QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
“A Circle of Trust is a Must for Women”
Like the “Circle of Trust” Suzanne describes in Fifty is the New Fifty, book clubs give women the opportunity to be together – to read and share stories, to find community and support and laughter (plus scrumptious food and lots of wine!). That is how we help each other invent the rest of our lives.
In her first book, Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, Suzanne identified Second Adulthood as “a new stage of life that women are defining as they live it.” With Fifty is the New Fifty, she expands on earlier themes and captures the exuberance, personal breakthroughs, life changing moments, and stories of friends, family members, and countless women she has met on this journey.
Rich with expert voices, up-to-date scientific research, and Suzanne’s personal insights, this book inspires an important conversation about a life experience women describe as reinvention – and mainstream media often dismisses as “aging” (read “invisible”).
Fifty is the New Fifty: Ten Life Lessons for Women in Second Adulthood is a distillation of insights, anecdotes and wisdom from women like those in your reading group. Sharing personal anecdotes is the way we empower each other, so review the ten lessons and decide which ones resonate with you. Like each of our lives, every conversation about our lives is different.
ABOUT SUZANNE BRAUN LEVINE
Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor, and nationally recognized authority on women, media matters, and family issues. She received her B.A. with honors from Harvard University. She was formerly editor of Ms.magazine, editor in chief of the Columbia Journalism Review, and is currently a contributing editor of Moremagazine. She lectures widely and lives in New York.
A CONVERSATION WITH SUZANNE BRAUN LEVINE
Q. How do you gather the life stories that you use throughout the book?
Writing books about my life and yours, gives me an excuse to butt in to people’s lives. I eavesdrop on conversations; I ask impertinent questions of women I meet; I ask very personal questions of my friends. And I use my network and the internet to find women with experiences to share. I am amazed and touched by how forthright, funny, and smart we all are.
Q. What changes have you found the way age and gender are treated in our culture? What hasn’t changed enough?
Having grown up with the Women’s Movement I am stunned as how dramatically things have changed between my first adulthood and my daughter’s. Two things haven’t changed anywhere near enough, though. One is the burden of care-giving that falls upon women of all ages without any support from the society we live in. The other is ageism. It is very hard to convince yourself that you are as happy and fulfilled as you feel when the world around you is blowing you off. We have to make sure that we don’t make things worse by buying into the youth obsession.
Q. How has your life changed since you began writing about women in Second Adulthood?
Can you imagine how exciting it is to be gaining insight into my own life from hundreds of other women, dozens of experts, and some of the smartest writers and researchers around? In figuring out what is going on for our generation of women, I have figured out a lot about the confusion, fear, and expectations that hit me as I entered this new stage of life. By writing about it I have found my own voice for the first time in my life.
Q. Are you writing another book on Second Adulthood? What will you be exploring next?
My next book is about – are your ready for this? – LOVE. The more I learn about how we are getting to know ourselves and how we are redefining women’s experience, the more I am aware of changes we are making in the way we love, whom we love, and how we define intimacy, devotion, passion, and commitment. I am encountering wonderful stories that I am sure will surprise and enlighten you.
On the opening page of Fifty is the New Fifty, Suzanne says, “Some people think the reinvention process means, ‘Fifty is the new thirty!’ as if the reward for what is a major shift in outlook is a new lease on youth.” Not so; in fact, she continues, women fifty, sixty and seventy are happy where they are and wouldn’t want to turn the clock back.
Have the members of your book club talked about your ages with each other? Have you celebrated milestone birthdays together? What has moving on from fifty been like for each of you?
Most women find themselves liberated by the feistiness that comes with the new territory. Can you remember the first time you spoke up in a situation in which you would have kept quiet before? How did it make you feel? Discuss the way other peoples’ opinions influence our behavior.
Suzanne says that most women have grown up being encouraged to say “yes” (except, of course, to sex). But, by fifty many of us are finding the courage to say, “NO!” It is scary but very exhilarating moment to hear yourself say: “No! I don’t want to do that!” “No! I don’t like you.” Can you think of a situation(s) that made you feel empowered when you said: “No?”
Most women in Second Adulthood grew up when girls were expected to play by very restrictive rules. Can you remember occasions when you felt held back? Not taken seriously? Discouraged from trying to do something dangerous or different? How do you feel about taking on a big challenge today?
Sports, professions, language, fashion, life styles have all changed for women in the last forty years. Many of the changes have been controversial. Which have most impacted you? How are the prospects for your daughters (and sons) different from yours at their age?
For women, our bodies are the front line in the confrontation with the “age is a disease” notion. How we care for our bodies is one of our major responsibilities. But, sometimes when a showdown with our body happens, Suzanne reminds us, the best response is laughter. What are some of the body issues you have resolved? And haven’t resolved? What is the most hilarious revelation about your aging body?
How many times have you postponed something as simple as washing your hair or reading a book because family needs come up that push you off your own agenda? Have you made any adjustments to reclaim time for you? Have you begun to think about doing unto yourself as you have for others?
Work is very important to many women’s lives, and as Suzanne points out, the notion of “retirement” is put on the table just as many women are hitting their stride professionally and many others are reentering the workforce. Plus, the general economy is a major factor. What is your experience in the workplace? What are your expectations for work in the future? Would things look different if you went from being a partner to being alone–or vice versa?
As women are recalibrating all of their relationships, a long-term marriage can, for the first time in years perhaps, move to the front burner. The emotional pot is simmering. How has your marriage changed over time? Have you grown closer or further apart? Is there ongoing struggle in your marriage? If so, is it about power and decision-making? Money? Sex? Would you say that your definition of love has changed?