Tomorrow is Halloween; the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the beginning of winter and (most importantly) the celebration of woman as Crone. In ancient mythology woman was represented by the Triple Goddess of The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone. The triple spiral found in ancient Ireland is said to be a representation of this triumvirate view of woman. The maiden was of course revered for her physical youth and beauty, the mother respected as the nurturer and carer. And the Crone was esteemed for her wisdom.
Of course, we know that by the middle ages this idea of the wise older woman had been hijacked to become the evil witch and although we don’t burn witches at the stake any longer, the power of the older woman is now eroded by the constant message that we should be fighting ageing and that, for a woman, growing older is somehow a failure. When in fact, once a woman passes through the fires of menopause she emerges into her most powerful phase of life.
By the age of 50 most women are on the verge of menopause if not fully engaged with all the joys of hot flushes, and periods that come straight out of nowhere and aching joints etc. But hey, at least we are very unlikely to become pregnant. And in this decade, most of us will have finally arrived in a place where our biology, for the first time since we were girls will have receded completely.
For at least four decades we have coped with school, exams, college, more exams, work, travel, relationships while also coping with the monthly mess that causes logistical problems that men never have to deal with. We become just brilliant at not only powering through cramps, heavy flow, leaky tampons, headaches but all the while pretending that we are fine. Because to admit you feel like shit would be to display a girly weakness that might come back to haunt you. This is especially true in the workplace. You become so brilliant at it that you don’t realise just how heroic you are. Could you imagine if men had periods? There would be red tents full of soft cushions, gentle music and hot water bottles in every workplace and tampons and towels would all be issued free and delivered to your doorstep once a month.
With apologies to Dr King but we ‘50 plus’ women have arrived at an age where we are “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.” So, why the hell aren’t we throwing parties? Freedom from bleeding and all that accompanying side effects means that we are also (more or less – be careful) also free of our fertility. Fertility is a precious gift and one that most women experience with joy but being the ones who get pregnant means that forever we will be the ones who worry most about getting pregnant. So, no more worries. No more pills, diaphragms, coils, other medieval sounding devices to ensure those sneaky sperm don’t get to our baby eggs. Sure, that right there is enough of a reason to be delighted you are now in your fifties. But there’s more. And you might take a bit more convincing on the next but bear with me.
The Heat is ON…..Kundalini rising
There is a theory is Eastern Esoteric thinking that the menopause signals the rising of a woman’s kundalini energy up through her body, which would explain hot flushes I guess. But seriously, the menopause can be a huge hassle between hot sweats, aching joints, thinning hair and a variety of other inconveniences. This ‘change’ can make life very difficult and I plan more blog posts on the subject. But for now, hang on in there… I am not ignoring or making light of it. And remember that this kundalini energy is a very creative force and so menopause was considered to be a great time for personal growth. What makes me mad as hell is that modern Western Culture tells us precisely the opposite.
Ok so once you become a mother you will always be a mother….and your kids, big adults though they might be, will still be in occasional need of your wisdom, cups of tea, your fabulous lasagne or stew or soup and a hug that only a mammy can give. I know that. But by the time you hit the mid-fifties your kids are most likely fairly independent. They may have moved out. You may be a grandmother. But your days of active parenting are over.
If you are a mother, then for decades you have had quite a large part of your brain dedicated to ‘kids’ stuff’. You held all their individual preferences there, what food they liked and what they didn’t. What books they had read, what their favourite movies were, what cartoons they liked, who their friends are, what those friend’s mom’s names are and where they lived. You also remembered vaccinations, dentist check-up and doctors’ appointments. You knew their teachers’ names, kept track of homework and supervised it when they were little. You knew what extra-curricular activities whey had on what day and arranged complicated rotas with other parents to get them there and back. You always kept spare birthday cards and possible presents for last minute birthday party invitations – in other words the invites you find when they are a week old and smeared with peanut butter at the end of their school bag.
As they got older you helped with subject choices, and keeping them as calm as possible before exams. You picked up the pieces when their hearts got broken for the first time. You saw then through the nonsense of the rites of modern passage such as 6th Year holidays and the Debs. Whether you worked outside the home or not, you can now retrieve the bit of yourself that belonged to your kids. Because its now OVER. Well it’s more or less over! Your home might still be full but at least most of your head is finally your own. Well except for the bit they still inhabit and causes you worry. But in general, you have not got extra brain space; space for you to do what you want with.
Other people’s opinions, so what?
Most of us begin to notice a subtle change in our attitude to what people think of us at around 40. But by 50 there is a very definite sense of way less fucks to give as to what others really think of you or how you choose to live your life. And if you haven’t found this particular freedom yet – listen up and then make an effort. It’s the greatest gift.
Now I am not suggesting for one minute that we get to the point where we become completely selfish, pursuing our own agenda regardless of how it may affect others, especially those we love. But most women have been brought up to be people pleasers, to be nice, to be polite, to be gentle and these lessons learned very early get further cemented into place very often as we get older.
At home we learn to put our own needs last. We care for our children, our ageing parents, our partners and we run our homes. Every so often we may have a blow out when the pressure mounts but in general women grin and bear the fact that we are still doing the lion’s share of the housework and caring.
In the workplace if we become assertive we are often labelled ‘shrill’ or ‘cranky’ or ‘bossy’ or ‘irrational’ – oh there is no shortage to terms that are reserved purely to describe women who are a bit ‘strident’ (yep, another one). Some of us relish being troublesome and couldn’t care less what names we are called. But for most women, trying to juggle it all, being perceived as ‘nice’ makes life easier.
But then you reach 50ish and suddenly you realise you aren’t as bothered anymore about what people think about you. You realise that what other people think about you is their business, not yours. I am not sure why this change in our attitudes happens. Perhaps it’s just that we get too tired to bother. Perhaps we realise just how precious our mental health is and worrying about what others think about you is a sure way to wreck your head. Whatever the reason it’s something I began to realise when I turned 40 and with every decade since that I have less and less fucks to give. And it’s liberating, I tell you.
So this on the eve of Samhain it’s time to reclaim our true power as older women and the freedom to now, finally become our true selves. To fully step into our power as women. It is any wonder that society wants to dent that power be reducing us to wrinkles and lines. Because the truth is that a woman who can look back and see how far she has come and who now realises that she doesn’t give a flying fig what the world thinks of her is the most powerful of all.
We are all witches. This is our time.
Great post Barbara, I never worried too much about what others thought but noticed that when I hit 40, it brought a whole new freedom, i really didn’t give two figs what people thought. I’m 49 now and haven’t been looking forward to 50 next July but maybe it won’t be so bad after all 🙂
Great piece Barbara!