From Slackers To Silence Breakers: the women who brought a reckoning When we rang the New Year bells to kick off 2017 a short 11-and-a-half months ago, no female in Hollywood or elsewhere could have imagined that a cultural earthquake led by reluctant women was about to crack open a long held system of harassment and abuse and ousting a long list of high profile men.

And, who’d have predicted it would be led by a few dozen bad-ass women in their forties?

First, a refresher

There are some things you need to know about Hollywood.

As Bruce Feinstein summed up nicely here in a 2007 Vanity Fair column (that still holds up), there are unspoken rules of engagement in Tinseltown. For example,

  1. All relationships are transactional.
  2. Always establish blame.

And, a third well documented rule –
3.  If you’re a woman north of 35, your career is all but over.

That last one is interesting to note, as we hail the the year of the Silence Breakers, because an important detail has been overlooked.

The leaders of this revolution are women in their forties.

Stranger Things

If you’ve ever pissed-off a fully realized, busy, peri-menopausal woman with a job/kids/spin class to get to, you know this: Forty-year old women are fierce af.

In 2016, Gretchen Carlson, then a 49-year-old star of Fox News, did something unprecedented. Knowing full well the risk she was taking, she made a decision: to sue the most powerful man in the American media landscape, her boss, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. Ailes was fired (he died a short time later), Carlson was awarded 20 million dollars.

There had been others who’d accused powerful men of assault, she wasn’t the first. But, there was something bold and groundbreaking this time. She was believed.

Another Fox News alum, 46-year-old Megyn Kelley spoke out too, adding her name to the official list of women accusing Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of inappropriate behaviour towards her and other women at the network.

It didn’t stop there.

Voice Of A Generation

There are a few “official” lists of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers  around, and while names continue to be added, so far approximately 60–65 women have come forward with horrific accounts of his aggressive sexual behaviour.

The average age of the women who’ve accused Harvey Weinstein is 43.

Of those women on the record, alleging decades of egregious sexual harassment and assault by Weinstein, a full 60% fall between the ages of 37 and 52. 43% are in ages 40-49. That is a statistic not to be dismissed.

They are of the Generation X.

All of the women who spoke publicly of Louis C.K.’s offensive and abusive behaviour — all in their forties — Generation X;

Brett Ratners accusers? — Natasha Henstridge, Olivia Munn, Jamie Ray Newman, Catherine Towne: all Gen X.

Notice a pattern?

Continue reading this article on Medium.

This reckoning, that now includes too many men to mention could not have happened without these women.

Not to be overlooked is that one of the two New York Times investigative reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story is Jodi Kantor, and you guessed it she’s a Gen Xer.

This is not mere coincidence. It’s part of an uprising that’s sending a wrecking ball through the halls that have allowed systemic sexual harassment of women.

So, why does it matter?

“Of those women on the record, alleging decades of sexual harassment and assault by Weinstein, 43% are in their forties. A full 60% fall between the ages of 37 and 52.”

Dangerous Weapon

We Gen Xers, with our ’80s music and pre-internet stories, are mostly forgotten in the frenzy of 24/7 Millennial hype and online hand-wringing about everything from Tinder to retirement.

Today, if you can find an article about us, we’re referred to as “forgotten”, “sandwiched” and “depleted”. Uh, thanks?

The fact that no one has noticed that it’s Gen X women at the head of this tidal swell of white male reckoning is notable by it’s absence. Imagine if it were Millennials.

In 2016, the University of Edinburgh ran  ‘The Dangerous Women Project’, It examined how women who use their voices to speak out are dubbed ‘dangerous’ by media. How being bold and outspoken while female incites trolls.

Psychologist Yvonne Skipper who contributed to the Dangerous Women Project, noted,

It appears that across the ages, a woman’s voice has been seen as her most dangerous weapon.

The Language of Forty

Most women will tell you that there is an empowerment that comes with turning forty. The paradox is in the trade-off; self-actualization and assertiveness come along at the exact time when society — some would say, the patriarchy, tells females they are no longer relevant. Or, in Hollywood terms, f-ckable.

Remember Amy Schumer’s subversive sketch with Tina Fey,Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette called Last F-ckable Day? “Believe me no one was more surprised than me that they let me stay f-ckable throughout my forties,” delivered by JLD is just one of the many LOLs.

You see what they did there?

The very men creating the cultural bias in the forms of mass entertainment and advertising, also enforce it, and then reap the benefits from it’s effects.

If you can’t see women over forty, you won’t value them.

This year, the world saw the power of Gen X women whether they knew it or not.

After Weinstein, Ratner and Louis C.K., more women of all ages, and equally courageous,  continue to name names and not just in Hollywood. But, would they have done it if these fortysomething women had not thrown the first punches?

