Tuesday, 18 May 2004
Older ladies and the red hat society
I’m going to catch some flak for this post for I am clearly in the minority on this, out of step with the mainstream, and I can feel the slings and arrows coming my way as I write.
Have you heard of The Red Hat Society? If you haven’t yet, you soon will. And if you’re a woman, you may even be a member already. It is the latest “thing” for folks of the female persuasion who are age 50 and older, and I’ve been running into it all over the Web for the past year or so.
A recent story from the Albuquerque Tribune supplies a good sense of what The Red Hat Society is about, along with this explanation from club founder, Sue Ellen Cooper:
"It's about getting older together in a positive way," she says from the club’s ‘hatquarters’ in Fullerton, California. "Because there are a lot of good things about this time. The kids are gone, there's more time for yourself, you probably care less about what other people think, and there are new vistas."
It’s hard to argue against that, so what’s my problem?
The idea of this group is that when members – who use such adjectives as “sassy,” “free-spirited” and “convention-spurning” to describe themselves - get together, they wear - all of them - a red hat and a purple dress. The genesis of this is a poem The Red Hat Society founder discovered a few years before her 50th birthday.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in the slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
- - Jenny Joseph (1961)
I like the sentiment, but I don’t see how showing up once a month to drink wine and tell dirty jokes dressed like every other woman in the room has much to do with the spirit of Ms. Joseph’s poem. And the names they give their club chapters make me cringe:
- The Red Hot Flashes
- Hattitude Hotties
- Feisty Dynamites
- The Grateful Red
- Red Hot Mommas of Sun City
- Racey Red Hats
There is no possible way I would ever tell a friend I’m busy today because I’m going to a meeting of the Hattitude Hotties. It’s not in me. Not gonna happen.
Like I said up front, I’m the one who’s out of step on this. There are now 400,000 members of The Red Hat Society worldwide in 20,000 chapters, and it is reported that the number of chapters is growing at a rate of almost 400 a week.
Given my position about older folks on this Weblog, I should welcome and applaud this club. From what members say about it, the group seems to provide them with a sense of empowerment for two often-devalued groups – women and older people. So I ask again, what’s my problem?
One thing is that I’m embarrassed for folks who describe themselves as sassy, free-spirited and convention-spurning. Like nicknames, these designations have weight only if bestowed by others, and people who really are eccentric enough to be so described are, I suspect, far fewer in number than almost half a million.
For another, I don’t see how wearing the same dress and hat as every other woman in the Society is a whole lot different from the men I see in matching suits standing four deep at the bar at Grand Central Station every evening after work. It seems, again, to miss the spirit of Ms. Joseph’s poem.
Or maybe I’m just not a joiner. I was never a Girl Scout because I couldn’t last a year in Brownies braiding plastic lanyards. I might have been more successful in the Web world if I attended more of those networking parties, but geez – there were so many other interesting things do unrelated to work and a girl can’t work all the time.
It’s gotta be me, right? Not the Red Hatters. I feel like a churl objecting to this group, which appears to be harmless, and I’ve not been able to identify clearly why they bother me. But I can’t let go of the idea that something doesn’t feel right about The Red Hat Society - for me anyway. If I figure out what it is, I’ll let you know.
[See also Crabby's Bad Hattitude.]
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