I have been observing the presence of women of a certain age on the web for quite a while. I started writing about this a couple of years ago. How “certain age” is defined varies by who is asked to define it. As I am beginning to create content and frames for different sections of a the site I am launching this Fall that will serve that certain group of women. So I thought I would look at some of the groups that could be included in the Certain Age Mash Up dependent upon what characteristics you believe to be most defining of the group.
The empty nest is a fictitious criteria. As I am wont to say, “My nest isn't empty, I'm still living here!” Humans are not birds. Evolutionarily and taxonomically humans are hominidae. And as far as I know members of this group, the great apes, including chimps and gorillas all make nests. They make nests for themselves. When they have dependent offspring, they share a nest. I am done building my nest. It is what it is and I still live here. I don't think I, personally, want to be defined by absence.
Um… it isn't like menopause is a single event. It is a process. I think perimenopause taken together with the cessation of menstuation and the time after menopause when a new stability emerges comprises the vast majority of the contemporary women's lives especially when compared to the time of our lives defined by fertility. Again, the majority of my life, Goddess willing, should not be defined by absence.
Age by Decade
Should the fact that we use a base 10 numeric system define the stages of our lives? It probably is easier to organize a society according to the groups of people who reside in each 10 year period. But we all travel through time and pass through these categories that may or may not correspond to stages within the life of any one person. A woman in her thirties who began having children in her teens may have much in common with a woman who is in her fifties who began having children in her thirties than with someone her own age who is parenting a toddler. Of course biological stage of life would be the same for both the thirty-some women, but life experience will probably be very distinct for these two women.
Perhaps that “certain age” is defined by the presence of adult children? How do you define adult? Internal definitions and external definitions are different beasts. What if a woman is caring for a developmentally disabled child? Will she never be included in the sisterhood of a certain age? Adult children can return home. Adult children can establish homes next door or across the county. Children can become financially independent from parents or children can request or need or receive financial assistance from parents throughout their lives. Age, financial independence, and emotional or intellectual maturity of one group cannot really define another person's inclusion in another group.
In our society we give labels to different generations. These personlized age grades probably made sense in a farming society that changed little over the course of a century or two. What Brocaw has called the Greatest Generation gave birth to the Boomers, the Beats gave birth to Generation X, and the Boomers gave birth to the Millenials, right? Once again it isn't that simple although it does shed some light on why we have a saying about things skipping a generation. Generations as we currently know them are defined by governments and demographers. Cohorts are more coherent self-defined groups. The Boomers can be split into two very distinct cohorts, those who could have gone to Woodstock and those who could have, or whose peers could have been,drafted and fought in Vietnam. Those are distinct cohorts. People who were young and experienced a shared televised event when humans first visited the Moon have a defining experience that unites them as specific group of people. At one time it might have been experiencing painful coming of age ceremonies together. But then there is the “older generation” versus the “younger generation” that moves over or through specific groups of people. We were youngsters once. Now we are not.
Yes, Virginia, there is no absolute definition of woman. My own take on this is that our amazingly complex and awe-inspiring self-recognition system can extend as close to our personal identity or as far as every living thing. Some of us are closed and see differences. Some are open and see similarity. I suspect that every person puts her own experience in to this equation and comes up with a self/other ratio that is meaningful to her. Zero similarities translates to complete otherness. A ratio of one or complete agreement translates to self. To see self in the other probably needs more likeness than difference.
Women on the web, from my experience, are choosing to look for similarity. I like that.
Jennifer Comet Wagner says
What great observations. I usually am guilty of putting people (both women and men) into groups based on their generation or age. Now I see that it isn’t as simple as all that. Thanks.
Thanks Jennifer! It is nice to know that sometimes my contemplation of belly button lint can convey information.
Lori Lavender Luz says
Good points. I’m an older mom (started late) and I find I fit more with a stage than an age. Many of my friends are a “10” younger than me, but I have more in common with them because of our children’s activities than I do with people my age who are now uh, emptying their nests.
And once a mom, always a mom. I think no matter how old, wrinkled, and unsteady my hands may become over the years, the cry of a hungry infant will always tug at my heart and breast.
Still blonde after all these Years says
As usual, i agree with your premise. However, I argue that categorization and generalization is necessary for many purposes especially marketing and medicine. My preferred category is by age as at least age is something that is true.
sandra tyler says
great points. And I remember a while back reading about how blogs were originally written mostly by young adults, until facebook and twitter came along. Th younger folk moved in that direction, and blogging now indeed is taken up primarily by us more “mature’ folk:)
Elaine Kehoe says
Interesting observations. But I think I define another category that you haven’t mentioned–the “child-free” woman. I’m sure there are a good number of us who never had children due to preference, medical reasons, or others. I married later in life and perhaps consequently did or could not get pregnant, but I can also say that I never felt the overwhelming urge to have children. I’m sure there is also a fairly good sized number of never-married women out there, too, who have made good lives for themselves as singles. I also consider myself a late bloomer in a lot of ways. I married after forty, and my husband is younger than I am. I still feel as though I have a lot of my life to live (hopefully). I’ve always hated being identified and categorized as a “baby boomer,” so I guess I’m more of the people-shouldn’t-be-categorized opinion. Thanks for the thoughtful essay.