Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The invisibility of older women

Now that I am retired, I have the time to open every email and click on any link which interests me. Today I spent some time exploring the website of Maria Shriver’s 2009 California Women's Conference which has as a major theme The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything—the “seismic shift” since women have become half of the American workforce.

One of the conference links explores generational difference:“The XX Effect: From Generation to Generation. What Do Women Want?” Access the website:

I was struck by the responses to "What do women want?” broken down into “twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties plus? Why “sixties plus?” Why collapse the experiences of women in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s into one category?

Surely the issues that women face in their 80’s are different from those faced in their 60’s? The 60’s are the decade when women contemplate retirement. Can I handle it economically and psychologically? Should I transition to retirement through reduced work load (assuming that’s an option)? How can I make the most of my retirement years?

By their 70’s, most women have left the work force and different issues emerge. As a retiree who recently turned 65, I would have like to have learned about the experiences of women in their 70’s, as I try to get a handle on what may lie ahead, assuming I get there.

When I was in my early 50’s, I became aware of the invisibility of older women, but I am still surprised when I see this in organizations/websites dedicated to the empowerment of women.

What’s behind this? Is it fear of old age? The women featured in the “sixties plus” category looked like they were in their 50’s—-a nod to our society’s obsession with youth which would have been a lot more difficult to pull off if there had been sections on women in their the 70’s, 80’s.

As the baby boom generation ages, just maybe we will see more honesty about age.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Will I ever learn Spanish?

We’ve all read the studies: learning something new helps ward off Alzheimer’s. So both as an anti –Alzheimer’s measure and because I would like to actually speak another language before I check out, I am trying to learn Spanish.

Why Spanish? I don’t think I have enough brain cells left to start from scratch. That leaves only 3 languages for this to be a realistic goal: Spanish, French or italian.

Much as I love traveling to France and Italy and hope to get back there someday, Spanish is a much more useful language for a traveler: there’s Spain and all of Latin America. The one upside to the drop of the dollar is that my husband and I started traveling in Latin America. So Spanish it is!

I didn’t want to take a formal class. I think I know enough of the grammar and just need to practice conversational Spanish, so along with some of the other retired folks in my neighborhood, we’ve pulled together a conversation group. I really like the people in the group. It’s a lot of fun but we’re not as focused on Spanish as we probably should be and the social dimension takes over. If we get really interested in a conversation, those of us who are less proficient (that includes me) tend to break into English. But the group has reactivated that long dormant part of my brain that has stored some knowledge of Spanish and inspired me to do a little (very little) reading.

Years ago (sometime in the early 70’s), I fell in love with One Hundred Years of Solitude. I re-read it when I included it in one of my literature courses at Community College of Phila. and found it just as magical as the first time—yes, there’s a reason critics called it magic realism. I did everything possible to try to get my students to love it as well, but I doubt if any of them read much of the book. I developed elaborate discussion questions to help them get through it, but it became apparent that my discussion questions were functioning as Cliff’s notes, a substitute for the book.

So I gave up on teaching it, but now that I am retired I decided I have the time to tackle it in Spanish. It is really hard. I read at most 2 pages every other day. At this rate it will take me about two years to finish, but that's okay. The good news is that I still love the book! I’ve been having some disappointing experiences reading once beloved books, but One Hundred Years of Solitude stands up to the memories.

Is it helping me with Spanish? To some extent, but I am probably getting more out of this as literary experience than as a language learning tool.

My other strategy has been to rent Spanish language films. Thanks to Netflix, with its great selection of foreign language films, there is an in inexhaustible supply. The problem is, if I get into a film, I forget all about paying attention to the Spanish and just read the subtitles. I think the films have helped a little in accustoming my ear to the sound of the language and I have discovered some great directors—e.g. Argentine Daniel Burman. His beat is the Argentine Jewish community. He’s a kind of Argentine Woody Allen but with much more subtlety and much less pretension.

I’m trying to make learning Spanish as painless as possible. But it may be true--no pain, no gain. Anybody else out there trying to learn a foreign language?

