Pushed Beyond the Limits

I was delighted that Diane Balser1 asked Pam Geyer2 and me to assist her in leading the Older Women’s Workshop.

I am an African-heritage seventy-three-year-old woman from Arkansas (USA). I went into the workshop with a sense that sexism and male domination were powerful words that had major significance in my life but that I was not able to grab on to in a real way. I felt a bit like a fish trying hard to notice water. As a child, I was so focused on the racism coming at me that the sexism slipped in the back door. For much of my life I was totally controlled by it and totally unaware of it.

Diane’s light and playful tone was a great contradiction to the heaviness of elder women’s oppression. (We can feel defeated by the sheer magnitude of it.) She pointed out that we are the generation of women who created the greatest women’s liberation movement in the history of the world. We may feel a great pull to slow down now, to rest. However, sexism and male domination are alive and well and our work is not done.

I left the workshop very different from how I came into it. I am ready to discharge the hurts that misdefined me to myself, that created the fears that I was not the right person to assist at the workshop—that I did not have a brilliant mind, that I was not a big enough person to lead in that way. I came away with a greater sense of myself. I was delighted to have been pushed beyond the limits that are handed to old black women in the southern United States.

Dorothy Marcy
Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

1 Diane Balser is the International Liberation Reference Person for Women.
2 Pam Geyer is the International Liberation Reference Person for Elders.

“Complete, Whole, Beautiful, Powerful Women”

This was a great, fun, challenging, provoking, enriching, connecting, energizing workshop. We are learning to discharge everything that gets in our way of rejecting sexism and male domination as normal and ordinary and of keeping in our minds the goal of completely eliminating them in our lifetime.

We have stopped dying our hair. We now consider, accept, and appreciate that we are beautiful just as we are. We know this, despite the enormous pressures from a capitalist society to make us feel bad about ourselves, including how the beautification industry makes huge profits by exploiting those feelings.

We are “sexy as hell,” despite living in a time when the pornography industry is experiencing explosive growth and influence, the trend to treat women as objects is ever growing, and efforts (economic, political, and social) to make us feel that we do not have control over our own bodies are increasing. We remember that “No” is a complete sentence, even in marriage, and that we are complete, whole, beautiful, powerful women—whether we are married or not, and no matter to whom we are married.

We built and led the most powerful women’s movement in the Western world and one of the most powerful liberation movements in the United States. We had many victories and are learning to acknowledge the defeats. We are recognizing that the defeats are not permanent—we will never give up our vision of the world we want and our intention to have it. We know that while the victories are embattled, the effect of those victories on our lives is unmistakable and unalterable. We will never be the same as our mothers or any previous generation of women. And no matter how much or how little women of younger ages recognize the significance of our battles and victories, their lives are forever improved because we persevered.

We have also helped to build other liberation movements, including RC. Our presence and influence is pervasive. Our thinking has changed things and made a better world.

The “nuclear” families required by capitalism have forced grandmothers and aunts from the family home and into the sidelines.* We get to find our way back to each other and not capitulate to the manipulations and exploitation of the capitalist society.

At the workshop we loved each other well across language and nationality, race and ethnicity, religion and spiritual beliefs, ability and disability, and all sorts of other differences. We loved the “baby elders,” fully including them as “older” women. We could see our connections to each other and use those connections to run, jump, and swing. We got to be, see, and celebrate our full selves.

Diane reminded us that our dreams are still available to us, the best of our lives can still be in front of us, and we owe it to ourselves and to history to make and hold our own centrality.

Barbara Love
International Liberation Reference
Person for African-Heritage People
Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

* “Into the sidelines” means into not being actively involved.

We Can Sustain Our Big Lives

The take-away message of the workshop was that old age is no excuse for backing off from our youthful dreams, including of completely eliminating sexism and all the other oppressions.

I was in a support group of five raised-poor and working-class Jewish women in our seventies. It included Holocaust and breast-cancer survivors. The safety in that group was heartening and impressive. We were able to face the well of discouragement we had accumulated since we were young people. The women were so powerful, good humored, and sisterly. I think we each left knowing that we can sustain our big lives.

Jane Zones
San Francisco, California, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

Grandmothers—A Complex Reality

Diane summarized a complex reality when she talked about grandmothers at the Older Women’s Workshop. Since becoming a grandmother four years ago, I have struggled to get a big enough perspective on it. So many oppressions come together here—women’s, elders’, economic, parents’, young people’s—and I have not found any useful thinking about grandmothers in the wider world.

I encourage us grandmothers to be in support groups and to use Diane’s writing as a starting place for discharge and thinking. What do we think about being grandmothers? Where do we go from here? I plan to get together with other grandmothers in my Region* and set up some phone groups. We need to understand how the oppressions come together and operate. We need to understand the power that our position gives us and continue to make the changes we want in the world! I’d love to be in touch with others who are leading groups for grandmothers and share what we are figuring out.

