At 82 years of age Gloria Steinem remains optimistic, energetic, and still committed to being a leading advocate for women’s rights. I had the privilege of hearing her speak about her new book at the Sydney Writers Festival. I came away inspired and motivated. Why?
There were a number of reasons. One reason was the opportunity to be in Sydney’s Town Hall with hundreds of other women (and some men), who I’m guessing were all as keen as me to hear what Gloria Steinem had to say about her life and feminism today. Getting pearls of wisdom from Steinem was motivating. For example, ‘being skeptical is important, but to be pessimistic is to give up right away’, followed up closely with ‘hope is within us all’.
This resonated because I believe that pessimism about our future as we age kills the hope that life is great. The idea that “things aren’t as they used to be”, or “it’s my health and body, it’s just deteriorating and I know it’s going to get worse”, or “getting older sucks” creates a mindset and attitude that getting older really is a downhill ride with little to look forward to or experience. To have skepticism about the way in which governments or organisations perceive and/or treat older people is healthy. For example, is the strong drive towards independent living a consideration for older people’s preference or a budgetary consideration? Skepticism will encourage us to fight for better transport and community services so that we don’t end up lonely and isolated in our own home.
With hope comes optimism. A belief that things can be different. My hope and dream for ageing is so strong that I’m committed to creating change if I can, through my writing and my work as a researcher. However, we can also quietly hope for something different. I believe if we focus on that spark of hope then that light will shine in our eyes. Our attitude towards ageing will be different. Our view of the world will be different. How we think, speak, and behave as we age will be different. That spark, that light, that hope will influence those around us and together we’ll create change.
Steinem seeks ‘a culture that links people, not ranks them’. Imagine older people being considered equally valuable in the workforce and not discarded at 50. Imagine older people being better represented in the media and advertising campaigns. Imagine, no hierarchy where youth is revered and older people simply less than youth. And … imagine older people being considered a valuable part of the fabric of our community, not an economic burden and therefore a problem that costs rather than contributes to our society. I believe that hope can create change and that change will link us all equally, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, or age.
Finally, and most importantly, as a result of hearing Gloria’s views, I’m hopeful for women’s rights, proud to say I’m a feminist, and as determined as I ever have been to tackle another inequity in the population – ageism.