Women Rowing North | Mary Pipher

Summary of: Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age
By: Mary Pipher


In ‘Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age,’ Mary Pipher addresses the challenges faced by older women in a youth-obsessed society and provides insights on how to foster resilience, happiness, and meaningful relationships. The book explores how women cope with ageism and sexism, the heavy demands of caregiving, the importance of attitude in aging, making the most of retirement, engaging with the community, sustaining lifelong friendships, and finding bliss in the face of terminal illness. The introduction guides readers through these vital topics as they gain a deeper understanding of the unique experiences and wisdom that older women have to offer.

The Disempowerment of Older Women

In American culture, sexism and ageism intersect to exclude and disempower older women. Negative portrayals of older women in popular culture perpetuate gerontophobia – fear and hatred of the aged. This discrimination against older people is reflected in Hollywood, where older women are grossly underrepresented. Ultimately, ageism is damaging to both the old and young, highlighting the importance of empathy and understanding.

Caregiving Challenges for Older Women

Women who have spent most of their lives taking care of others, particularly the young, the old, and the ill, will find their roles reverberating as they age. While caregiving can be emotionally satisfying, it can also be physically and mentally exhausting.

For women, caregiving responsibilities may come naturally as they have been taught the significance of female sacrifice from generation to generation. However, as they get older, the pressure of taking care of themselves and others can be overwhelming, with unexpected illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease adding more surge on already full plates.

Even when they have partners, women’s caregiving responsibilities can end up being solely theirs to bear, leading to immense stress. As per a 2015 study, a majority of caregivers experience depression, with nearly 40% finding it very stressful. These findings are particularly notable for women in later stages of life, who often serve as caregivers for their partners, elderly parents, and other family members, leaving them at significant risk of mental health issues.

Ironically, caregiving also offers a meaningful opportunity for personal growth, as it helps caregivers develop empathy and compassion towards others. Through taking care of their loved ones, caregivers can find another layer of meaning in their life, which can be fulfilling and rewarding.

While the responsibility of caregiving can be daunting, it can be an opportunity for personal transformation. However, society also needs to address the gendered expectations that put women in this role in the first place, helping to share the responsibility more equitably. It’s time to acknowledge and celebrate the work of caregivers while simultaneously working to ease their burden.

The Choice of Joy

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research on happiness suggests that genetics contribute 50% of our overall happiness, and the remaining 50% depends on our attitude, behavior, and circumstances. Marlene, an older woman living in poverty, chose to be happy despite her difficult circumstances. To achieve this level of happiness, we must mentally reframe our present situation and approach it positively. Our outlook on aging has a tangible impact on our DNA, and taking positive actions, such as engaging in activities that bring us joy, is crucial.

Taking Action in Your Community

Nora’s inspiring story teaches us that retirement is not a time to slow down. With knowledge of their community and experience, older women are perfectly suited to make a difference locally. By leveraging their unique skill set, they can help tackle complex issues that others avoid while bringing about meaningful change. Nora’s local park project demonstrates that your biggest impact may be right in your immediate area. Whether you aim to address global or local issues, opportunities for change are usually just around the corner.

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