By the way, I just learned the Spanish word for retirement--jubilacion. Retirees are jubilados. Much better than retirees!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Vacations: The best thing about retirement

Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, October 12

Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, October 13

For many years, I longed to see New England’s spectacular fall foliage, but it’s just not possible for a teacher to take off a week or two in October. Southeastern PA is beautiful but we just don’t have all those deep reds and purples.

My husband and I just returned from our retirement gift to ourselves – a trip to New England in October. We were chasing that mythical “peak.” We just missed it in Vermont (but it was still beautiful) and we had a great time visiting with good friends.

Then off to New Hampshire in quest of the peak. Our innkeepers told us we were a little past peak. My reaction: if this is past peak, the peak must be unimaginably beautiful. We had one glorious day in New Hampshire—blue skies, brilliant sun. Then it SNOWED!

When we were visiting our friends in Vermont, I said, “It must be beautiful here in winter. I’d love to see it someday, but don’t think I could take the icy roads and cold.” Be careful what you wish for. In a few days we were experiencing a New England winter. We had a great trip (and a few more dazzling sunny days in Maine), but I sure had not expected the freezing cold.

Maybe next year we’ll catch that mythical peak on a balmy Indian summer day. Will I spend my retirement years chasing the mythical peak and not quite catching it?

An inn recommendation for anyone going to New Hampshire: The Notchland Inn at Crawford Notch, situated in the heart of the White Mountains. The 2 guys who run it do a terrific job; they make all their guests feel like old friends. They serve breakfasts to die for and great dinners Wed-Sun.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Today is Blog Action Day 09 and this year the theme is Climate Change.

Today is Blog Action Day 09 and this year the theme is Climate Change. Bloggers from 130 countries will be posting on this theme today. Here’s my contribution.

Although I‘ve always philosophically (and sometimes financially) supported environmental causes, environmental issues have never been my top priority as an activist. My focus has been on feminist issues, civil right issues, and economic justice issues. Although in some sense I understood there was a connection with environmental issues, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it.

From my admittedly sketchy reading of the literature about climate change, it’s clear that there is a powerful connection between economic justice issues and environmental issues. I need to pay more attention.

My contributions have consisted largely of personal gestures: My husband and I recycle, we don’t use pesticides in our garden, we compost our kitchen waste, try to remember to turn out the lights when we leave a room and lower the thermostat in winter.

Now all this may be offset by our house which has much more space than we need or use, but like most folks I’m not ready to make the big sacrifices. I love my house and am not willing to reduce my personal carbon footprint in a serious way by moving into a small apartment.

Yes, I could do more on a personal level but these individual actions count for little absent serious government action.

An article in the October 2009 Atlantic describes what government agencies which take climate change seriously can accomplish. Thanks to the actions of the California sate government, the average Californian uses about 40%less electricity per year than the average American. President Obama has moved to make some of the measures enacted into law in California (some of which were blocked by the Bush administration) a model for the rest of the nation.

Individual actions matter, but we need government to provide the carrots and the sticks to change the behavior of individual and corporate actors.

Maybe the work I (and countless others) did to elect President Obama made more of a contribution to addressing global warming than my lowered thermostat.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back to work!

Lynne Abraham on the right

For me, the Fall has always been associated with back to work, but not this year.

I love having the time to hang out that retirement brings, but in order to enjoy the time to play I need the counterpoint of work. Freud was right that a meaningful live includes both love and work; I would add to that love, work, and time for hanging out.

My plan was to go back to work this Fall in the sense that I would finally complete my history of the second wave feminist movement in Philadelphia

I have been doing some work on this off and on for a few years, but it became clear that I would never finish this project while working at both my paid job as Professor of English and Women’s Studies and Coordinator of Women’s Studies/Program at Community College of Philadelphia and my unpaid job as President of Philadelphia NOW.

I'm retired from the paid job and will be from the unpaid job as of this December, so my job will now be completing my history of second wave feminist movement in Philadelphia.

I am going to enjoy this project but it's also work. That's why I’ve been avoiding tackling it. Although my original plan was to begin in September, I didn't bring the box of archival material stored on my third floor down to my study until early October.

My initial plan was to write a history of Philadelphia NOW. However, my conception of this project has evolved from a chronicle of the struggles and victories of Philadelphia NOW to an analysis which places this history in a broader context.

