Eleanor's Letter: Slow Down Ladies, there's time!
The point about coming into our prime in midlife is it takes the pressure off those earlier decades.
The Queenager revolution: Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh celebrate the latters award-season success and prove women really do come into their prime in midlife
Well I reckon we’ve had a pretty good week! LOVE the fact that Michelle Yeoh has been nominated for an Oscar at 62, alongside Cate Blanchett, 53 for the incredible movie Tar. About time that a woman was allowed to be a creative genius narcissist with a penchant for seduction – after all we’ve seen enough chaps do that! And I don’t know if you’ve seen Everything Everywhere All At Once yet, but the fight scenes involving Yeoh – a Chinese granny with world-saving abilities - are balletic and be-fitting of a woman who has been a martial-arts star for thirty years (breaking all taboos by doing her own stunts as a woman right from the start). The movie’s premise – the tricky bond between mothers and daughters and how love gets stretched but ultimately shape-shifts and wins – made me cry.
But what made me cheer with joy is the triumph of these Hollywood Queenagers. You all know that I’ve been banging on here about seeing women in midlife through a new lens; well now the world is beginning to get the message. I’ve always been a big believer in President Obama’s adage: “You can’t be what you can’t see!” That was the premise behind setting up Noon.org.uk and this newsletter; that by telling the stories and showing women in midlife doing amazing things, we can change the cultural narrative, literally re-wire the way the world views older women . That is why it matters that Hollywood is finely ‘seeing’, hiring, and rewarding Queenagers like Yeoh and Blanchett. Of course there is an intersectionality in this too: Michelle Yeoh is not only 62, she is also the first Asian woman ever to be nominated for Best Actress (which is definitely, as her co-star and mate Jamie Lee Curtis put it: “About fucking time!”)
Of her Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for a the role in which she makes a “superhero out of all those Chinese moms and grandmoms you walk past in the street – you know who could be your mother or my mother,” Michelle Yeoh said: “I waited a long time for this, and luckily it came…I was patient. I was resilient, I never stopped learning. And so I was ready when the opportunity did present itself.”
I love that sentence – resilience, patience, hanging in there, not giving up – triumphing in her seventh decade. That is so powerful, so truly inspirational for women of all creeds, colours and ages. It spoke to me particularly this week.
First because it was my mother’s 79th birthday – we took her to the Groucho Club for martinis and then to Noble Rot Soho (in my humble opinion the best food in London). It was a riotously drunken evening – four out of her five children in attendance, two of my brothers breaking their dry January in style. Mum was exuberant;she is still working as a psychoanalyst in her 80th year, she zooms around the world in a way that makes me feel tired just hearing about it. I am honoured to have inherited some of her phenomenal energy. Several people during the evening who saw us celebrating, were amazed to hear mum was 79, she is so vital: our Noon motto is So Much More to Come. I hope when I hit eighty I’m still glugging gin in the Groucho like Groovy Ganny.
The next night, by contrast, I was invited to dinner by a group of Millennial female founders and angel investors at a through-the-looking-glass establishment in the heart of Mayfair. It was like walking into a movie set, entering another dimension. A Bond-style villain was collecting his coat as I waited to hand mine in: a giant, over 7foot, all muscle, in perfect tweed tailoring. The place was awash with oligarchs and their hangers on; oozing cash and the smuggery of the international 0.00001 per cent. Talk about the Haves and the Have-Yachts! But I digress!
The ladies were lovely. I sat next to a woman who had just turned forty and had a four month old baby and a two year old. She’d also recently launched a business and was asking me how she could best cram everything in. I felt like saying – in the words of my old columnist Michael Winner: ‘Calm Down Dear’. What I did offer, gently, was that there was time. That there aren’t any sell-by dates on women’s lives. That she didn’t have to squish everything into these years, that she should give herself a break and slow down, revel in the now and enjoying what she had. Michelle Yeoh took five years out in her twenties when she married; she played the long game. Part of the point about explaining that women can come into their prime at 50, become the women we always wanted to be is to make younger women feel like they have time, that they don’t have to do it all, all at once.
