Let's be thankful to Joan for showing us that older women can be powerful

Joan Burton

Victoria White

JOAN Burton isn't in the Tanaiste role a wet week and already I feel completely different about myself.

I thought I was heading for the bus pass. Now I know I'm headed for greater things.

My life's only beginning. I'm only middle-aged, for God's sake, and I have the open road ahead of me.

At 65 Joan would be classed as elderly and she's just bagged the second biggest job in the country. I think this is big news for older Irish women.

We're used to elderly men bagging big jobs. We're ruled by elderly men. But older men and older women have always been two very different categories.

Men have always been rated according to their wealth and their power. Women have always been rated according to their beauty and fertility.

And at 50 they disappear.

The beautiful Germaine Greer wrote a book about feeling invisible at 50 and our own Nuala O'Faolain wrote that heart-wrenching memoir about being lost in middle age, Are You Somebody?

I've been sucking all that in. Somewhere deep inside I thought there was some sort of end point to be reached at 50. I never saw it as a starting line.

I delayed the day of reckoning by having my kids in my 30s, so I was still pushing a buggy at 40. And the truth is, I'm only beginning to even imagine the next stage, being a woman without my fertility.

And that's not surprising because as a girl I saw hardly any images of successful older women.

I realised what I'd been missing recently when I opened a UK magazine and saw pictures of the women they reckoned were the 10 most powerful in the world.

Suddenly there they were, the 50-somethings, and, across the board, they all looked great.

Think the IMF's Christine Lagarde (58) with her sweeping grey locks and that hint of a French accent.

Think Hillary Clinton (66) pitching to be the most powerful president in what they call the Free World.

Think Frau Merkel (59) ruling Europe from her throne in Bonn. Think Indian-born Indra Krishnamurthy (59), CEO of Pepsico, who has been twice listed by Fortune magazine as the world's most powerful woman.

I realised that I had grown up without images of inspiring older women to guide me.

I certainly had a vision of myself as a happily married woman with a young family, but after that there was a blank. I never saw myself coming into my prime in my 50s and 60s.

And yet that's when it should be easy.

That's when, please God, our kids should be independent and the financial headache they caused should be easing a little.

"No kids, no PMT," said an older friend. "I'm having the time of my life."

Older women should be among the most useful people in any society.

There's even a theory doing the rounds of the scientists that human beings only survived on this planet because grannies saved the day.

It's all a young woman can do to look after a new baby even in a semi-d in Blanchardstown - but it was a hell of a lot harder when we lived in caves.

So this was when the grannies got cracking, doing all the work to keep the human race alive while their daughters looked after their babies.

Scientists think that's why women live so long after the menopause. Older women's maturity and strength are needed or we won't survive.

We're necessary. And that's the way we need to think as we cruise through middle age.


We're building wisdom and experience all the way and if we gain a few inches round the middle and have to dye our roots, that's no biggie according to the rules of Granny Feminism.

I was never much of a fan of the kind of feminism that told you to dump your screaming baby, cover your ears, get into your car and drive to a desk.

But achieving as a mature woman is working with the rhythms of a woman's life, not against them.

And whether you agree with anything she says or not, you have to be thankful to Joan for bringing Granny Feminism home.