Is this what happens when a generation of women stand up and raise their voices to stop a common enemy? It is when they do it together, and when they are believed.

If history is kind, being Silence Breakers, not Slackers, will be the lasting legacy of Generation X women.

Follow:

How To Be 40: Beginner Lessons For Women Turning  Forty I took my first breath in the arms of woman on the cusp of forty; my formative years were shaped as she navigated her forties. And, I suppose, in turn, her forties were shaped in part by me.

That woman was my mother. And, it was the ’70s.

Portrait of A Woman Turning Forty

There is a picture etched in my memory more vivid than any other picture from my childhood. I am three years old, grinning, leaning back over my highchair, craning to look at my mother who is sitting beside my father at my grandparents house.

My mother is what I remember most. She, and my father wearing a brown cardigan and stylish trousers, sit side-by-side, opening gifts. It’s their Silver wedding anniversary. My mother is naturally beautiful. Slim and trim and modest in a simple and stylish shift dress of the early ’70’s. Her skin is sunkissed. She’s smiling her shy smile.

She is 43 years old.

Looking back what is remarkable about that picture is not simply that she looks great at 43, unlike how we think most parents look, but, her life experience up until that point was so …epic.

I was three years old, and I was her youngest. There were eight who came before me. I was child-number-nine, born when she was 39 years old.

She’d gotten married at 18, had her first kid by 19, raised a baseball team of babies, including twins, lost a child to a swift and cruel illness, and was temporarily raising five of us and my father in a campground while he looked for work, having just relocated half-way across Canada on a wing and a prayer in the back of ’62 Ford cube van.

Struggle was her companion. Yet, bitterness never was.

Her persona is capped by her detached bemusement about aging. Her standard quip is ‘it’s better than the alternative.’

I, however, am not that zen.  Here are five lessons I learned the hard way.

1: Don’t Look Back

Looking for some guidance when I was approaching 40, I tried to tap into her zeitgeist. She pointed out the obvious: at 40 she was too busy raising a family to remember her age half the time let alone worry about how old she looked. Besides, what did it matter?

Could it be that simple? I’ve thought a lot about this over the years and I’ve concluded that, yep, it’s quite likely that simple. For her. For some. My mother was (is) beautiful and beloved and unburdened by vanity and for the most part, the opinions of others.  But, her life experience was nothing like mine. At 39 I was single with no kids, a career woman, traveling the world in an exciting job, meeting incredible people. I had a busy social life, and, an apartment in the middle of a big city.

Not only did our trajectories look radically different, the choices available to us during our lifetimes differed, the pressures and expectations weren’t the same. In 39 years since I was born, the world itself was in some ways virtually unrecognizable, for better or worse.

As much as I wanted advice, I would have to look elsewhere.

2: Freaking Out Is Totally Acceptable

I remember the day I started freaking out about turning forty. It was the day after my 39th birthday. In my mind it was the beginning of the end.

In fact, it wouldn’t really be an exaggeration to say I’d been mildly dreading it since I turned 30. With that kind of anticipation, what chance did I have of being anything but traumatized by this…this number? With October marching closer, I started a Being Forty journal. It was a safe place to vent and fret and dream; it led to my research. Later, it drew other women like a moth to a flame.

For years, I wished for a mentor, someone I could trust,  who would assuage – heck, even diagnose -my neuroses; to inspire me about life-post forty, talk me off the ledge. My friends younger than me, just seemed to make it worse, confirming my advanced age with their flawless skin and tight bodies and endless energy. I was (and am) lucky to have friendships with women who are older than me whom I could at least inquire about their approach to this milestone, and, when needed, whine about my own perceived trials. But, for the most part, I wrung my hands in silence.

3: Don’t Compare Yourself to Halle Berry

Like any busy, misguided female in the 21st century I turned to the most obvious place to medicate my anxiety: the internet. I found women who were, like me, hitting this milestone age, and, they managed to look fantastic. Except these peers had personal chefs, personal trainers, stylists, air brushing, botox and had won the genetic lottery. Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Jenifer Aniston. These were my homegirls.  Somehow, knowing even the most beautiful women in the world were also facing forty made me feel less of a pariah.

During this entire year I awkwardly avoided any jokes of being ‘old’, choosing instead to feel oddly ashamed and adopted the ‘lie about your age’ approach. Some of my closest friends were planning BIG 40th birthday celebrations. The very thought horrified me. What was wrong with these people? They should not be drawing attention to this terrible event.A  full six months after  I turned 40 I resigned myself to ’come out’ about my age, i.e. get over it. I’d call it more an act of surrender, borne of exhaustion from keeping up some imaginary ruse (I was kidding no one) than it was a peaceful and joyful embrace.

It was like my spirit had been waiting for me to figure this out. It made room for self-acceptance which is oxygen to self-confidence and empowerment. That freed up my psychic energy to pour into a creativity, to find true love and to be brave in my career pursuits. Things were looking up.

