Old Woman, Wise Woman, Powerful Woman

by Julie on September 24, 2010 · 21 comments

But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. ~Kate Chopin

The other day, surfing across the web in no particularly linear or rational way (I guess that’s what surfing is), I came across this quote from Rush Limbaugh:

“Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

It was 2008. A long time ago. He was referring to Hillary Clinton. With a masterful stroke of the mouth, he attempted to dis-empower this woman by using one of the patriarchy’s greatest weapons, the deeply held belief that age makes women ugly, worthless and powerless.

I remember hearing it then and it made my blood boil. Yesterday, when I saw it again, I wondered about it. About Rush. About men. About women. About being a woman and growing old. About why watching a woman grow old scares the hell out of people. His statement is still a powerful window into how women who are growing older are perceived in our culture.

I am reminded of my mother as she grew fail towards her death. She showed such dignity. Even when she could hardly stand up, she wanted her hair combed, her lipstick on. She didn’t want anyone, including her children, to see her use the commode. She walked towards her death with grace.

I thought of Robbie Kaye and the amazing work she is doing with women and aging at Beauty of Wisdom. Robbie takes photographs of women getting their hair done; beautiful, proud women.

Photo by Robbie Kaye (c), all rights reserved

Doris, 76 - Long Island, NY

Photo by Robbie Kaye, all rights reserved

I wonder about how Rush felt watching his mother grow old, how he feels watching the women in his life that he loves growing older. How do we feel when we fear the crone out there, and in here, while we are in relationship with our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, great-aunts, and wise old women friends? While we are in relationship with ourselves and our own aging bodies?

And, (this is a ‘big’ and) somewhere a part of me is fully capable of saying something just as hurtful. If I push that away in him, I push it away in myself. I’ve grown up ingesting this patriarchal pabulum every day of my life. I’ve adopted the fears and beliefs and admonitions of a culture steeped in ageism, sexism, racism, and any other ism that has been the foundation of this patriarchal thought structure. It takes a deepening awareness and an opening consciousness to begin to see what I project onto others, how I push others away, how I say stupid things because of my own conditioning.

The structure of patriarchy is insidious. It causes men to oppress all women, because it is ‘linked to a cultural devaluing of femaleness itself.” (Allan G. Johnson, Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy)  It causes men to oppress even the women in their own lives that they dearly love, for you can’t uphold a structure of beliefs, and act within that structure everyday, and somehow not inflict that pain on some women and not others.

Johnson writes:

“One of the deepest reasons for denying the reality of women’s oppression is that we don’t want to admit that a real basis for conflict exists between men and women. We don’t want to admit it because, unlike other groups involved in social oppression, such as white and blacks, female and males really need each other, if only as parents and children.” (emphasis mine)

Think about it: men and women are inextricably linked. We can’t not engage with each other. If we no longer engaged, life wouldn’t continue. That’s what makes it so hard to look at patriarchy and the oppression of the feminine. And yet, we need the reemergence of the feminine to heal ourselves and to heal the earth. We need the nurturing, nourishing, wise and instinctual, wildly creative, and fiercely unconditionally loving feminine to heal ourselves from our ways of destruction and domination. We need this reemergence in women and we need it in men. We need to find balance within ourselves, the balance between the masculine and feminine.

The old woman was once revered, when people revered the Great Mother, when they saw the beauty of birth, death and rebirth, the power of transformation. Now, we sit around and pretend we don’t get old and we don’t die. We feel the shift happening and we dig our heels in and pretend we can’t be touched.

As I’ve aged, I’ve felt invisibility creep in. The older I get the more invisible I become, in a culture where youth and external beauty reign. All the while, I’ve become more beautiful to myself, because I am embracing and honoring the wisdom that my life experiences have brought, and the kindness, compassion and tenderness that grief and loss have engendered. It takes a certain amount of awareness and effort to keep coming back to what is real, what is true. It isn’t easy at all. Yet, there comes a time when no other way is palatable. I can feel the energy of the crone. I feel her power. I feel her fierce love.

It’s not that I don’t have moments of grief and sadness around aging. Some of those moments come when I get caught up in the never-ending bombardment of the advertising blitz.  I notice my body growing a little stiffer, I am aware of the years passing, and I know death is always a breath away. But, so is life. Life is always a breath away.

Women’s power in the patriarchy is youth, physical beauty, a sexy toned body, the ability to become more like a man than a woman, so how we act and what we do will move us up the ladder of what this culture deems is successful.

