The Human Conversation
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
The only thing in the universe you can ever really call your own is the rest of humanity.
Captain James T. Kirk
“Who Mourns for Adonais?”
Star Trek TOS
I’ll admit, I really hesitated about this blog entry. But the bottom line is that Ready for 60? is an exploration of mid-life. And I am a believer that if you are going to jump off a cliff, make it a high one.
Last week, an article in The Wall Street Journal came to my attention. Titled “The New Rules of Middle Age, Written by Women,” it brought up an immediate flag for me as it fit exactly into Ready for 60? I strongly urge all to read this article as there is much good in it, but there is an overall theme running through it that makes me tired in my soul.
Author Steinke’s statement on writing about menopause and her comment about being depressed with this new time of life are both valid, but they showcase how the slant in this article actually works as a continuation of the limitations put on women that women are now trying to transcend.
Am I as clear as mud?
The Baby Boomers did not rewrite middle age. They turned old age into middle age by being a major cohort that lived much longer than their predecessors. By the time they realized this, they were moving out of middle age.
It is our generation, the 50-somethings, that can and will do the job (as I am attempting to do for myself here with Ready for 60?). But I don’t want to only talk about transition defined by biology. I want to stretch higher.
I want to have a human conversation.
The challenges covered in the article overview are all very real for women: ageism, sexism, professional oblivion just when you reach your peak with training and experience. I’ve faced them all personally and professionally. I still do. They are in full bloom in our culture. But they also exist for men, just not as blatantly.
Another clear reality today is the surfacing of temporarily surpressed misogyny and the frightening downward spiral of women’s rights in “first world” countries. As a woman and a mother of three daughters, I am deeply disturbed about the erosion of a world I thought I knew. And I have no explanation for it to give my daughters. They were raised to be and are warriors of life. They will be fine. Perhaps the silver lining to this is that my daughters will not be blind to the dangers around them as we were, thinking in our postwar first-world bubble that it was all settled and all we had to do was work hard.
But I am Clintonesque in my firm belief that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. Human rights include men.
I do not challenge the quality and the value of the work described in the article. All these women have lived interesting and intelligent lives. They are coming to understand what I now do: Midlife is truly a midpoint in life and not the beginning of the end. Their contributions now (and the wave of like work they are part of) will only help our generation do the job set out for us. In particular, I have the greatest respect for Michelle Obama and look forward to reading her book this winter as I nest. But the trap here is that as we rail against the cultural and social limitations on women as the focus of chipping our way out of them, we keep them the point and reinforce their presence and power.
Our generation’s role in history will be to rewrite middle age, to set in place a better world for the generation behind us to work within, and to pull the human race through this murky wormhole we find ourselves facing right now. And we need to do it together, with a human conversation.
I have spent my life tearing down the walls and boxes that people (mostly men but not all) have worked to fit me into for their own agendas. All have been based on the fact that I am a woman, and a lot have been reactions to my appearance. I have tried over and over in relationships to develop and build on the friendship between two people but invariably gender takes over and your words are lost. Sometimes I totally understand people who are now declining gender identification. There would be a curious and unusual freedom in that.
But that is not for me. I am a healthy woman, a happy heterosexual, a proud mother. Yes, I am grappling with menopause but also many other midlife things as well. The first three are roles that give me great satisfaction. The challenges that go with them are just part of the ongoing journey.
So let’s get the wheels back to the middle of the road:
My name is Maggie Wheeler.
I am exploring midlife.
I am a mother.
I am a woman.
I am a human being.
And I would like to have a human conversation.
Talk next week,