I worked so hard when my girls were small that much of it is a blur. I look at pictures and wonder where the memories have gone; I was so exhausted and sleep deprived for much of it; trying to be a mum and hold down a massive job. I lost sight of myself for sure, reading back over my diaries now, I wish someone had said firmly, the kids matter more than these work/ego worries.
With the benefit of hindsight, I told this young Founder to treasure those moments of little bodies lying on hers, the pudgy hands, the croissant arms. When we are in that zone of early parenthood, it can feel overwhelming; as a new mum you can feel desperate to do something for yourself. I understand that. But my advice to new parents now is to be in it, to spend as much time as possible lolling around in pyjamas with the whole family, cherishing that time, being together while the kids still want you there. Before you know it they are up and gone. I type this in my daughter’s bedroom which I now use as my office as she is away at Uni. My babies are nearly flown; the time vanishes, revel in it while it is there.
That is true not just of early motherhood but of all life’s stages. When we are starting out we can be in such a hurry to cram it all in; sometimes too much. But why the hurry? Life is always about the journey, revelling in the day-to-day – not the destination.
Women now are lucky to have so many choices. But sometimes choice can be its own tyranny, apply its own pressures to do them all. With the resignation of Jacinda Ahern as New Zealand’s leader has come lots of bollocks about women and ‘having it all’; that old eighties chestnut. If we took a longer view, did away with ridiculous notions of having to do it all in our thirties and forties before the ridiculous time limit, the fanciable/fecund sell-by-date put on us by the patriarchy, we’d feel so much more expansive. Sure we can have it all over a long life, just not all that the same time; that is a recipe for burnout – and wasting it all. That’s why the Queenager conversation matters so much – it extends our runway. Makes younger women realise there is time, they can come into their prime in their later decades. After all, in the 100-year-life, 50 is only half way through. Just look at Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis bossing it in their sixties. This shift of perspective matters so much, not just to Queenagers but to ALL women.
I finally watched Nomadland last night, another amazing movie with a Queenager star, this time Francis McDormand. I loved its lesson of the healing powers of nature, of being right where we are. Of giving ourselves time, of letting in new things, not getting stuck in old stories, old griefs. Not letting how we used to feel become how we do feel.
Yesterday afternoon I baked cookies with my daughter who is till at home and she sat and played the guitar, and we sang some songs we love, and some new ones I didn’t know. As the sweet smell of cooking cookies pervaded the kitchen and my daughter strummed so beautifully, I realised I was perfectly happy. That this, here, was way more than enough. So just appreciate where you are and everything that is good. As my dad always says: we all know when we’re having a nasty time; take time to realise when you are having a nice time.
Those moments are all we ever have.
So that’s all from me today, folks. I just paid my tax bill. Ouch!
You hit the nail on the head with this piece. I am 62 now. and as I look back at my legal career, especially from my mid-40s onward compared to my male peers, the patriarchy places an expiration date on women that is not placed on men. I didn’t realize it until I hit 60 in 2019. A psilocybin session at the end of that year was a Godsend for shifting my mindset towards positive ways to move forward in this season of life. I did a lot of thinking and journaling about agelessness the first 3 months of 2020 (before the pandemic hit). I still feel the benefits of having changed my mind about being in my 60s but changing the patriarchy is still an uphill battle. Ageism is a tougher nut for women to crack than for men.
With that said, I can relate to your observations about slowing down enjoying the moment. I had a break in my legal career at age 42 after a breathless stint as a VP at a national company. The break allowed me to spend precious time I had not had to that point with my then 13-year old daughter and my 9-year old son. Although that 1 1/2 year break was a set back in my career, I do not regret having that time with my children and my husband. During that time, I got to be really present for my family as opposed to being in a sprint for my job.
Thanks for writing this piece. It is beautiful. Now back to writing my annual self-evaluation to demonstrate my worth to the patriarchy at my firm. I may just throw in a reminder that I do not have an expiration date!
Love this piece - so true and so inspiring - I’m in my mid 50s and still feel full of vim and vigour. Charlotte Ivers, a 28 year old Times journalist (who is absolutely great - catch her on Times Radio) has written a column in today Sunday Times mag in which she gives advice to her 18 year old self which includes a standout gem to take advice from women in their 50s - I’ll second that and happy birthday to your mum who sounds tremendous, Eleanor.