The Benefits of Aging, as expressed by Gloria Steinem, in Beyond Words

Posted on Oct. 27, 2006 at 8:31 a.m.

By: Daniela Abbott


By: Daniela Abbott

How are you doing?  How are those schedules?  We hope you are well and taking good care of yourselves.

Today we’re including an excerpt from Gloria Steinem’s book, “Moving Beyond Words.”  She wrote this book as she turned sixty.  In it, she builds on earlier essays regarding advertising, Freudian theory, the feminine physique, economics, class, and aging.   She uses her age as permission to expound, and shares the personal and professional experiences that add dimension to these earlier pieces.

In her chapter entitled, Doing Sixty, Steinem shares her observation that men become more conservative with age, while women become greater risk-takers.   Here’s her opening paragraph:

“Age is supposed to create more serenity, calm, and detachment from the world, right?  Well, I’m finding just the reverse.  The older I get, the more intensely I feel about the world around me, including things I once thought too small for concern; the more connected I feel to nature, though I used to prefer human invention; the more poignancy I find not only in the very old people, who always got to me, but also in children; the more likely I am to feel rage when people are rendered invisible, and also to claim my own place; the more I can risk saying “no” even if “yes” means approval; and most of all, the more able I am to use my own voice, to know what I feel and say what I think:  in short, to express without having to persuade.”  (p. 249)

Steinem describes her own growth; how, with age, she has become internally focused vs. externally focused; how she believes in meditation as a “tool of revolution” and how she considers our “inner space” as important and as powerful as our “outer space” (now that’s a change!)  And, she posits that “The only lasting arms control is how we raise our kids.” 

Steinem knows that these beliefs may disappoint her peers.  She knows that saying these things aloud will cause friction.  Yet, she also honors her walk on “the other side,” her exploring the “other half of the circle” that IS where she is now.

Through her writings and her choices, she gives us a model for growing older that’s not about age; it’s about growing in courage, in confidence and in self-authority.  It’s about building upon our past and creating a very different future.  Steinem challenges the cultural pressure to choose “either/or”,  the message that one has to reject one’s past in order to embrace a newer, better future.  Instead, she advocates the richness of incorporating  all that you once knew, PLUS what you now know.  This is a hopeful future, and it reminds us that we, as women, have the potential to change our world; that with age, and a departure from being defined solely by our physical beauty/ ability to attract a mate and procreate, we find our voices,  and we render ourselves visible.  We become activists.

Steinem ends the chapter with, “I don’t mean to say all of us have to do illustrious deeds; quite the contrary, all our deeds are illustrious.  How we speak to each other, how our bodies feel, what we wear, how we work, what we buy, what we eat, whom we love—all these are part of the impact of our lives.  Indeed, I’m not sure we have any idea which of our actions is important while we are doing it.”  She then takes the liberty, as a woman “doing sixty” to make a fool of herself, by including a poem that she wrote in response to being asked what she planned to do for her old age.   (Steinem states that poetry for her “is like singing in the shower”  i.e. she isn’t particularly good at it).  Perhaps you will appreciate her courage, or her sentiments, or both…it’s provocative.  The poem is entitled, “I Hope To Be an Old Woman Who Dresses Very Inappropriately.” 

Women in business
Dress in man-style suits
And treat their secretaries
In a man-style way.

Women on campus
Wear “masculine” thoughts
And look to daddy for
Good grades.

Married women
Give their bodies away
And wear their  husbands’

Religious women
Cover sinful bodies
And ask redemption from god
Not knowing
She is within them.

That’s why I’ll always love
The fat woman who dares to wear
A red miniskirt
Because she loves her woman’s body.
The smart woman who doesn’t go to college
And keeps possession of her mind.
The lover who remains a mistress
Because she knows the price of marrying.
The witch who walks naked
And demands to be safe.
The crazy woman who dyes her hair purple
Because anyone who doesn’t love purple
Is crazy.

Dear Goddess:  I pray for the courage
To walk naked
At any age.
To wear read and purple,
To be unladylike,
Scandalous and
To the very end.

Steinem adds, “As you can see, I’m just beginning to realize the upcoming pleasures of being a nothing-to-lose, take-no-shit older woman; of looking at what once seemed outer limits as just road signs.”  (p.280) 

  • What courage are you hoping to develop? 
  • What limits would you like to notice, and travel past? 
  • And what would you do differently if you had nothing to lose?  If you could “express” without “having to persuade”?

Food for thought…

Here’s thinking about you and the power of us, as women, at every age.


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