But in an entirely different way, we women are powerful beings, especially as we age. Not powerful in the patriarchal paradigm, but powerful in the sense that we are more authentic, more real, more truthful and more beautiful. And, powerful as the crone. The wise woman, the woman that embodies crone energy. The crone is the woman who no longer sees herself only in relation to others, but as a woman unto herself, a woman who stands alone in the center of her own beingness, in the center of her own truth, and from this center relates to the people in her life from what is real for her.

The patriarchy fears the crone. She is truthful, she is powerfully creative, she is intuitive and instinctual, and she loves fiercely. The patriarchy does everything it can to deny this, even to denigrate this and the women who embody it, because old women are wise women are powerful women. They have gifts to share, gifts that this world desperately needs.

What if we could be with ourselves in such a way that we no longer projected our deepest fears onto an entire portion of the earth’s population, a group of people that has gifts to share with the world right now, gifts of wisdom, grace and beauty?

What if we could be with ourselves in such a way that we no longer projected our deepest fears onto each other, woman to man, man to woman?

Being with ourselves is the first step.

Being with the misogynistic and misandrist thoughts that ramble around our own minds and consciousness, and questioning if they are true, do we know them to be 100% fact.

Being with our hardened hearts, with the walls we’ve built around them that allow us to engage in such a way where we are just as complicit in this fear and rejection of the wise old woman, and wondering if our hearts really feel this way.

Being with ourselves, with the feelings we don’t want to feel, the feelings we numb ourselves to, day in and day out.

Being with.

Being with the beginning of something, a beginning of a world where we honor and respect each other as men and women.

As Kate Chopin reminds us, the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing.

A world where patriarchy is a distant memory begins with the chaotic, the vague, with the tangled mess of people willing to engage differently, even when we don’t yet know how to do it or what it might look like.

It may feel exceedingly disturbing, but then don’t the happenings in our world right now disturb you greatly?

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

wholly jeanne September 24, 2010 at 10:15 am

I will be with this magnificent post for the rest of the day, and when I am home later tonight at my full-size keyboard instead of this little ole bitty cell phone wanna be keyboard, I will have more to say. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to keep putting these important messages out into the world. Till soon. . .

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Karen Sharp September 24, 2010 at 11:02 am

I think part of what’s going on in this dynamic you’re tracing the lines of, is this: Women are perceived as being closer to earth, to our beingness as material beings, and therefore, to our mortality. To our limitedness. And a woman aging thus points to all of our deaths. In a certain way, I can understand (although completely disagree with) Rush Limbaugh’s comment – it’s like he’s saying, we’d be watching our president dying before our eyes, and through her, she’d be representing the mortality of all of us.
Which of course is also a truth, we are all mortal, fragile, precious and vulnerable. And I think it would be a good thing if we as a country were more aware of that.
The other interesting, powerful, and poignant thing that a woman aging thus points to, in pointing to our death, is she points to the Divine. Not in a sanctimonious way, a dictating way, a God-is-on-our-side way. Just in the way that we all, male and female, weak and powerful, young and old, American and not-American, abide, ever, on the frighteningly invisible, broad palm of the Divine. And that can be a hard thing to face.
Or, of course, a blessed, gorgeous, relief-filled, cherished thing to face. And my gratitude to the Old Woman, in myself, in others (both men and women) who reminds us of that. Her wisdom may take us down a notch, out of our certainty and safety, but it’s to a more loving, trustworthy place.

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Rebecca September 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Thank you for this fiercely loyal post, Julie. Do I dare add the effect of this in the way women treat women? I’ve almost come to expect this from (some) men, but it makes me sick to witness the way disempowered women act similar to powerless men in the manner in which we treat other women. When we truly accept our own grace and power, we treat everyone with respect and dignity. As women, we can begin by honoring the feminine in ourselves and in others, both men and women. Just today, I was on the phone with my mother, grieving the lack of truly feminine powerful role models in the medical field, but she reminded me of all of you. I am truly blessed to have so many courageous women and men in my life, who do not hesitate to express true feminine power. Let us aspire to be the role models for whom we have longed.

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Robbie Kaye September 24, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Julie, this is a powerful piece. “My Life Has Stood a Loaded Gun” by Dickinson comes to mind…

I agree with Rebecca, and share the disappointment that comes from less than respectful acts, not only from men, but from our own gender comrades to each other.

