Read an Excerpt
Rage is in the middle of the word outrageous. Rage occurs when we are frustrated, ignored, hurt, trivialized, denied needed resources, insulted, treated as second-class individuals, and in other ways injured. In our society, women are often discriminated against when they age. This can be as major and open as not being hired or as subtle as being treated as though we are invisible in society and perfunctorily at social gatherings. When we brood about this and take no action, our rage or anger often turns inward, eventually developing into depression or passivity.
However, we can move beyond rage by being outrageous older women, refusing to accept the stereotypes or slights. This book will give you recipes for coming out of rage and into being a magnificent older woman who takes what she can from life to be happy, to be productive, and, above all, to laugh. We need joy in our lives as we age. There are decrements in aging, but we can be creative about increments.
As I grew older, I learned that if you are outrageous enough, good things happen. You stop being invisible and become validated. For example, in 1987, I decided to call myself a R.A.S.P. I had never been a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) because, among other disqualifications, I am the wrong ethnic group and too fat. But I figured I could RASP my way though my older years fighting for my own rights and my own joy and for those of other older women. To me, R.A.S.P. stood for Remarkable Aging Smart Person, and I painted it on a T-shirt and sweatshirt to handle all seasons. I also made a R.A.S.P. button by putting masking tape over the button of a dislikedpolitician and writing R.A.S.P. with a magic marker--bright red, of course.
Other women suggested R.A.S.P. also stood for, as the situation warranted, Ravishing Aging Sexy Person or Radical Aging Strategic Person. Wherever I went, I invited mature women to join R.A.S.P., explaining that it was a great organization because there were no dues, meetings, newsletters, or financial appeals. Other R.A.S.P. buttons began to appear. By 1990, the prestigious American Aging Society sent me an unsolicited letter addressed to Ruth Jacobs, President of R.A.S.P., inviting me and my members to join. If the American Aging Society says R.A.S.P. is real, it must be. It's no longer just my private joke. So now I ask you to join R.A.S.P.
In this book, you will learn how to start Rasping. What I will offer comes from more than my personal experience. It grew from the research, teaching, and advocacy on women and aging that I have done since I earned my Ph.D. in sociology in 1969, at age forty-five (after getting my B.S. at age 40 while my children were in school). I am the older women's Dr. Ruth, come to tell the truth, and I hope by the time I'm done, you'll think I am the better one.
My research and my work on behalf of older women has been supported by such agencies as the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the Stone Center for Women's Development and Services at Wellesley College, and the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, where I have been affiliated since the seventies. I have learned a great deal from wonderful aging women who have taken my "Older Women Surviving and Thriving" workshops and from women I have interviewed for my research books and articles. Many of them, like me, had to overcome the internalized cultural bias against aging, especially against aging women.
My own crisis of aging came when I was sixty, an age that signaled to me the end of midlife. When I was nearly sixty-one, I wrote in a poem how I had conquered my fears.
There were terror and anger
at coming into sixty.
Would I give birth
only to my old age?
Now near sixty-one
I count the gifts
that sixty gave.
A book flowed from my life
to those who needed it
and love flowed back to me.
In a yard that had seemed full,
space for another garden appeared.
I took my aloneness to Quaker meeting,
and my outstretched palms were filled.
I walked further along the beach,
swam longer in more sacred places,
danced the spiral dance,
reclaimed daisies for women
in my ritual for a precious friend
and received poet's wine
from a new friend who came
in the evening of my need.
In addition to the things listed in the poem, I tried many other new activities the year I turned sixty. By sixty-three, I was really enjoying my older womanhood and asking myself what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Please write down now what you want to do with the rest of your life.
When I did my list, I discovered I no longer wanted to work full-time teaching and chairing the sociology department at Clark University, and I resigned to teach only part-time elsewhere and to do other things. Writing the list made me confront my life and change it. It is easy to stick to a known, safe-but-uncomfortable identity. We have to shake ourselves up once in a while. Writing to ourselves can give us access to our deep wishes as my poem that follows did for me.