No Stopping Us Now | Gail Collins

Summary of: No Stopping Us Now: A History of Older Women in America
By: Gail Collins

Introduction

Enter the captivating world of ‘No Stopping Us Now: A History of Older Women in America’ by Gail Collins, as she interweaves historical events and societal expectations that have impacted women, particularly in their twilight years. This in-depth book summary chronicles the experiences of older women throughout history, from their roles in the family, the workplace, activism, and evolving cultural views on aging. Discover the brave personalities who, despite numerous obstacles, helped to elevate their generation and demolish ageist stereotypes. Immerse yourself in this intricate tapestry as you explore the myriad ways older women have shaped, and continue to enrich, American society.

Aging in the 1800s

In the 1800s, aging was considered a blessing due to widespread diseases. Churches and farming communities had their own ways of treating elders, albeit with respect. Women whose husband dies governed their land. Widows outnumbered widowers, and many preferred the freedom that came with widowhood, which let them manage their own money and run businesses.

Women in Literature Through the Ages

Women’s roles in literature and society have changed over time. In the 19th century, books and magazines taught social graces and emphasized a woman’s role as a wife and mother. Sarah Josepha Hale and Lydia Maria Child were influential writers during this time. Frances Willard fought for temperance and believed alcohol destroyed families. In the 1920s, youth was lauded and the elderly were considered “Human Junk,” but in the 1930s, middle-aged women were celebrated as more than just beautiful mothers or grandmothers. Marjorie Hillis’s Live Alone and Like It and Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl highlighted the importance of enjoying yourself before settling down. Brown transformed Cosmopolitan into a chic lifestyle guide with sex as its constant theme.

The Changing Standards of Beauty

The definition of beauty has evolved over the years, from the narrow 19th-century standards that relegated women over the age of 29 to the margins of society, to the present-day embracing of older women as powerful and stylish. In recent times, major fashion brands have started using women in their golden years as cover girls, while the cosmetics industry offers products not just to help women look younger but also to prolong their lives. This shift in attitudes towards older women is particularly significant given that older women today have a higher median income than men in their early 20s. The AARP and other organizations have also embraced the idea that grandmothers and older women can be sexy and fun, a far cry from the horror stories and criticism that plagued an earlier generation. However, not everyone has caught up with this new narrative, as evidenced by the comments from some political figures about the age and looks of their opponents. Despite this resistance, the idea that older women have much to offer has gained ground, and it is now widely acknowledged that they can be powerful, beautiful, and inspiring.

The History of Menopause

In the past, menopause was viewed as a period of decline in women’s lives. Doctors believed it indicated a loss of a woman’s value, halted her sexuality and destroyed her overall health. Sigmund Freud even claimed menopausal women became petty and stingy. However, attitudes shifted in the 1990s when the US Senate considered hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and viewed menopause as a natural part of life. Jane Fonda’s book, Women Coming of Age, also helped shift the perception of menopause by encouraging women to embrace it as a new phase of life. Today, people view menopause as a normal life transition rather than an illness that requires fixing.

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