4: Reject Invisibility For Women Over Forty

Age is a delicate subject, even to the most courageous, feminist among us. Perhaps now, more than ever, we are pounded with the message that to age is to lose worth.

Psychologists have been telling us for decades that this – feeling unvalued, ignored, irrelevant- is one of the biggest triggers to anxiety and depression.

The secret, I’ve learned, in part from the dozens of women I’ve had the privilege of interviewing, is to not pay any heed to that feeling, whether it is self-induced or projected upon you by another. The truth is, invisibility can happen at any age and for many reasons. If you ask around, or think back to your own memories, invisibility happens because you’re too young, too short, female, male, old, timid, immigrant, don’t speak the language, not in the clique.

There will always be people who are invisible to you; not necessarily because of prejudice or willful rejection, but simply because we are not aware at all times. The same is true for those times when you feel invisible.

There’s a way to turn off the invisibility switch – you hold that power, your finger is on the switch. Stare down anyone who dares to consider you less visible.

5. Redefine Forty on Your Terms

If you’re turning 40 in the next few years your parents were Baby Boomers. You were shaped by their philosophies, but, also by the world you grew up in, which was a much different world than the one they grew up in.  We are redefining what it means to be 40, and beyond. Embrace yourself. Put on blinders that force you to focus on your bliss, and, see what happens.

 

“There are far, far better things ahead than we leave behind.”

– C.S. Lewis

women woman forty age how to be forty beginner lessons

Bugging my parents on their 25th wedding anniversary

Follow:

The Language of Forty

How do we talk about something if we don’t have the words?

This difficult question has presented itself to me before I’m half-way through my first coffee. I’m standing in my socks, staring at a wall of sharpie-covered sticky note chaos in my office. It’s an early winter morning.  I’m mentally willing the pastel cloud of research staring back at me to organize itself.

Language That Empowers

I’ve spent years investigating the topic of women turning forty from every possible angle. The notes are sorted into colour-coded categories that I’ve been digging into on the topic of women in their forties   – Neurology, Biology, Psychology, Sociology – with dozens of sub-headings mixed in. It had become a point of practicality. I needed a shorthand to describe what I was doing.

I took a sip of coffee, looked at all the headings, and mumbled, “Fortyology.”  

The Fear Whisper

Without exception, whenever the topic of my research came up, any woman over 35 and within earshot perked up, looked me straight in the eyes, and whisper-pleaded with me to publish my book before their fortieth birthday.

Turning forty was obviously on their minds, and despite a life that looked really good on Instagram, they were having a small (or in my case, large) freak-out. At the very least, they had some legitimate questions about life after forty.

Perhaps, it is because this is a truly complex time of life for women. It’s a time when we
are so much to so many in our lives, yet struggle with our own identity. Many women in their late 30s and early 40s feel profoundly unfulfilled, or disillusioned with the life they’ve built, irrespective of what it looks like on the outside.

It’s no wonder we lack a meaningful language to talk about this stage of life. Our words are borrowed from our younger selves, and more often from the media messages that we willingly and unwillingly absorb, and have for our entire lives.

The Age Gap

There is no lack of bite-size reading material on the subject of turning forty. Most of it social media clickbait, full of tired, patronizing advice, or lists of 40 Things To Do In Your 40s! Or, the truly gag-inducing Forty Is The New Twenty genre.

But, what I have found, despite research chops honed in national newsrooms, hundreds of conversations with scientists, psychologists, women (and men) of all ages and countless magazine articles and research papers is this:  a common language to describe the era of your forties does not exist.

In fact, serious study of women between the ages of 36-50 is hard to come by.  For decades, if not millennia, women in this age bracket have been dismissed as less than noteworthy in scientific terms, except for very specific exceptions, such as fertility.

But, finally there are signs of change in that gross overgeneralization.Research in the fields of biology, psychology, neurology,  is opening new conversations and revealing valuable data.

To Have A Voice, You Need A Language

Which brings me to the name of our new language, and blog – Fortyology.  

Forty, refers  to the age bracket between 40-49, and ‘ology’ is the study of.

Yep, that’s me. World’s first Fortyologist.

Fortyology  is the umbrella under which we will explore data, stories,  sage advice and culture of being forty(ish)  in a Boomer – Millennial world.

I’ve spent several years researching Fortyology from a place of passion, science journalism, self-interest and above all, the desire to share this with you. It’s no coincidence that I’ve also been embedded in the world of my forties and have learned much from my own experiences, research and wisdom from those who have come before.

I can’t wait to share this language and the world of Fortyology with you, and for all of us to expand our vocabulary.

Leave a comment, or send an email to share your thoughts on the language of forty.

Follow:
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this! Please share the post, subscribe and leave a comment.