Annette Bening (1958)

Annette BenningThe Kansas roots are what we see.  She’s down to earth and genuine.

This is not to minimize the star quality of Annette Bening.  She earned her acting chops and was recognized with four Oscar nominations.  Also, she married the commitment phobic Warren Beatty and had four children with him.  That takes guts.

It’s her face that speaks to us though.  One trusts she will not betray us by any significant artificial alteration.  It’s a pleasure to watch her onscreen, portraying a “woman of a certain age” with the grace and confidence we all hope to acquire.  This is what it looks like to grow up.

Thank you for that, Ms. Bening.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Sorrow in early life:  sister died in childhood and mother died of cancer day before high school graduation.

Faced challenges: one of 9 women in Harvard Law School class of 500 men.

Blazed trails: first tenured female at Columbia University.

Loved and beloved: married in 1954 until the death of her husband in 2010.

We worship and adore her for her work on behalf of American women.  Her fight against gender discrimination is conducted with a firm decorum that makes her arguments difficult to refute.   Her distinctly eloquent battle includes vigilance against bias, however subtle.   She says, “…Women will not achieve true equality until men are as concerned as women are with the raising of the next generation.”

We need you, Madame Justice.  Long may you live.

Photo Credit: AP/Matt Sayles

Erica Jong (1942)

erica_jong_2012_04_15Reading Erica Jong’s writing is like squeezing a stress ball.  It makes you feel better, but you’re not sure why.  Maybe it’s her easy prose. Maybe it’s her interesting characters.  Maybe it’s because she speaks a truth you yourself are afraid to utter.

When Fear Of Flying was published in 1973, the world was introduced to a sensual/sexual/philosophical female perspective never before revealed in literature.  Male writers paved a well worn groove for themselves in this genre, but women had never been so frank.  Readers were ready.  Over twenty-seven million copies of the book have been sold to date.

Jong went on to write other books but she is best known for her first.  Well known, but not always well understood. She pushes herself to challenge her own status quo.  She is always thinking; always questioning.

How does she feel about young women today? She wants them to listen to older women.  “Changing society takes time. Feminism ebbs and flows. What saddens me is that young women have to re-invent the wheel again and again. Mary Wollstonecraft said it. Susan B. Anthony said it. Simone deBeauvoir said it. Germaine Greer said it. Gloria Steinem said it. I said it. But nobody believes it until they live it! We could learn from our foremothers but since we have repudiated their wisdom, we must keep beginning over. The real answer is to trust older women. They know. The generations must nurture and support each other. That’s the only answer.”

Because the magnificent power and unique strength of an older woman threatens our contemporary zeitgeist, it takes nerve to maintain this voice.  Once again, Jong paves the way.  “At fifty, the madwoman in the attic breaks loose, stomps down the stairs, and sets fire to the house.  She won’t be imprisoned anymore.”


Photo Credit: W.E.N.N.

Joyce Carol Oates (1938)

Mary Griffin (1926)

Mary Griffin

Experts agree about the best way to prevent both mental and physical decline: dance.  Mary Griffin is living proof.  At 88 years old, she inspires both young and old with her entertaining tap dance and singing performances.

But that’s not all she does!

After her her husband died, she sold their fruit and vegetable farm, then helped her town transform it into a community jewel named Griffin Park.

In 1993, she won the title of Ms. NH Senior America. The competition was created to showcase women who overcame adversity and had stories of achievement and hope.  She went on to serve five years as the pageant’s state director.  Mary’s talent, charm and common sense make her a shining star.

In 1999, Ms. Griffin was elected as a State Representative to the New Hampshire House.  She won every election since, and for the last four years, has had perfect attendance at each roll call.  This lady shows up for work and is a formidable, no nonsense legislator.

Mary is a formal legal secretary.  After her retirement, she hosted her own Cable Access television show, volunteered time as her town’s Planning Board Secretary, acted as a member of the town’s Capital Improvement Committee, and was Vice Chairman of Crimeline of Southern NH.

According to her, it’s not always easy being a woman “of a certain age, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. You must have an attitude.  And believe me, I have a big one. You have to come out of your shell.”

We applaud you, Ms. Griffin.  And, we bow to you.

Meet Mary

Diane Rehm (1936)

Diane Rehm

You may have heard her voice… Unless you’ve tuned in when she’s opted for a guest host because her voice is out of commission.

Diane Rehm has hosted American Public Radio’s “Diane Rehm” show since 1984.  Without benefit of a college education, she’s interviewed innumerable subjects on a myriad of topics, all in her characteristic style. She is polite but persistent; firm but empathetic.  She arrives prepared for an interview, handles it with poise and determination — often playing devil’s advocate — yet somehow leaves everyone with the impression they were treated fairly.  It’s not an easy thing to do.

