Why Midlife is Different for Women.
Women and midlife is often a lot more complicated than engaging a therapist, buying a sports car, and popping out the other side as a new person. There are a myriad of complex issues for women, and often multiple events that seem to have a compounding effect. The whole thing can be quite dramatic and go on for years.
The spiritual dimension: Male or female, these years are our invitation to begin the transition from ego-self to soul-self and ultimately to God (the cosmic mystery). The challenge for women is that many of us have got this far with an almost total absence of self. Our culture doesn’t encourage women to know themselves, or to self-actualise in any meaningful way. So when the midlife invitation appears we’re starting from a different place. For us the transition is a 2-part job: we have to first find the ego-self, before we can begin the transition to soul.
Menopause: Of course, some women breeze through, but for many of us, it’s a much bigger deal than we had expected. Previously capable and strong women can find themselves fragile, anxious, angry/rageful, depressed, exhausted, dealing with brain fog, weight gain, and body pain everywhere (did you know a vagina can actually hurt?). With no end date, and very little medical support. It’s not a surprise that the rates of depression and suicide increase at this time. And now the media is full of the thin, hot, older woman - we’re not even allowed to age any more. What’s interesting however is that the decline in hormones can also stimulate a sense of freedom, feeling unleashed for the first time, daring to speak and ask for what we want, feeling unconstrained by the opinions or needs of others. It could be said that the rage we feel is more than just hormonal - it’s the removal of a layer of pretense. Many of us feel fiercely creative and productive, in spite of the physical and emotional symptoms.
The corporate woman: We’re seeing the first generation of women who were educated and who went into the workforce coming into midlife now. We did well financially, but there’s anger that after years of striving and being brilliant, we never made it to the top. Many are burnt out, feeling over-masculinised, and those who chose work over family sometimes wonder if that choice was worth it. There’s a conflict to navigate: the desire for change versus financial security.
The woman who chose family: Then there can be the reverse: the women who desire to express themselves in the world for the first time independent of their caring responsibilities: a sense of wasted talent.
Being ‘rejected’ by society: Many women report suddenly feeling invisible and undesirable for work or romantic opportunities. There’s a feeling that we are past our ‘last fuckable day’ (google it), that we are ‘losing our looks’, that we’re suddenly on the outside looking in.
Financial reality: Many women are ageing into poverty, have a lack of earning potential, and small or non-existent pensions. This puts a significant constraint on choices.
So our experience in mid-life is complex, depending on our life choices, our experience with the menopause, our health, and our wealth. The common theme though is the realisation that the path that brought us here goes no further. And so it begins.
In the archetypal hero’s journey, men test themselves out in the world. The heroine’s journey is different - our initiation starts when our external world collapses and we are left with no option but to go inside and start the job of finding out who we really are - going home.
This process is often referred to as a descent - because it feels like psychological and spiritual freefall. It can be brutal and terrifying, because the deal is that we must empty out completely, and let go of everything that we thought we were. It’s a time of significant endings, loss, and heartbreaking grief as we sever the connection to our old life and process what can no longer be. There’s the terror of the descent, a thing for which no-one in your life has ever prepared you. There’s sadness that you’ve lived all these years without knowing who you really are, that you’ve never really inhabited your own life, an urgency to meet yourself before it’s too late.
The great news however is that those who take this journey are well on the way to a spiritual awakening: the journey inside to find ourselves and the decoupling of our identity from the external world is the very definition of a spiritual crisis. Which is why so many women are ‘awakening’: those who’ve done it tough in these years will often find they’ve blown right past ego/soul and gone straight to God.
Jane Marshall is based in Melbourne currently, moving home to London soon. She’s a management consultant specialising in innovationhttps://practicalinnovation.school/, Author of a book on her recent experience of breast cancer and living alone during the longest lockdown in the world https://www.tntabc.com/ and is working on her next book about women and the mid-life rite of passage. https://www.thephoenixyears.com/