In our Living in Retirement blog, a recent retiree chronicles the ups and downs of her real-life retirement journey.
Women in the public eye are delaying their retirements. Kathleen Wynne and Hillary Clinton, who are both of retirement age, are squarely in the spotlight. Christine Elliott, widow of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, has announced that she will run for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario. All three women, who are children of the 1950s, have rejected a peaceful, private way to embrace their advancing years.
For the rest of us, who live more ordinary lives, the pressure is also on to make a splash before we retire, or to keep up the effort of inventing second or third careers as we head into our senior years.
My big question is why ramp up instead of down when retirement looms? Why do Wynne, Clinton and Elliott bother running? These women are in their sixties, hugely accomplished, well-situated financially, married or widowed; and they are devoted mothers.
Ms. Elliot is the mother of triplet sons. Ms. Wynne is the grandmother of three and Ms. Clinton is about to become a grandmother. Ms. Wynne will be 65 when her term as Premier of Ontario is over and Ms. Clinton – if she decides to run and wins in 2016 – will be 72 when her first term as President of the United States ends. Ms. Elliott will be 64 in the next Ontario election if she is chosen to take a run at the Premiership.
I’d say all three already have it all. Obviously, in their eyes, they don’t. These women were born before the change; that is before Betty Friedan’s 1963 “The Feminine Mystique” and the re-birth of the women’s movement. Like my mother, the Clinton, Wynne and Elliott mothers stayed home, raised the kid(s), cooked and took care of Dad.
Fifty years later, women of my generation, particularly on the precipice of retirement and after a successful career, do not look back on the 50’s fondly. There is a black and white photo imprinted in our minds of what we would look like if we’d become our mothers. The freshly-permed hair, the plastic smile, hands folded softly together, the single strand of pearls decorating the twin set.
It doesn’t mean we didn’t love or admire our mothers; it simply means that we realize we could have never fit the bill of the 1950s housewife or possessed the fortitude to stick it out. What would have become of us if we had tried?
Many of us continue to fight that battle, at least in our minds. In addition, women in their sixties need the cash to maintain a reasonable standard of living or to feel the love that goes with successful careers. Many women of my generation are not depending on their partners to pull them through their senior years. This is not your mother’s retirement.
Ms. Wynne, Ms. Clinton and Ms. Elliott have chosen to play out the battle for equality on a grand stage. It’s in the public arena, for women of a certain age, that this cause becomes too important to give up no matter how enormous the cost to one’s health, relationships or financial bottom line. “No rest for the wicked,” my mother would say.
But when is it time to stop and rest on their laurels? Retire and smell the roses? Hillary’s new book, Hard Choices, is underperforming expectations. Only about 90,000 copies sold in the first week.
In a recent article in the National Journal, journalist Peter Beinart begins his study of Hillary by focusing on the fact that she failed her Washington Bar exams in 1973. On TVO’s public affairs program, The Agenda, national NDP campaign manager during the Broadbent years Robin Sears remarked that one of the reasons Ms. Wynne wasn’t successful on debate night was because she looked “too skinny.”
We’ve all observed Hillary Clinton for years: the young feminist wife to Governor and then President Bill Clinton. Her failed health care makeover for ailing Americans. Years of relative invisibility as the backroom enforcer for the President. In his article, Mr. Beinart portrays her as “the closer,” the one who made the hard decisions in the White House when Bill couldn’t or wouldn’t, the one who fired people. We watched the public humiliation of Hillary for husband Bill’s infidelities as she stood grimly by her man.
As for Ms. Wynne, it took her years to become comfortable in her own skin and to live an openly gay life. She would have known that running for the premier’s job would put her personal life in the limelight. Her majority win in Ontario on June 12 speaks to the courage of her convictions, as does Hillary’s to stay the course and honour her political ambitions instead of bowing to the repulsion she must have felt during repeated sensationalist drubbings. In Ms. Elliott’s case, it takes enormous resolve to run for the leadership of a political party so soon after the death of a spouse.
Although it’s been fifty years since the publication of The Feminine Mystique, some races take a long time and prolonged effort to win. Running is still the only way to reach the finish line.
Follow Joyce Wayne on Twitter: @JoyceWayne1951