By Liz Senn
For the Salisbury post
I’ve always found the term “women of a certain age” decidedly… dubious.
What is this “certain age”? Why is this too tricky to clarify? Why does this statement reek of condescending insult?
The phrase was popularized by psychotherapist Lillian B. Rubin in her 1979 book, “Women of a Certain Age: The Midlife Search for Self.”
The first historical reference was invented in 18e century in England by the poet Lord Byron as a description of celibacy. These “unfortunate” women had no other way to describe their sad state of purgatory between “Miss” and “Mrs”.
However, the French reference to “a woman of a certain age” has erotic connotations, inviting sexually charged images of “experienced” women over 40 who can still seduce younger men.
I asked the men in my life for their views on “older women.” Early reactions revealed obvious unease and suspicious responses, including, “Why are you asking? “Is that a trick question?” and “It looks like a trap.”
Fortunately, others were more responsive. A friend from Raleigh said that “women of a certain age” were “certainly not spring pullets, but not very old.” “Maybe middle-aged,” he said. “Wise and experienced.”
Ben from Wilmington innocently deflected: “I don’t think about it at all. What do you think? How do you feel ? With this shrewd response, he managed to sidestep the question and skillfully communicated that my female emotions were more valid than his. Nicely played.
Like the title of this column, “Women of a Certain Age,” is an ironic reference to the positive and negative connotations of female middle age. The reality is that “women of a certain age” refers to women between the ages of 40 and 65, years of middle age that can be both difficult and tumultuous.
During this time, the women face significant biological changes, as well as raising children, securing finances, work issues, and the death of parents, all while trying to achieve personal goals. Middle-aged women also report feeling invisible and unheard ofa condition only exacerbated by isolation and the aftermath of COVID-19.
“I’m too young to be old and too old to be young.” – Kathy Bates as Evelyn Couch, “Fried Green Tomatoes”
When this movie came out in 1991, I was 12 and far too young to understand Evelyn Couch’s dissatisfaction with her marriage, her life, and herself. Now that lament rings truer than I would like.
I chose to “skip” my first quarantine birthdays. Probably to avoid realizing that maybe half my life is over, and to avoid the comparison frenzy it triggered. Studies show that women entering their 40s begin to measure themselves harshly against the lives, accomplishments, and looks of other women. I was no different.
When Mom made her well-meaning request for the 2020 Family Report Card fodder, I was unemployed, broke, and entering my second decade as a single divorcee. With no twittering accomplishments to announce, I felt completely unsuccessful. The news about my sister’s engagement and holiday wedding made me feel even less worthy, despite the fact that I was incredibly happy for her.
As my next birthday approaches, I have chosen to accept the reality of quarantine. My growing white hair needs regular coverage. My ophthalmologist prescribed me bifocals. Younger men ask for “the experience of dating an older woman.” Ouch!
But the news is not all bad.
“Confront him. I’m older and more confident. – Kathy Bates as TOWANDA!
Evelyn’s parking lot rage scene was extremely satisfying. Alter ego “Towanda” boldly embodied his newfound confidence. Evelyn realized that “women of a certain age” have the powerful force of wisdom, experience and elegance that can only be acquired over time.
Now middle age means more to me than fear and failure. Four months after the dreaded family report card, I was interviewed and hired for the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Twenty years of past professional experience have not aged me; it made me a well-paid asset. Middle age means I determine my own standards of success, whether or not they include marriage, children, or property.
As a single woman, middle age means I’m wise enough to value the good guys and let the bad boys go. I can spend an evening alone with Netflix, hot chocolate, and my fur babies without FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
More importantly, middle age means I understand the need to connect with other “middle aged women” – the family, friends, colleagues and mentors I rely on for life. empathy, encouragement and a quick laugh.
With that in mind, I share my personal stories in the hope that “Women of a Certain Age” create an interactive community to women going through the many transitions of midlife. What does “women of a certain age” mean to you?
Brownley Elizabeth “Liz” Senn is a Salisbury resident and freelance writer from North Carolina with credits from The Charlotte Observer, Today’s Charlotte Woman, The New Bern Sun Journal, WILMA Magazine and The Knoxville News Sentinel. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and kissed Vanilla Ice at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. She welcomes your opinions, advice and everything else at [email protected]