Modern Western culture has developed a way of edging older women out. So much of one's worth as a person in our culture is based on either youth and beauty, or social status based on occupation or title. This does not leave a lot to look forward to for women who have finished with or are nearing the end of their careers and whose youthful looks have changed into a different type of beauty - a look of calm wisdom, perhaps. A look that is not always viewed as beauty in our culture.
I have been one of those women - torn between trying to look as young and attractive as possible, and looking "my age" - which pretty much to me meant just giving up. Not giving up on life, but giving up on trying to look my best, and also trying to make myself useful. (Somehow, the two of them seem connected to me.)
Then I read something recently that made me change my way of thinking and caused me to feel excited about my future as an older woman. I read a chapter in a book* that talked about this pushing out of older women in our culture, and compared this with examples of other societies that honor post-menopausal women and hold them in high regard for their experience and knowledge. Some women use the mythological term 'crone' to describe this role.
Part of the leadership of the Iroquois was a "Grandmother Council" which was the backbone of tribal decision making throughout Native American culture. In Japan, when a woman reaches the age of 61, she is considered to be at the highest and most venerated stage of maturity. Special respect, status and privileges are awarded to the elder women of Chinese and Native American Indian cultures of both North and South America, too.
The elder women in early matrilineal cultures of the Middle East and Egypt performed the society's most important and challenging roles: physicians, surgeons, scribes, and librarians. These older women were vital parts of their societies, and it is possible for each of us to become that type of vibrant older woman - if we can adjust our mindset.
Fairy tales and legends are full of crones - some evil and some benevolent: witches, step mothers, fairy godmothers... Most often in recent years, though, the word "Crone" has had a negative connotation. Webster's Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary defines it as "a withered old women". Wikipedia says, "The crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tale, an old woman who is usually disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing."
In spite of the negative perception that modern times have, some women are beginning to use the term crone as a label for themselves and their new role as an important and vital part of the community.
Maybe the timing was just right - I don't know, but for some reason this information really resonated with me and made me re-evaluate how I see myself. Instead of feeling all washed up, I now see myself as on the brink of a new and exciting part of my life: A time when I can be free of the daily obligations of motherhood and able to focus on adult relationships (with my partner, my grown children and other adults) and personal growth.
To me, being a crone means freedom to be my real self and to be proud of my age; and relief from the fear of aging and from unreasonable expectations and demands that I had put upon myself.
Are you a crone? What does being a crone mean to you?
*Women's Sexual Passages by Elizabeth Davis