It makes me happier to focus on the collective awareness I am witnessing from women… a strength that is being unleashed in later years and I am encouraged by this movement and while it saddens me that there needs to be a movement at all, I celebrate the changing tide and am determined to contribute to that change and show the power and beauty in women at every age, not just in youth and not just externally. These women are pioneers from their time who have opened up doors for all of us…they should be anything but invisible in our culture and society. So thank goodness for women like you, keeping those doors opened and opening them wider than ever before! With love & gratitude! Robbie

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Ray Beckerman September 24, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Rush Limbaugh is as sorry an excuse for a man, or for a human, as walks — I should say crawls — the earth.

What you should be worried about is the people who listen to him.

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Julie Jordan Scott September 24, 2010 at 2:17 pm

There is such truth in this line:

>>> The patriarchy fears the crone.

I am proud of my age and get sad when women in my age group and younger feel so uncomfortable with their age, their skin, their physical form. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all embraced our coming-to-crone, like an upside down sweet sixteen or quincinera? (I don’t think I spelled that right!)

One of the goals I am quietly whittling away at is to help stretch the cultural view of what makes a woman beautiful. I was shocked when I was recently in a play, a very adult play, where I was in a romantic liason with a much younger man. Much younger. It involved lots of physicality and while I was horrified that he would be horrified, he wasn’t at all.

In fact, I was surprised by the younger men in the cast, how open they were to my crone-dom, although I am not sure when a woman officially may wear that title. Perhaps crones are more frightening to men in their age group. I am going to ponder this.

And by the way, I think Kate Chopin’s The Awakening should be required reading for each young woman at adolescence. I have a male friend who thinks it should be required reading for men, also. I think if I had read that book before I got married, I may have made different choices.

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Katharine September 24, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Like Jeanne, I need to sit with this, not because I need a bigger keyboard, but I need bigger space in which to be with the magnitude of what you write, Julie. You have succeeded in disturbing , or as I like to say “perturbing”, that vague, chaos deep inside where both my light and shadow, reside.
Thank you, namaste.

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Baby Boomer Girl September 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Thank you for sharing such deep insights, Julie. I process a lot of my aging issues via the ‘Baby Boomer Girl’ songs I write and share on my blog. Inspired by your observations about becoming invisible, I shall get to and write a new post on a song I wrote exactly on this topic. It was inspired by my mother who shared with me this invisibility, as she experienced it, before she died. It made a huge impression on me. My immediate response was the song ‘Not Gonna Be Invisible.’ It is a power-reclaiming, rebellious statement where youthful beauty and energy remains – transformed into the eternal beauty and vibrant energy of spirit. I dedicate it to my mother and to all ‘invisble’ women. Should readers wish to read the lyrics, pop into my blog – I am Baby Boomer Girl on Wordpress. I shall mention your article and put a link to it. Thank you again, Radha Sahar.

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Tamera Hays September 24, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Brilliant and so well articulated…thank you!

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The Style Crone September 24, 2010 at 5:27 pm

I am mesmerized by the beauty and insight of this post.

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Alana September 24, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Julie – again you’ve opened the door to a vital conversation in a beautiful way. My wish is that one day, it continue not just amongst those of us who are open to it, but on a massive scale. How do we knock on the doors of closed hearts and ask them to peek at a grander vision of the world? I wonder how, and when, the softening and opening will come?

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Tamasin McGregor September 25, 2010 at 12:58 am

thanks for this really interesting read. I really think we need a more pleasant term than ‘crone’ to describe women of mature years, women who have experienced holding families together, women who have trod the planet, working to support their loved ones, women who know when to hold their tongue, provide a listening ear without offering an opinion, women who know that what is important about them is not the turn of their cheek, not the plumpness of their lips but the fullness of their heart.
thank you for posting
Another cougar..(yuk)..heading towards croneage and definitely refusing to lie down!
Tamasin (born 1966.. and proud of it) x

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Katharine September 25, 2010 at 10:04 am

Hello Tasamin
A friend gifted me with a book called the Queen of Her Self, to create a space between the mother and crone, making it now a quattro motif. It speaks to coming into one’s sovereignty, full inner and outer beauty and knowing (I think back to one of Julie’s earlier posts on volumptuous goddess). Aligns nicely with Christiane Northrup’s notions of menopause on the ‘rewiring’ of our brains and energy systems to move us out in the world to do the big work needed by us now. I immediately resonated with the concept and possibility.

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Katharine September 25, 2010 at 10:05 am

Whoops, I erred, and apologize, Tamasin.