That voice.  There is a reason for it.  Rehm suffers from an neurological disorder that directly affects the quality of her vocal output.  It’s called spasmodic dysphonia.  She has struggled with it for decades.  Regular Botox injections to her throat are currently prescribed.

Born and raised in Washington, DC, Diane Rehm is the daughter of Greek Orthodox Syrian immigrants.  She was treated harshly by her parents, enduring physical abuse as a child.  Equally traumatic was the molestation she suffered at age nine in the hands of a congressman who told her naive parents she had a future as a movie star.  Perhaps this start in life fuels her self-avowed persistent anxiety, stage fright and insecurity.

In spite of it all, she continues to show up for work.  Her voice may falter, but we hear her message loud and clear.

Photo Credit: The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression

Jill Abramson (1954)

Jill Abramson

“Breaking barriers is something I like to do.”

Jill Abramson’s attitude makes some people uncomfortable.  After discovering that she was paid considerably less than her predecessor, she instructed her lawyer to make inquiries on her behalf — reinforcing the “pushy” label she had been given.  In 2014, just short of three years as the first female executive editor of the NY Times, Abramson was fired.

“Am I coming across too pushy? Do I have to be sweeter and nicer? Because basically authenticity is very important in life, not just at work. You can say I paid a price for my own authenticity. I was who I am.”

She moved on.  Abramson is now interested in doing her part to counter what she calls the “endless yackathon” that masquerades as news coverage today.  With a partner, she is building a startup that will support select long-form journalism with $100,000 advances.  The story format will be longer than the customary news feature but shorter than a novel.  It’s an innovative idea worth watching and a brave step in a new direction.

She encourages other women to keep pushing to find where they belong.  “You have to look inside of yourself and answer honestly the question about the work that you do and the field you’re in. Whether you love it, whether the passion is still there. And if it’s not, to have the courage to try something else.”

Photo Credit: Robin Lubbock/WBUR

Julie Bishop (1956)

Julie Bishop Mike Bowers for the GuardianLet’s get back Down Under and learn about this spectacular woman sitting amid a herd of suits.

Julie Bishop, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs is the sole female in Tony Abbott’s cabinet.

Her story is elegant and simple.  Girls’ school, then “Uni,” then law practice and eventual partnership.  It wasn’t until she completed Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program, that she realized the best place for her was politics.

Bishop is not one to make excuses for herself or other women.  When criticized for refusing to accept the label of feminist, she merely explained that it is not in her lexicon.  She says, “I’m a female politician.  I’m a female foreign minister.  Get over it!”  Her philosophy on failure: “I might look at whether I was competent enough or I worked hard enough or did the breaks go my way but I’m not going to see life through the prism of gender.”

She suggests we adopt her approach.  “Stop whingeing,” (complaining) “get on with it and prove them all wrong.”

Good idea.

Photo Credit: Mike Bowers for The Guardian

Sigrid Olsen (1953)

Sigrid Olsen NYTimes     Sigrid Olsen has always been about color and atmosphere so when her eponymous line was bought out by Liz Claiborne, preventing her from selling clothing under her label for several years, she switched gears.  Now, she focuses on hospitality and well-being, generously sharing her personal journey with us.  Ride your bike up to her house on the Massachusetts coast and step inside the place that doubles as a gallery/studio for her art and housewares.  Or, sign up for a yoga and art retreat in Mexico or Greece and navigate your way through transition and change right alongside Sigrid.  She encourages attendees to do what they want, saying, “The yoga part is important but you can absorb a lot by being in the room and chilling out.”

It seems Sigrid has figured out this next-phase-of-life thing.  Follow her recommended steps to serenity, including reconnecting with yourself, others, and nature, as well as creating and celebrating life whenever possible.

Photo Credit: Jodi Hilton, NYTimes

Nancy Snyderman (1952)

Nancy Snyderman

Dr. Nancy Snyderman looks concerned, but that concern is for the health of others.  She is temporarily quarantined for peripheral exposure to the Ebola virus while covering the related story in Liberia.  Snyderman believes there is little threat to her own health but has consented to quarantine to be “respectful to colleagues and the U.S. public.”


This sensible attitude stems in part from being raised by loving and attentive parents in Indiana.  A third generation physician, her surgeon father included nine year old Nancy on his Sunday rounds.  (Never underestimate the power of a father’s influence and support.)  Snyderman advanced to become a head and neck surgeon, specializing in throat and neck cancers.  She authored five books and has been featured as a TV network correspondent and editor for more than two decades.  Snyderman is the recipient of numerous awards related to trailblazing women’s health issues as well as her role in TV journalism.  Married since 1993, she is the mother of three children.  By all accounts, this is an accomplished, balanced and authentic woman.

But, it is her B.A. in Microbiology that is perhaps most valuable to her now.  Good health, Dr. Snyderman.

Photo Credit: NBC News