the end of the human race
Just before the mid-term voting took place, I listened to a podcast in which Carol Cox discusses a TEDx talk she gave just before the 2016 election about why we (men and women) fear women in positions of power—from C suites to Board Rooms to elected political positions.
Cox’s theory is that both genders—and if you accept the idea that gender is really a spectrum and not an either/or proposition, let’s say “all genders”—are uncomfortable with women in positions of power because this shift signifies the beginning of the end of the human race: we women are the mothers, the nurturers, the creators, and if we take positions of power, we will abandon childbearing and child rearing, realize we don’t need men, and kill them.
Which is why Hillary Rodham Clinton was called a man-eater, among other things, by conservatives.
I think I buy that … up until the point where we realize we don’t need men anyway.
As a woman, it is certainly more difficult to become powerful/successful: on most career paths, the age at which the most dedication and energy are required to excel also happens to be the age at which childbirth is most common and easiest.
Just as men are putting in 60–80 hours a week on their careers, women are dropping out of “the race” to have children—and some stop running for good. (Ha! That’s an oddly ambiguous way to put it, so I’m going to leave it there for you to read as you will—and please don’t try to read author intent into it.)
So does it follow that as women, we are the creators/nurturers, and as women in power, we are the destroyers, the murderers, the Lady MacBeths, the Medusas, the Sirens?
With the arrival of the edge of what’s being called the Pink Wave in this month’s midterm elections, I guess we’re about to find out.
creativity, execution, and the menstrual cycle
To switch gears for a moment, and yes—to get to the point of this blog and my work, which is to talk about health coaching and women over 40—let’s consider another recent podcast.
In the episode Choose Wonder over Worry, Christine Hassler talks about how the two phases of our menstrual cycle play a large part in what we are comfortable focusing on in our work: in the follicular phase, we are creative and open to big ideas, whether they are our own or suggested by others; in the luteal phase, we are in action mode, executing on the ideas and less open to generating them.
(Okay, I just want to point out that WordPress is marking both follicular and luteal as potential misspellings and ask why that is.)
That idea about the ebb and flow of our creative power is kinda cool, I think.
And another part of me is screaming, “Now hold on a second! What about those of us who are past all that?”
Are we permanently “stuck” in creation or execution mode?
a new normal
Tying together Cox and Hassler, I think about how often women struggle with perimenopause because it really does signify the end of our fertility: if your entire identity is tied to childbearing, then yes, it might feel like a mini death.
It doesn’t help that many approach this hormone shift as a problem: whether we’re talking HRT, the newest supplements or superfoods, the latest diet or workout craze, plastic surgery or Botox, we’re approaching this stage of life from the perspective of “we’re broken.”
I’ve been playing around with a formula around this (I know “formula” is not the right word, but that dang menopause brain has erased the right one just now): puberty is to adulthood as perimenopause is to …?
I’ve heard a lot of women say, “I haven’t had such bad skin since puberty” and “I haven’t felt this emotionally fragile since I was a teenager.”
So let me ask it this way: When you were going through puberty, did you think your body was broken? Did your doctor say it was wrong?
Yes, the teenage years can be difficult, and some things can just feel “wrong,” but was the underlying assumption that you were broken and needed fixing?
I’m guessing the answers to those questions are “no.” Your body was finding a new normal, just as it was supposed to.
And if puberty is what we go through to become capable of creation, then what does perimenopause do for us?
enter the crone
One of my all-time favorite books, the one that in some ways is responsible for my feminism, is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of the women in the story.
This book was published in 1983, the year I graduated from high school, and gifted to me in the fall of that year. I’ve reread it numerous times since then, and I recommend it to most women I know.
Two notes if you haven’t read it and if you’re a person who loves to get new book recommendations—you know who you are:
- Yes, I’ve heard about the allegations of abuse—and while they are deeply disturbing, I don’t think that they take away from the central value of the book. For me, it’s a both/and, not an either/or.
- Don’t pick the book up unless you have at least a weekend completely free of all obligations, or your family will suffer neglect.
Spoiler alert: you may want to go read the book before you read the end of this post.
The central character of the book is Morgaine (Morgan le Fay), Arthur’s half-sister, who becomes a high priestess of Paganism at a time when Christianity is making inroads in Britain.
Morgaine is a truly delicious protagonist, blending the feminine and masculine, creation and destruction, good and evil in a way that initially drives readers crazy, especially the younger ones.
And in her journey from child to old woman, her role is indeed to blend all dualities, to include the shadow side as well as the light.
The end of the book is more powerful to me now than it was when I was just out of high school, so if you’re reading this as a younger woman, go back and reread it later!
Morgaine’s revelation at the end is that the shadow and the light always already exist at the same time in everything that is of Nature: everything lies on a spectrum, and in every woman, the Crone/Wise Woman is simply another face of the Goddess.
This is perhaps the most positive way to view ourselves in menopause: we have become the Crone, and it’s a place of incredible power—some of us have already passed through childbearing and rearing in the biological sense; others have chosen or been chosen to mother in one of many other ways open to us.
All of us can now own our power without threatening one another or anyone else.
We’re now free to create—to give birth to something other than children, whether we choose to recreate ourselves, build a business, start a nonprofit, take up an art form, run for public office—in a way that serves not just the world but ourselves.
own the crone
“Crone” has a lot of negative connotations—you can substitute “wise woman” or “elder” or …, and I like the way it rhymes with “own.”
At this stage of life, we finally step into our power completely.
And I think maybe puberty is to adulthood as perimenopause is to cronehood. (Cronedom? Either way, WordPress apparently doesn’t like me making up words.)
What will you do as the Crone?