I’ve just read in the Sunday paper about this “new” phenomenon of the female mid-life crisis. Apparently, up until quite recently, middle-aged women didn’t actually have crises. Try telling that to past 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”. If you ask me, the only precursor I know of for many of the crises women suffer from is having ever known or lived with men. But I digress.
There is something that happens to women when they leave their late thirties. It’s not so much a crisis, however, as it is a revelation. Unlike many men, 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 believe 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 try all through our twenties to be sexy as our duty to men, and at the same time smart and successful as our duty to our liberationist forebears. We enter our 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 gotten it right by now. Told in our childhoods we had the right never to be violated, oppressed or abused by anyone, by 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 is divided up in court settlements, sent to family counseling and lopped off along with a course of chemotherapy.
In middle-age, many women realise they have expected too much from themselves. By this time we absolutely know that we can’t have everything. We have come to realise that what we have now will probably be what we have when we’re sixty, except it may all be closer to the ground. We’ve also learned that we can’t be all things to everyone else, so we stop trying. Most of us have had at least one health scare, or at least lost someone very close to us. Forced to change our view of life, we now accept we are not immortal or bulletproof. We know we’re not young any more, but we also know we’re not old…just yet. Middle-aged women don’t generally rush out and buy sports cars and get young lovers, although some do. More often, we simply take a look at what we do 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 it can get them into. Others decide the reasons they didn’t write or paint or travel or study when they were younger no longer exist, i.e.: they no longer believe they are dull, stupid and responsible for the happiness of others, so they take the limitations off themselves and go for it. A woman’s mid-life realisations often are more of a crisis to others around them than they are to themselves. Some middle-aged women come to accept that they possibly only have a few years left with the capacity for cognitive and intelligent conversation, so they decide to leave their monosyllabic house-mate in his recliner 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, and sacrificing what they do have for their families. Middle-aged women will fight as hard to keep her family together, seeing that 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 do exist. And then, they have the hide to dismiss us as menopausal shrews; as nothing more than the demographic responsible for the unhappiness of a whole generation of brilliant, misunderstood and apparently incredibly good-looking middle-aged men. May I point out that even the most successful Self-Made Man 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 I can tell you, it’s no crisis – it’s more of an enlightenment. As for me, yes, I’ve had my nose pierced and got myself three large tattoos since I turned forty. Yes, I’ve dreadlocked my hair and bought skinny jeans – in a size 14. Yes, I went roller-skating last Sunday and I refuse to wear Cottontails. But let me tell you, if you don’t like the look of my cellulite, you’re standing way too close to my butt. Just hand over the pink slip to your V8 pal, and no one gets hurt.