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Lindsey September 25, 2010 at 4:05 am

Again, Julie, you move me with your words, which are elegant and incisive at the same time. I love that Chopin quote as much as I dislike the Limbaugh one. Thank you, again for your deep wisdom and fierce devotion to honoring the feminine at the core of every woman.

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Lindyklk September 26, 2010 at 3:11 am

Julie,
This is one of the most brilliant posts I have ever read.
I believe all the women (who have already commented), have said all that I possibly could have so I will simply say “Ditto”

Thank you so very very much!!
warm hugs

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Bridget September 26, 2010 at 9:54 am

I was at my brother’s wedding last weekend, my twin brother’s wedding.
I was mistaken once for his mother and once for his bride’s mother. We are all the same age, 40. Our mothers are 30 years older than us.
I found this incredibly alienating and insulting and then I felt ashamed, as if being thought of as older was an insult.
Do I look old? Or wise? What were they responding to?
I had internalized the message that old is wrong, shameful, depressing, useless.
Who perpetuates this myth? Why are we expected to age like Julia Roberts or Courteney Cox? Why can’t 40 look like 40, which is not 30 and certainly not 20?
And why is our looks tied to our ability to lead?

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annie q. syed September 26, 2010 at 10:28 am

Dear Julie,

How things have a way of coming together! Although I tremendously appreciated your words that you left in a comment on one of my pieces that I wrote on my Still Sunday’s post about women and the divine, it is only NOW that I understand how kindredly you understood and felt each and every word I wrote.

So I read this twice. Once as if they are your words, hearing for the first time. Second time as if they are words I knew and rejoiced another knew too.

Gratitude.

Amazing post. I hope more women ACT on the knowledge of their divinity in whatever spectrum they have actualized it.

Gratitude.

~a.

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Jeanie Miley September 27, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Right before my 65th birthday this year I decided to let my hair go natural — and natural for my hair is an all-over bright white. I’ve said that my hair is in recovery, overcoming a lifetime addiction to haircolor and learning to become its own true, authethentic self. My addiction to color began when I was 18 and my hair began to turn white, and my mother “suggested” that perhaps I should color it….and so I did. I am amazed — shocked, surprised, amused — by the comments of other women who are around my age. “How could you do that?” (said with admiration and awe) and “I would never have the nerve,” and “I asked my husband what he thought and he said, “not yet.’” The most interesting reaction is from my friend who, only slightly younger than I, keeps her body thin and boyish by long, long hours in the gym and whocolors her hair a deep, flat red or brown or black….and keeps on dressing like her twenty-something daughter, so afraid is she that someone might know she is close to sixty. She actually pretends she doesn’t see my hair or, worse, she looks at it and then looks away, giving me the message, “I don’t see you any more.” Best of all, though, are the cries of delight, “I love your hair!” and “You inspire my courage to own my age,” and “Your whole face lights up with your natural color!”
And isn’t that symbolic — Don’t we all light up when we are…..natural?
I love what you have written, Julie — There are moments when I feel the sadness of things past, but more, I embrace this crone-ness and celebrate the long, rich, multi-textured life I have had. Not everyone gets to be 65, and not everyone gets to comb white hair. I’m truly enjoying becoming who I really am and being the age I am.
You’re so right, Julie — patriarchy has done a number on all of us — and somehow, we can move deeper into our souls and access the courage to stand up to what is wrong about it, refuse to collude with its subtle and insidious energy, and at the same time, keep on living into the wild wonders of another way, the way of the wise and free crone who cannot, will not, must not be vanquished by the oppressive nature of Rush and his ilk, even if patriarchy comes through the men or women in our daily lives — and especially must I stand up to the Rush in me, the patriarchical masculine in me who makes me insult, diminish, demean and ignore who I really am.
Ray Beckerman is right: the ones we should fear are those who listen to Rush, quote him and build cases against others because of him. I wonder where his belief system and those of his followers will finally take him……and how much the rest of us will have to pay for his influence in our culture…..
I love your posts —
Grace to you- Jeanie

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Doris September 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm

I am so proud to be a “Crone”. Your uplifting and caring words are
like music to my ears. Bravo to a very wise young “Total Woman”.
Much success & gratification to you.
Your Mom

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Bahiehk October 29, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Hi Julie!!
This is beautiful. I have sent it to all the women of my family and linked it on my blog (my top ten picks for november): http://ow.ly/31Nbq
be blessed, xoxox

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