Hear Us Roar

January 18, 2019


Women of “a certain age,” as the French say, will remember the powerful song by Helen Reddy called “I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar)”—a 1971 hymn to gutsy, strong members of the female sex.

Reddy is 77 years old now, but I imagine she still roars. So do an increasing number of older women who have scaled the ramparts and are now taking their places at the pinnacles of power. I know this because The New York Times told me so the other day in a hugely satisfying article headlined “I Am (an Older) Woman. Hear Me Roar.”

So, hear me shout: yes! The leader of the (older female) pack is Nancy Pelosi, who at age 78 was just re-elected Speaker of the U.S. House Representatives. This makes her the most powerful elected woman in United States history. It also makes her next in line to the presidency, after Vice President Pence.

There is Rep. Maxine

Waters of California, who earlier this month at age 80 became the first woman and first African American to head the influential Financial Services Committee of the U.S. House.

There is Rep. Donna Shalala, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, who is the oldest freshman in her House class at 77.

There is also Susan Zirinsky, who will take over CBS News in March at age 66. Let’s include veteran television anchor Katie Couric, 62; PBS reporter/host Christiane Amanpour, 61; CNN pundit Gloria Borger, 66; “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Gayle King, 64; and, of course, Oprah Winfrey, who will turn 65 at the end of January.

Let’s not forget Gloria Steinem, the grande dame of the American feminist movement, who is now 84 years old and continues her activism with alacrity.

There are more women over 50 in the United States today than at any other time in history, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We’re also healthier, are working longer, and have more income than previous generations. We are, therefore, less likely to allow ourselves to be put out to pasture.

Hollywood isn’t following the script, though. Except for a few exceptional older actresses like Helen Mirren, 73, Glenn Close, 71, and Meryl Streep, 69, most female movie stars are sweet young things whose value on the silver screen begins plummeting at age 30 but who are, at that tender age, deemed perfect to have a romantic screen relationship with a male actor of 50 or even 60.

In addition, just a handful of older women are at the helm of important companies. Not many women (of any age) are presidents of major American universities, either.

Ageism combined with sexism is a formidable drag. Consider: women over 50 have the hardest time finding jobs. A 2015 working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that older women get far fewer callbacks for jobs than those of older men and of younger applicants of either sex.

Still, the fact is that more older women are roaring today. And that is progress.

Jan Collins 2021-circle-crop

Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).