The Joys of Aging: Power and Invisibiltiy Combined

Because of our recent discussion of the insecurities so many of us felt during adolescence, I thought it would be interesting to post from an entirely different perspective and time of life. The following post comes from a woman on a feminist Mormon email list I am on. I am in my late 20’s right now, and I was inspired to read some of the ways this woman feels aging has liberated her. Are any of you starting to feel a similar sense of liberation that comes with aging? Are you looking forward to a time of life when you may experience a similar mixture of power and invisibility?

At 53, I am experiencing an unexpected and joyful liberation from some aspects of femaleness. It occurs to me that this is just a taste of the freedoms that men have always enjoyed, but I am just beginning to appreciate. I’m wondering if some of the rest of you are enjoying a similar renaissance, and, if so, what are you noticing?

*I feel more powerful and less vulnerable than I have at any other time in my life. I simply don’t care as much about how I look or whether what I say is appropriate. I think it may even be possible, with a little more practice, to feel competent.

*When I was younger, I experienced frequent sexual harassment that ranged from groping by male supervisors to the usual catcalls or threatening stares and comments from strangers on the street. As I approached a group of white male “hard-hats” on the street the other day, I felt that familiar fear-clutch when they looked up from their digging and plumbing, but, instead of the usual leering and catcalls, one or two of them just nodded politely. I didn’t mind that one of
them called me “ma’am.” I walked on for several blocks, savoring the experience
of being nearly gender-neutral (I say “nearly,” because if I’d been a man they wouldn’t even have checked me out) and reflecting on what other implications this could have in terms of freedom and safety.

*About 7 years ago, I had uterine ablation to stop/decrease my periods, and even though the “meno” hasn’t paused altogether, it no longer gets in the way of travel plans, facilitating groups, giving presentations–being able to function every single day of the month. Although still coping with menstrual migraines, I have reclaimed days, even weeks of time. This has been indescribably wonderful. Also worthy of honorable mention in the liberation category is the jog bra.

I remember reading an interview with prolific author Joyce Carol Oates long ago, maybe in the Partisan Review, in which she said that being a mousy woman whose physical appearance didn’t merit a whole lot of attention was an advantage to her. She put on her big glasses and pretty much escaped notice. The public’s eyes just slid right over her. This gave her the ability to observe people relatively undetected.

The fifties seem to offer an odd mixture of power and invisibility that suits me just fine.


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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  1. Starfoxy says:

    This brings up one of the more frustrating aspects of being a woman in our society. Either you’re young and continuously subjected to being ‘checked out’ and rated on conformity to beauty standards or you’re old and invisible. Any power or safety we have in our lives is determined by the extent to which we absorb one of the two identities, beauty or invisibility. If you choose beauty then your power disappears as your beauty does, and if you choose invisibility then you are forever overlooked.

  2. Caroline says:

    Hi Starfoxy,
    In terms of how people regard us physically, perhaps you’re right that we have only two choices: beauty or invisibility. I’m hoping, however, that as we get older and become more “invisible” in terms of sexual attraction, we will also be able to become more powerful in realms that have nothing to do with our looks. Powerful in our careers. Powerful in the ways we aren’t afraid to silence our opinions. Powerful in the respect we earn through our thoughtful perspectives.

    I look at older women who are business leaders or politicians, and many of them seem to have reached a point where people simply think of them as people and not as unattractive/attractive. It must be nice to know that the focus is on what you say and do, and not how you look.

  3. Lynnette says:

    I really liked this post. I very much admire older women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, to be themselves, who seem to have moved beyond a lot of those nagging anxieties about what other people might think. I hope to someday grow up to be one of them.

  4. Dora says:

    An interesting group of women who have tapped into the powers behind being a older women and mothers in a machismo society: Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. Every Thursday they march around the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the government house, to protest the “disappearance” of their children during the Dirty War.

  5. Rebecca R. says:

    For the record, I’ve just turned forty-three, and I have not in any way become invisible. I don’t have 22-year-olds drooling (never did, I’m afraid) but I do get noticed — as does my 56-year-old good friend. Age and beauty are not and never will be mutually exclusive, nor is it an inverse relationship, which is what I think I’m reading in some of the comments here.

    And looks aren’t the only issue here. I’m not only getting attention, I’m even getting some respect! I so prefer this time to my thirties: my career is established; I’m not rich but I’m past the hand-to-mouth existence of my graduate school days and the first few years afterwards; when I travel I can actually stay in hotels that have stars after their names; I’m less panicked by crises that arise because I know by now I can cope with them and (I like to think) I have more resources now on which to draw. When I was in my 30s my frends and I were always tired — we had small children, we were up nights with the babies, we never saw our husbands. Now we have time to look after ourselves. Not that we’re given the option to go back, but I wouldn’t do it if I could.

  6. Tracy M says:

    Posts like this make me look forward to the rest of my life with anticipation and joy. I’m in the early 30’s-tired-with-tiny-kids grove right now-which is totally where I want to be, but it sure is nice to hear from older women who are enjoying themselves and finding ongoing satifaction in thier lives. Brava!

  7. AmyB says:

    There is so much emphasis on remaining and looking perpetually young. I applaud women who embrace their age and do it with wit and grace. I hope I can follow in these footsteps. It was so nice to read a woman’s voice who freely spoke about aging. Great post.

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