I applaud the age-celebratory essence of the articles and essays this website includes. Yet as a nonagenarian I cannot feel comfortable with the idea that age of itself creates a wise woman, and so I keep asking myself “What does it really mean to be a “wise woman?” Is it enough to enjoy and celebrate the more balanced outlook on life which the passage of time has bestowed upon us, or do our lifetime experiences also leave us with an obligation to remain engaged in the marketplace and in the body politic, as uncomfortable as that may sometimes be?
One answer comes back to us through the history of those women who came before us and who by their continued involvement, shaped the world we grew up in. Those women whose resolute determination and courage gave women the vote, gender equality in college admission and athletic competition, more control over our health and our bodies, made cracks in the glass ceiling, and joined the fight for civil rights and fair employment practices. For those of us who prospered through these changes, it is perhaps too easy to take them for granted and ignore the fact that the struggle still goes on for many.
The reality is that in the current climate there is an overriding need for our participation. Women are now being singled out for far more than a just portion of the so-called “ shared sacrifice.” Start with the fact that the majority of women wage-earners have been and are earning far less than men in equal positions. Add to that the fact that the majority of budget cuts at the state and national level affect those positions traditionally held primarily by women – in education, health care, social services, libraries, secretarial work. When Head Start and childcare slots are slashed or eliminated, when senior centers are closed, and funding for after school programs are closed, the working mothers and female caregivers are the ones whose jobs, continuing education, and responsibility for the young and the old are hugely affected. When collective bargaining is removed from the table, as in Wisconsin, it is primarily women who stand to lose the fair pay, health benefits, and a voice in working conditions. There is an unspoken but very effective effort to make all women less empowered and poor women poorer. Along with them the children suffer – and inevitably the rest of us.
What does a wise woman do? Remain informed. Speak out – to your children and grandchildren, your friends and neighbors. Participate – in community activity, local politics. Use the internet for information, for sharing thoughts with others, for contributing to causes you are informed about and believe in.
We have the advantage of living a history which has taught us that the wise woman does not stand by and ignore the issues of moral justice.
Doris Coster is a writer, a wise woman and an inspirational guide for WWN.