I’ve just been reading in the Sunday paper about the “new” phenomenon of the female mid-life crisis. Apparently, up until quite recently, middle aged women didn’t have crises. Try telling that to generations of women who had only Valium or insanity to retreat to when their husbands took up “working late” and heading off for “weekend conferences interstate”. The only precursor I know of for most of the crises women suffer is having ever known or lived with men. But I digress.
There is something which happens to women when they leave their late thirties. It’s not so much a crisis, however, as it is a revelation. Women don’t wake up at the age of forty and wonder why the world doesn’t understand and appreciate them. They wake up and realise they don’t understand and appreciate themselves.
From the ages of about eighteen to thirty eight, most women think for the most part they will never be as good as everyone else in the world, including other women. We spend our teenage years unable to see our own inherent beauty and vitality. We spend our twenties trying to be sexy as our duty to men, and smart and successful as our duty to our liberationist forebears. We spend our early thirties believing that by this age, we should have the perfect body, children, husband, home and career because for crying out loud, we have been at it for about fifteen years and we should have got it right by now. Told in our childhoods we had the right never to be violated, oppressed or abused by anyone, in our late thirties we sadly discover most of us have been anyway. Then we reach our forties. Our husbands leave us, our children rebel against us and our bodies betray us. The “all” we are supposed to have gets divided up in court settlements, sent to family counselling and amputated along with a course of chemotherapy.
In middle age, women realise we have expected too much from ourselves. Now we know that we can’t have everything. We realise that what we have now will probably be what the same as what we have when we are sixty, except it may all be closer to the ground. We have also learned that we can’t be all things to everyone, so we stop trying. Most of us have had a brush with death in the form of a health scare, or by losing someone close to us. Forced to change our view of life, we accept we are not immortal or bulletproof. We know we’re not young any more, but we also know we’re not old….yet. Middle aged women don’t generally buy sports cars and get young lovers, although, some of us do. More often, we simply take a look at what we have, and decide to make the most of it in whatever time we think we have left.
Some decide that what they have at forty is a body they have kept cellulite free and size double D for twenty years, and venture out to see how much trouble they can get for themselves with it. More power to them. Other women decide that the reasons they didn’t write or paint or travel or study no longer exist, i.e.: they no longer believe they are dull, stupid and responsible for others happiness, so they take the limitations off themselves and go for it. A woman’s mid-life realisations often are more of a crisis to the others around them than they are to themselves. Some middle aged women realise that they possibly only have a few years left where they have the capacity for cognitive and intelligent conversation, so leave the grunting, self-absorbed house-mate in his LaZ-Boy with a TV dinner, and head off to a book club or lecture theatre instead. One could see how this might cause problems.
Unlike most men, women often have less to lose anyway. Middle aged women are less likely to see their assets as an extension of their egos, because this generation of women are accustomed to earning less generally, and sacrificing what they do have for their families. Middle aged women will fight as hard to keep a nest together, seeing it as part of her identity, as a man might exert in leaving it to prove his.
Middle aged women have been largely invisible in our society. It’s taken a re-emergence of us as a force, albeit in tattoo parlours and universities, for that society to even acknowledge we exist. And then they try to dismiss us as menopausal shrews, nothing more than the demographic responsible for the unhappiness of a whole generation of brilliant, misunderstood and apparently incredibly good-looking middle aged men. How typical that any group of women who do not make a fuss, or wear red thigh-high boots and dance around a pole, are simply ignored. May I point out that even the most successful Self-Made Men came out of a woman’s body at some point?
This female mid-life crisis thing they are trying to label us with is a ruse, a myth and a lie. There is something going on, but for us, it’s no crisis. It’s more closely enlightenment. As for me, yes, I’ve had my nose pierced and three large tattoos done since I turned forty. Yes, I’ve grown my hair back the way it was when I was a teenager and bought skinny jeans. Yes, I went roller skating last Sunday and I refuse to wear Cottontails. But I can tell you, if you don’t like my cellulite, you’re standing way too close to my butt. Just hand over the pink slip to your Monaro pal, and no one gets hurt.by