Jerry Ann Yoder
Yarmouth, Maine, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of elders

* A Region is a subdivision of the International RC Community, usually consisting of several Areas (local RC Communities).

Highlights from the Workshop

Diane talked about how discouragement slows us down. Several of the women leaders noticed it in themselves and decided to be more active against sexism and male domination. I have been active in a wide-world women’s organization and have felt like I wanted to “move on.” I decided to work on the discouragement instead.

I had not previously considered that the unpaid childcare grandmothers do takes jobs away from women who could get paid for that work. Also, the time grandmothers spend on childcare means that they spend less time working on sexism and male domination.

I led an early-morning class on health. Health is important to women’s liberation! We older women have accumulated physical distresses that limit our functioning. We can regain control of our bodies. One way is by discharging on what has happened to us physically.

I also led a topic group on death and dying. Many of us get preoccupied with death and don’t take the feelings to sessions, and thus become less able to live life fully right now.

Pam Geyer
International Liberation
Reference Person for Elders
Bellaire, Texas, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

A Big and Important Victory

I am a fifty-three-year-old Italian Catholic raised-working-class female. My presence at the workshop immediately restimulated the internalized oppression of some of the women who were older than me. They questioned whether I should be there because I was at the younger end of the constituency and had only just begun to see the physical results of aging on my body. I felt like I didn’t belong there and like I didn’t want those physical effects to ever happen to me. With sessions I noticed that it all comes down to* not wanting to die, because there is so much more I want to do and because I also feel terrified of dying. It is a relief to look at this and work on it.

I have had to face the fact that the women in my family were so hurt by sexism, male domination, classism, and Catholic oppression that they could never figure out how to fight for themselves as women—or for me or anyone else. When I was younger, I yearned to have female role models who would teach me how to fight for myself and for the elimination of all oppressions. There before me at the workshop were some of the women who had done that! And in spite of defeats from sexism, male domination, and other oppressions, these courageous women were back to fight again.

Now I have a gang of women to be engaged in the fight with. What a big and important victory that is! We will never give up until every last remnant of sexism, male domination, racism, and every other oppression is ended.

Jeannette Armentano
Portland, Oregon, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

* “It all comes down to” means the main feeling is actually.

Older Women in Partnerships with Men

I led a topic group on marriage and partnerships. We looked at the impact of sexism and male domination on us older women who are taking on men as partners and at what it means to be in charge of those relationships. We discharged on being in charge of our sexual relationships and on finding the balance between pursuing the life of our dreams and maintaining a primary partnership. We challenged lingering internalized oppression: looking for “prince charming”; expecting men to be bigger, smarter, and stronger than they are and being disappointed when they’re not. We scorned fears of living the big, significant, independent, “outside of the box” lives we are capable of. We held up to the light of discharge any “hiding behind” mothering or grandmothering. (Living big, significant lives is not inherently in contradiction to having children or grandchildren in our lives.)

Randi Wolfe
Pasadena, California, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

1 “Taking on” means engaged in having.
2 “Out of the box” means outside-of-the-usual.

“Perhaps I Will Take Chemistry Again”

When I heard there was going to be an older women’s workshop, I knew that I was going to go. I had been struggling with “not giving up.” I knew that I wanted to live vitally the rest of my life, but I didn’t know how.

At the workshop it became clear that the intersection of sexism (the trivialization of women) and ageism (the marginalization of older people) make it a huge fight to continue to live a big, bold life. Having a hundred and twenty magnificent women in one place, not marginalized but as the central focus, was a huge contradiction. It was startling, exciting, and exhilarating to be central as an older female and to see my cohorts, who had led women’s liberation at a critical time, in their true magnificence, brilliance, and power.

Here we are, with great wisdom and years of experience, yet we are marginalized and pushed by capitalism to give up and go for pseudo comfort. Now that many of us have more time, we can instead do major liberation work.

Diane talked about how not having resolved early defeats from sexism can get restimulated as we experience ageism. I started thinking about the dreams I had as a young female, one of which was to be a doctor. When I was growing up, there were few female doctors. I really wanted to be one, but I didn’t believe that I could learn math or science. (This pervasive belief about girls has changed dramatically. Thank you, women’s liberation movement!)

I decided at age sixteen to try learning chemistry. I was struggling mightily and barely hanging on. I could not understand the teacher’s explanations. At one point the teacher started yelling at me, saying that I would never learn anything if I didn’t stop asking questions. I remember putting my head down on my desk and sobbing, and deciding to give up my dream of becoming a doctor. That was a defining moment—after years of battling sexism. Now I am thinking that perhaps I will take chemistry again, just so I can use my brain there.

Susan Seibel
Oxford, Massachusetts, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

1 Contradiction to the distress
2 “Go for” means pursue.
3 “Barely hanging on” means almost failing.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00