A funny thing happened on the way to writing this, and coming up with a title reminded me of something my sister used to laugh about. When she moved to New York City, she worked for a visiting-nurse program and her clients were strewn across all five boroughs. The job came with a car and a navigation system, and every time she made a wrong turn, which was often, it would somberly intone, “Re…cal …cu…lating.” My sister called it her Higher Power. These days, I’m calling on it too.
This was supposed to be a pleased-as-punch announcement of Ageist? Sexist? Who, Me?, Old School’s new guide to starting a consciousness-raising group, this one around the intersection of ageism and sexism. It’s very good. As an older woman, there’s no intersection I inhabit more fully. As a writer, there’s no intersection I know more about. I’ll go to my grave proud of the fact that my first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, earned me a place on Phyllis Schafley’s Eagle Forum Enemies List.
The guide contains a section I’m especially pleased with, called Learning from the Women’s Movement. It’s about how the movement has centered whiteness and failed to address issues faced by more marginalized women, and how middle-class white women need do to better. I invoked it at length last month at the inaugural meeting of The Biddies, a group convened by Old School to bring ageism into the many emerging conversations around women and aging. Yet the attendees were overwhelmingly white, cis, older women. Called out by allies of color—special thanks to Mariann Aalda for doing so during the Zoom and to Alejandra Garcia for offering to reach out to Latinx and college groups—and realizing that to proceed would be to perpetuate the very system I hope to help dismantle, I am recalibrating.
We (the three co-founders of Old School) are starting with a meeting that a small group of women of color have generously agreed to attend, to talk about making our work more relevant to their communities. We’ll listen hard and hope to emerge with next steps for diversifying the Biddies, or whatever the group becomes, and for applying those lessons to the anti-ageism movement as a whole.
I know you can’t retrofit diversity. I’ve been talking the talk for a long time. But when it came to walking the walk, I screwed up. I’m fine with admitting that, but tongue-tied and miserable when the screw-up involves blindness to my own white privilege. “It takes practice,” says my colleague Ryan Backer, a long-time anti-racist activist, both encouraging and gently admonishing me. I’m lucky to have Ryan, and many other non-cis, non-white, non-straight, non-old friends and allies. Stay tuned to see where this takes us.
One place it’s already taken me is into a radical reconsideration of whether our consciousness-raising guides are the best tool to catalyze intersectional activism. Can we do better? What might that look like? More to come on that in Recalibrating, Part Two.