Most of the published material on the second wave feminist movement focuses on a few major urban centers—e.g., New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The Philadelphia story has been missing from the major histories of second wave feminism.

The historians of the movement are just beginning to fill in the gaps. So much archival material about second wave feminism is in boxes in closets and basements of feminists now in their late sixties and seventies. Several women in Philadelphia NOW have entrusted me with their valuable archival material and I have promised to tell their story. I have interviewed many of the founding members of Philadelphia NOW, but sadly missed two key interviews as I was not able to arrange the interviews before their deaths. In many ways, this project is a race against time.

Historians of the movement have begun to complicate the story of second wave feminism, which has often been viewed as largely white, middle class and centered in major urban areas. These more recent studies have focused on the role of working class women and women of color, and also on geographical locations outside the epicenter of second wave feminism. Several of these studies explore work by grassroots women who did not identify as feminists but whose work is clearly part of the feminist project. At some point, probably decades from now, historians will have the necessary distance to try to synthesize all of this. I hope to provide one piece of the puzzle.

I made a discovery which should be of some interest to Philly folks. Our District Attorney,Lynne Abraham, not very popular among local progressives because of her aggressive pursuit of the death penalty turns out to have been a feminist pioneer.

Monday, October 5, 2009

It’s getting embarrassing to be an old white person

It’s getting embarrassing to be an old white person. One of my Facebook friends recently wrote:

Witnessed two 70-something white people, who did not previously know each other, celebrating the fact that Chicago was not selected to host the Olympics in a Wawa in South Jersey today. Their glee was directly related to Obama "failing" and and... one of them even threw in a very thinly veiled racist comment for good measure. What is currently happening in this country is disturbing and alarming.

When I went to a local mall this week end, there were all these white people in their sixties and seventies holding up signs with “Say no to Socialism!” And “Keep your hands off my Health care.” The closest thing we have to socialism in this country is Medicare, which these seniors want to save. And yet some of them carry signs saying that government should keep its hands off their Medicare. Huh?

Now of course there are many seniors—such as all my friends--who support extending the benefits they enjoy to the rest of the population. (See my September 5 post, "There are a lot of seniors out there who support health care reform")

But the reality is that much of the opposition comes from my demographic. Of course it’s not just old people who march around brandishing pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache or portrayed as a witch doctor, but old people are clearly over-represented.

The selfishness of some of these seniors is probably going to increase ageism among the young. How could it not?

I’ve tried to understand their fears and maybe muster some sympathy. These are people who see the world changing in ways they could never have imagined. And it’s not just having an African-American president. It’s seeing states (maybe their own state) legalizing gay marriage. And it’s seeing their children and grand children embracing a multi-cultural America and voting for Barack Obama.

I’ve tried to understand the fears underlying all this, but the ugliness and mean spiritedness makes it really hard.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I am so tired of reading about the death of print media

One of the things I was looking forward to most about retirement was spending a few hours each morning drinking my cup of tea and reading the morning paper. I’m a news junkie and I love having a newspaper which I can hold in my hand. An iPhone or a laptop just doesn’t do it or me. I guess that makes me a sixty something dinosaur.

I have read some thoughtful analyses of the impending demise of the newspaper industry. But Daniel Lyons September 27 Newsweek article, "Don't Bail Out Newspapers--Let Them Die and Get Out of the Way" was different—an almost gleeful anticipation of the death of the newspaper industry. From Lyons article:

I recently canceled my two morning papers—The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal—because I got tired of carrying them from the front porch to the recycling bin, sometimes without even looking at them. Fact is, I only care about a tiny percentage of what those papers publish, and I can read them on my computer or my iPhone. And I can rely on blogs and Twitter to steer me to articles worth reading.

Read the complete article

Lyons is missing a whole lot. Newspapers matter not just because a lot of us seniors like getting information that way. Just one example: having strong local newspapers is a powerful means of exposing political corruption on the local level. Internet sites tend not to have a local focus—they want as many hits as possible regardless of geographic location.

So what do you think? Will our papers disappear as Lyons predicts? How many of us care?