By Elizabeth A. Rogers
I was born in 1937--smack in the middle of the so-called “Silent Generation” that arrived before WWII and at the end of the Great Depression. I speak as a middle-class white female member of that group.
We are Ladies of the Silent Generation, who reached young adulthood in the 1950s. We were - with notable exceptions such as Nancy Pelosi, Gloria Steinem, Sandra Day O’Connor and Eleanor Holmes Norton - silent. Ours is the era venerated by the current president at his MAGA rallies.
Yes, it was a great time if you were a white male! Women lived in the shadows of social constraints and the men in our lives, first our fathers and brothers, then our husbands.
If we were married and desired to open a bank account, our husband’s signature was required - even if we were employed full-time. If we voted, we probably voted in accordance with our husband (or said we did).
The primary goal for young women was to marry well, with the most popular college degree being an “Mrs.” Our life was expected to revolve around cooking and housekeeping, raising children and perhaps doing volunteer work through the PTA or a women’s charity group.
We Ladies of the Silent Generation rarely had dinner in a restaurant without a male companion. We were taught to defer to men and not raise our voices in opposition to the status quo.
For the most part we spoke our truth only in pleasantries regardless of what was actually happening in our lives (alcohol, Miltown and later Valium often helped to suppress those truths). Being submissive, taking a back seat and not rocking the boat were prized female traits, while laying waste to the potential of a generation of women.
These traits probably set the course for the so-called imposter syndrome which impacted me professionally and affects some women in the workforce even today.
I began to question the status quo around 1960 and rejected much of it entirely by the mid-1970s. I started learning to speak my truth. I was divorced twice and subsequently escaped an abusive relationship. Eventually, I met and married a man who has always valued me as a capable, autonomous adult equal. He is totally atypical of the Depression-era and Silent Generation men I grew up with.
My truth today: I have openly expressed my dislike of getting old. However, dislike does not equate with non-acceptance. Refusal to accept the fact of ageing is futile and ridiculous. At 83, I am old. Although I am fortunate to be basically functional so far, I can no longer do many of the things I once enjoyed and did easily. Physical pain is now a constant presence. The possibility of needing long-term care is worrisome.
While these facts are only part of who I am, they are nonetheless facts. They are not automatically offset by “wisdom”, the “joys of quiet contemplation”, the “rewards of grandchildren” and similar platitudes often used to applaud advancing age.
I understand that many - if not most - old people believe that life is worth sustaining at any cost despite the loss of health, independence and personal agency. That is their absolute right, although I am decidedly ambivalent.
Many also extol the upside of being old and dismiss or minimize the downside. Again, that is their absolute right and must be respected since the larger society does an excellent job of denigrating old age. Still, the prevailing view seems to be that, given the many exterior social negatives surrounding old age, we (old people) must always be uniformly upbeat and positive.
However, that is not my truth, and as a Lady of the Silent Generation, I claim the hard-earned right to articulate what is true for me. I wasn’t all in with Pollyanna as a child. I’m still not.
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