News Opinion

Monday 24 October 2016

How times have changed for a generation

Published 15/05/2015 | 02:30

According to one of those surveys, life now begins at 53; which means many of us have yet to get started. Yes, ladies, in life it's now time for that second act. This always seemed to be the case for middle-aged men, but never women, who were deemed "past-it" at the toddling age of 29.

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For years, female middle-age was sold as some sort of plump matrons' graveyard; a time when we would all have to give up our dancing, drinking, kick-boxing (if you're into that sort of thing) and general bad behaviour. We would have to knuckle down and become mature and sensible. We would wear nylon skirts and "sensible" shoes. We would have to get our hair cut and visit the hairdresser for the obligatory "style and set" once a week. We were supposed to accept gravity and grow old gracefully, leaving the future to our kids. We would need to get used to being ignored, our opinions unwanted, our experience disregarded.

But now we know better. We know that where career, life - and for some of us, even love - are concerned, the best is yet to come.

All we have to do is look at the Mad Men series to see how stifling life used to be for middle-aged women - even of our mothers' generation - and how much things have changed since the sexual revolution of the sixties. Just as liberating for women as the Pill was the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner and all of those inventions which make the drudgery of housework (still unfortunately the domain of the woman, though changing slowly) much less time consuming.

We are the first female generation to benefit from free education, from a decent health service, the benefits of herd vaccination and (relative) control over our bodies and our fertility. When I was born, women were not allowed to sit on juries, collect their own children's allowance or own their homes outright. Most women of my mother's generation had to leave work when they married. A woman's place was in the home and a middle-aged woman's place was behind closed doors.

We have come so far since then.

We exercise, we know about good nutrition and we interact with our children in a way that has none of the authoritarianism many of us experienced growing up. We can wear jeans and not look ridiculous. We don't need to get our hair cut when we hit 50 - look at Miriam O'Callaghan. The generation gap seems to have narrowed as teenagers listen to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and their parents chill out to Ed Sheeran and Kodaline.

Staying healthy is the key of course. Women today know how to mind themselves, physically and mentally. We exercise, go to yoga classes, meditate and take time out to laugh and drink wine with our friends.

We can take or leave the Botox and the teeth-whitening but ultimately age boils down to attitude - a "can-do" attitude.

My own mother is a sprightly seventy-something. She could have retired into the home when many of her contemporaries had the cardigan and slippers ready. But she didn't. She dances 'til two in the morning, she travels all over the world and she never says "no" to an invitation. She is my ultimate role model.

A woman who is always in her prime.

Irish Independent

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