Women Tell It Like It Is

At a recent consciousness-raising brunch in Gainesville, Florida led by NWL chapter steering committee member Joye Barnes, women ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s gathered to answer the following consciousness-raising questions:

• What things in my life as a woman do I want to see changed? How has this changed as I’ve gotten older?
• What is my role in women's liberation at this stage of my life? How has that changed as I've gotten older?

Below are comments from a participant who asked to remain anonymous. It has been edited with her approval for brevity:

 

I am in my fifties. Growing up, my sister and I sort of raised ourselves, and it made me an independent thinker. When I got out of college I lived in large metropolitan areas. I had a career, got married, had a child, and then got divorced. I went through being a single mother and having to fight in the courts for child support. After the divorce, it was very difficult to find a job with a schedule that was compatible with parenting a small child.

 

When I was in college, there were women who were supporting their husbands in college. They had bumper stickers that said 'I've earned my PHT, ‘Putting Hubby Through.’ I decided I would never ever do that. I also worked my way through college in a government office and I decided I would never work in a bureaucratic system either. So when my child was in high school, I decided to go back to school. Now I have several postgraduate degrees and there are new opportunities available.

Something I like about academia is that once you accomplish something and it's on your CV and can't be taken away from you. That's important, because there's a tendency to pass over women, to not put them in historical accounts or to not give them credit for their ideas. So if you can do something on record somehow, professionally, that's much better.

But still, there's a huge problem with age discrimination as women get older. Age discrimination is worse for women because the tendency is to assume competence in men. With women there's an assumption of incompetence and one has to prove competence. I think this is the big difference between the experience of men and women, even when they are young. For instance, people may look at me and assume that I cannot understand computer technology or that I must have age-related health problems, though neither is correct.

I've also realized there's a huge amount of energy in women who have now raised their children. They are empty-nesters, and they've got a lot of talent and more time and possibilities. I haven't seen a lot of people looking at that segment of the population because there's a tendency in our society to put down people who are older as if they are useless. I think that's ironic because as we get older, many women have the time, the energy, and the focus to make a difference. And we have an advantage— we are natural multi-taskers.

As far as what needs to change: as we get older we often have fewer ways of making an income and therefore (due to campaign finance laws and the present system) we don't have as much political power. We also need to have our work count toward Social Security benefits, whether in the home or at the university. Those are the kinds of things we can organize around. We shouldn't divorce ourselves from what happens when we get older. After a lifetime of gathering valuable skills and experience, we owe that to ourselves.