No Stopping Us Now | Gail Collins

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


Dive into the riveting summary of Gail Collins’s ‘No Stopping Us Now: A History of Older Women in America’, as it takes you on a journey through time, exploring the dynamic roles and societal expectations of older women. Discover how ageism, gender norms, and changing cultural landscapes have influenced their positions in society, their rights, and opportunities. From the lives of 18th-century widows to the fight against menopause in the 1900s, this summary covers an extensive range of topics and events that molded the experiences of older women in America.

Aging and Gender Roles

In the past, old age was a sign of good fortune and God’s grace. Elders received deference and respect, often tied to wealth. Older women were encouraged to contemplate death and sit unobtrusively at home. In farming communities, they wore caps indicating they were no longer on the marriage market. Widows had the right to one-third of their husband’s property until death. Remarriage was common, but some women preferred the independence of widowhood which allowed them to manage their own businesses and money.

Women in Literature

Over the past two centuries, women have been encouraged to be good wives, mothers, and uphold moral values. Despite this, some women, such as Sarah Josepha Hale and Lydia Maria Child, began writing as a way to support themselves and their families. Hale edited a popular magazine aimed at middle-class values, while Child was known for her scandalous novel and later focused on home companion books. Frances Willard fought for temperance and inspired many women to fight for feminism. The Ladies Home Journal in the 1920s glorified youth and demeaned the elderly, but by the 1930s, magazines began featuring middle-aged women as business owners and cross-country drivers. Marjorie Hillis encouraged women to embrace independence with her book “Live Alone and Like It,” and Helen Gurley Brown’s “Sex and the Single Girl” transformed Cosmopolitan into a lifestyle magazine focused on sex. Despite societal expectations, women have made a significant impact on literature throughout history.

Women’s Beauty Standards

During the 19th century, women’s beauty standards dictated that they should be young and beautiful. Magazines spread fashion crazes, yet older women were criticized for following them. However, by the early 20th century, the cosmetics industry had emerged, offering products to keep women looking younger. Advertisers still target young men, though older women have a greater median income. Major fashion brands began using women older than 70 as cover girls, and AARP published an article suggesting ways for grandmothers to remain sexy. Even with these advances, women in politics continue to face age discrimination from opponents.

The History of Menopause Perception

For centuries, menopause was viewed as evidence of a woman’s fading life force, a mental illness, or a medical condition that needed fixing through hormone replacement therapy. Doctors warned women to stay away from social activities and assigned any physical or mental ailment to menopause. The attitudes worsened with time, reaching an extreme in the 19th century when menopause was considered fatal. Even Freud contributed to the negative perception of menopause, labeling women as overbearing and stingy after entering menopause. However, in the 1980s, Jane Fonda’s Women Coming of Age helped change the perception and accept menopause as a natural part of the aging process. The US Senate formed a subcommittee on aging to investigate medical research on menopause, leading to hormone replacement therapy’s widespread use. Finally, the FDA’s investigation into Robert Wilson’s advocacy of hormone replacement therapy stopped recommending the treatment. The 20th century changed the public perception of menopause, with people beginning to accept it as a natural and beneficial process of life.

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