 56+ for women to be in this generation today. Perhaps this is because I am nearing the age of 50 and am proud to be a part of Generation X.

Douglas is looking at the perception of women from the different angles of society. American society has a “throw away” concept of older women, which is referred to as “gendered ageism” — that makes sense. It follows the old adage that men only get better with age like wine, unlike women. Douglas points to movies that perceive women in these ways. Old or older women really have no place.

The estrogen is dried up and gone, the woman’s baby factory is long since shut down — so now what is her use to society? I believe that this thinking hasn’t changed much even as the fearless women of the 70s fought to be seen as more than a choice to marry and have children. And, yet, as women age this is exactly the reason we are disregarded — the purpose of our sex is over. Men get better as they age especially if they can find a woman who is still alive with the potential for mating and reproduction.

This book argues for women to be seen equally in society as we age. Much like the women who fought in the 70s for women to have choice personally and professionally, now the fight is on for the older woman to be seen as one with dignity, purpose, and as an active, valuable part of society. The author provides some quick ideas for late age activists, like groups of women coming together to figure this out and then rallying around equity, particularly around healthcare.

It seems that we women will always have a fight on our hands with society and other women to try and establish a place in society that is fair and equitable throughout the lifespan. This book reminds us that the battle has never really been won, but is a continual one that needs attention, persistence, and activism throughout life.

It is worth a read — and there are a few more books that I want to highlight regarding aging woman, particularly one that focuses on elderly women and where we go when the end of life is near and the time is more for reflection and less about action. That time is also on its way.

Dear Therapist: Stuck in a Role

Happy woman cooking dinner

Dear Therapist,

I am married and living a traditional married life in many ways. Although I work outside the home, I also do most of the cooking and cleaning. My Mom did the same and it never looked that hard for her when I was a kid. Now, in the role, not only is it hard, I am not that interested. I am stuck in the role of “wife” and don’t know how to break out? Help!

Sincerely, Sick and Tired of Cooking & Cleaning

How easy it is to not only pick up on roles that society expects of us when we take on the role of wife, but also act on them without any thought whether or not you want the role. If you saw your Mother play this role in your family, it may be even more difficult to break out of something that just doesn’t suit you.

However, you are looking to break out and so you are recognizing that there is a choice other than being stuck in a prescribed role. There are two parts to making the change.

First, getting honest with yourself. What do you want your role of wife to look like in your marriage? Are there any chores you don’t mind doing? Or circumstances under which you don’t mind doing them? What are the things you absolutely never want to touch again? Becoming honest with what you do and do not want to take on as far as these responsibilities is the important first step.

Second step is to have a heart-to-heart with your partner. Perhaps he is just assuming that you don’t mind. Perhaps he saw his own Mother take care of all of this like you and thinks that’s the way it is supposed to be. Perhaps he has space to participate alongside you? This may not be the easiest conversation, but it may be one that leads you to a new role in your marriage.

Things won’t change overnight. You may give up the dishes to him and he may get it done in two days not in the next two hours. As your roles shift, stress points will arise. Being able to keep a sense of humor as well as a commitment to the new way of being and doing within your marriage are the keys to making change.

By all means, break out! We are told in a million ways each day from the start of life what we are expected to do, be, have in our relationships. Unwinding those ideas and finding the way forward that works for you is the key.

Book Review: Recipe For A Perfect Wife

A happy woman washes a dish amidst marital bliss

Given my thoughts earlier this week on the viral video, Be a Lady They Said, I thought it only appropriate to focus on this new little book, Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown. Although this is a fiction book and not a viral video, here too we find a story about women fitting into a role they have been taught to aspire to in society. In this case, marriage!

Recipe for a Perfect Wife Book

Basically, the modern-day story is one we know all too well. A woman marries, follows her husband to the suburbs, and sets up a life for him and for her that is less than appealing. After all, our character left an exciting job in the big city.

The story gets interesting when this modern woman finds an old cookbook that belonged to a wife from a gone-by era in this same home who cooks her way to happiness(?) — actually to a mystery — in order to be the perfect wife of her times. Between following her recipes, our modern-day gal begins to piece together the real life of this perfect wife and begins to take courage in crafting her own life in the times she is living in — maybe with a secret or two in the mix.

It’s another tale of trying to prescribe to women who they are to be in any given marriage in any given era. There are many quotes, recipes, and puns to lead the way and give guidance in this book, but in the end it’s ultimate lesson is that women must define this for themselves. Hard to do in a society where we are told to be a lady at every turn and what exactly that means.

It feels like in the end times haven’t changed that much. I devoured this book because of the movement back and forth between the old and new ways that women try to make married life work for them. Although we think it is so far removed from yesterday, but, in fact, women have been trying to carve out their lives in secret for generations — even right up until today.

With no answers given, it is still a pleasure to read the recipes, take in the quotes, see how one woman tries to guide another and then reflect on how we define ourselves in our own marriages. The reflection is strong I believe.

Book Review: Why We Can’t Sleep Women’s New Midlife Crisis

A New Book on Women’s Midlife Crisis

I am seeing this book, Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun, everywhere about now and it has caught my attention as I am the author’s target audience: a Gen X female who supposedly cannot sleep during this stage of my life. Given there are not many books written — at least yet — on Generation X, I thought it would be interesting to peruse the author’s insights on what she and the many Gen X women she interviewed for this book had to say about their experiences.

Apparently there was a lot they had to say and the book feels like a whirlwind with tons of interviews covering women my age feeling just about everything — everything negative and wrong that is. From money woes to husband troubles to never feeling good enough with their professional decisions to wondering if the whole path taken should not have been taken to begin with — this books strikes me as a place to give credence to how bad it all is — and that it really began when we were born and how we were raised.

I think a book that is written by a woman who is my age and focuses on women of my age is to be commended. Most of the time, the midlife crisis genre belongs to men. How refreshing to have a modern look at it today from a woman’s perspective. About time.

However, I cannot agree with how this author sits in the muck of it all. I believe that’s most comfortable for most people and for society in general, but it tends to bore me these days. How bad life can be at this stage or at any stage at all. And then to compile a book with all of the bad feelings and stories and then offer up some quick advice on how to combat all of this bad. It really feels pop psych gone bad.

To me, this is one of the easy ways we let ourselves live and then feel heard — when books like this come along and support our bad feelings. We love to dwell in the bad. If you are reading this and saying to yourself, but it really is bad, I believe you and I also want to challenge you on that thought.

If you think about a given day, how many people do you know who think, express, dwell in good thoughts, ideas, pleasure, complements, and other things that uplift people? I bet you probably can’t even find a single person today. Sad to me. If it is all about the complaining, the worrying, the nagging — and most of American society dwells in this to be honest – it is actually almost like eating a chocolate chip cookie to read about others misery alongside your own.

Harder still? Finding meaning and making meaning of your life no matter what stage we are in in life. Yes, your hormones may be changing, as is your husband and your kids and your parents, and so are you. Being resilient, curious, and welcoming to all that is changing is a way to meet the midlife crisis with an open heart that leads to authentic growth.

Where is that book? The one that looks at my generation of women and celebrates the change — of it all.