Those of us who have been around OWL for some time have heard endless arguments about the use of the word “older” in Older Women’s League, the original name the founders gave the organization. A lot of members and potential members don’t want to be considered “old”, “older”-- or anything that suggests this. On the other hand, some embrace the term and would like to see “older” given a good name.
On some reflection, I’ve decided that when the founders used “Older” Women’s League, the word was used intentionally. It was a political embrace of feminism -- older women were not simply kindly, docile grandmotherly types. They had the intelligence and strength of women in general -- and feminism was about recognizing these attributes. And, in addition, they had experience and wisdom, not to mention the often-recognized trait of becoming more forthright in the “second half of life”.
There was pride in the term, when older women were a recognizable political force, advocating for issues that affected them. They were recognized as an “in your face” but wise group who stood up to issues, popular or not. They were leaders in rights for “displaced homemakers”, women returning to the workforce after a lot of caretaking. They were leaders in the movement for universal health care in the ‘90’s. And they have continually been leaders in advocating for women’s economic security (such as social security and pensions). These are only a few of the many areas in which active, involved older women, are a recognized as a significant political force.
Not wanting to use the term “older” is somewhat understandable, in our youth obsessed society. (In fact, in my OWL chapter we seldom use the term.) On the other hand, older women have some unique attributes. I’d really like to see us take positions of power and leadership again -- by any name.
OWL San Francisco and National Board Member