The “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” of women over 60

Recently, I had the opportunity to present at a conference for professional women over the age of 40. Yes, there seems to be a conference for almost every group and every topic out there, especially since isolation was imposed on the world in 2020. Still, this was a very informative gathering and showcase for this formidable demographic.

When I was asked to speak at the conference, I was given free reign as to which topic I’d choose. After all, there are so many, all of them either very important or very funny. Or both. There are so many, in fact, that I had a hard time choosing just one.

As with most problems, the longer I thought about this one, the clearer the solution seemed to be. I had to step back and look at much broader notions than the ones I’d been considering. I did some research in an attempt to learn some current hot topics for women over 30. As usual, thought and research solved my problem.

When I Googled “current issues affecting professional women,” particularly those of us in our 50s and 60s, a very real concern jumped out at me. You see, I found a plethora of topics that concern us, and almost every one of them included the words “should” or “shouldn’t.”

“Five things women over 60 should stop doing”

“Ten words every women over 50 should eliminate from her vocabulary”

“Over 50? Remove these items from your wardrobe permanently!”

“Women 50 and over – these three makeup techniques should become part of your daily routine”

Do you see the common thread in all these topics? Without even understanding why, the more I read, the more I became insulted. Who are these people informing us of the things we should and shouldn’t be doing? A little digging yielded this answer:  one of the authors was a 24-year-old woman, one was a 30-year-old woman, one was a woman over 40, and one was a man.

Do you see another common thread? It seems that everyone feels the need (and has the right) to tell us what we should be saying, wearing, and doing. As silly as that sounds, that’s the world we live in, isn’t it? What could a 50- or 60-year-old woman possibly know about these things? Best leave it to the men and children.

I had my topic. I wrote a well-reasoned, beautifully-outlined speech. And when I was about 5 minutes into it, I began to ad-lib, as usual. It’s something I do that drives my husband crazy, but I just can’t help doing it. In this instance, it was the right thing to do, because women in the audience felt relaxed enough to ask questions and add comments at the end. My well-reasoned speech turned into an open space into which women could speak freely about the ridiculousness of this whole concept. What else could anyone BUT us possibly know about what we should and shouldn’t be doing?

Here’s my take on things. First, by the time a woman reaches this stage of life, she has learned pretty much everything the “hard way.” In other words, she’s learned by experience. There is no better teacher, and there are no lessons more thoroughly learned.

Second, if you’re not one of us, you have no idea what we should or shouldn’t do, wear, think or say. Stop opining as if you do.

Third, we have earned the right to wear what we choose, apply our makeup (or not apply it) as we choose, think what we will, and say what we think. There is a great deal of wisdom and freedom that we enjoy in exchange for so many years of our lives.

We have married, sometimes more than once. We have birthed and raised children, who have gone on to lead their own lives. We have made friends and lost them. We have made homes. We have forged careers. We have buried parents, and sometimes those husbands, children and friends. We have seen leaders on the world stage come and go. 

I daresay we have earned the right to wear whatever shade of eyeshadow we choose, whatever skirt length we choose, whatever words and phrases we choose.

Instead of trying to corral women who have five or six decades under our belts, how about listening to us? Instead of trying to pretend that aging is not a natural process, one to be coveted by those denied the privilege, how about celebrating it?

Indeed, we should, shouldn’t we?

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