When Michelle Lee rowed solo for 240 days and crossed 14,000 kilometres of the Pacific Ocean, she not only shattered a world record for women. She also shook the stereotype of older women.
Society assigns us diminishing capabilities as we age, and also diminishing value. These attitudes are so pervasive, they are not even considered discriminatory. And what is more, many older women come to accept and even internalise these stereotypes, losing faith in themselves.
It is all part of the way in which girls and women are moulded and socialised. Feisty little girls start to pull back, to diminish themselves as they grow up, in order to meet the expectations, usually of men, as to how they should be. With older women, it is not so much about conforming to society’s expectations as it is being suppressed by its stereotypes.
I wrote an article about the 999 adjectives used to describe older women and nearly all are derogatory.
These attitudes underpin the discrimination against older women in employment, the economy, in government decision-making and society generally.
Women like Michelle inspire us to challenge these stereotypes. Clearly, few of us can row around the world and overcome 5 hurricanes, 4 cyclones and a shark leaping into the boat. But as Michelle said, the most important factor that carried her through, was her mental strength.
“ I realised I had to train mentally to prepare. Mentally, it was the biggest challenge.”
All of us therefore can ask ourselves, what does this stage of my life ask of me? What mental strength can I develop to take me where I haven’t been yet? What dreams can I pursue? What new challenges can I take on? What can I learn? What capabilities can I explore and develop?
For us to give in to the dogma that says it is all too late, that we are worthless women at this age, is unacceptable.
We can’t be what we can’t see. So Michelle, thank you for inspiring us.
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