Why I think that we should listen more carefully to our Grandmothers

Post by Mary Ann Mhina for the Love for Love series.

Why I think that we should listen more carefully to our Grandmothers

It all started a few years ago when I read a poem by Alice Walker entitled Calling All Grand Mothers. She inspired me to think about the way we think about older women. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that older women tend not to be revered and respected as female elders but instead, as women get older, they are often relegated to family life and a restful retirement.

I started to notice the fact that, when people want you to simplify things they say things like; Describe it in a way that your Grandmother would understand. It is as if we think that Grandmothers can only understand dumbed down information. And yet as women who have lived and loved and experience life for a good deal of time, surely it is Grandmothers who in fact, should be looked up to and respected. Might it not in fact be they who can see things more clearly?

In fact as Alice puts it in her poem, perhaps the future itself depends on us embracing the leadership and eldership of our Grandmothers – which seems rather the opposite to us assuming we need to simplify things so that they can understand them!

So where have we gone wrong? Why is it that we so seldom look to or revere modern-day female elders? In her book, Goddess Archetypes in Older Women Jean Shinoda Bolen suggests that we live in a ‘youth-centered patriarchy’ and the more I have thought about this the more I have found that I tend to agree!

As if there isn’t enough pressure on us as women to diet ourselves in to a certain size and shape, continue as normal during our periods and generally act as if nature was something to put down rather than to flow with, we currently live in a world where adverts for face creams that claim to make us look younger are emblazoned on bill boards and the sides of buses. It seems to me that there is a lot of money invested in persuading us that it is normal and natural to want to stay young.

In fact though we all know on some level that perpetual youth is an impossible dream many of us are apparently willing to invest our resources in trying to hold on to an illusion of youth. Perhaps we are afraid of the aging process? And for sure that fear is fueled by the constant receipt of messages from outside ourselves that the ageing process, which our body engages in naturally, is somehow wrong,

When we are sold these illusions so fiercely how can we find space to embrace our aging? Where are the voices of older women and how can we access their wealth of wisdom and experience when we expend so much energy trying to prevent aging and stay forever young?

With all these thoughts developing in my mind and spurred on by Alice’s poem I started deliberately listening to older women. I found that when I asked them about their lives, the choices that they had made and the things that mattered to them I was enriched and inspired. Listening to hear and witness them and to find out more about their stories was a pleasure in and of itself. And as I did it something began to dawn on me. I realized that when we silence older women we are actually silencing our communal shared wisdom as well.

In fact I have come to believe that the quiet voices of older women in our mainstream media and public life reflect something that perhaps we have all forgotten; that the post-menopausal crone woman, having birthed many things in the world in her earlier years holds the wisdom which, if she is allowed – and indeed encouraged to share it, has the potential to enrich our communities and to re-balance our world.

So what can we do about it? How can we start to counter this ‘youth-centered patriarchy’? We can start by the apparently simple act of deliberately listening to older women. I would love to encourage you to do this. To take time to listen and truly hear the stories of the older women around you, your grandmothers, mothers and the other older women in your families and communities. I for one discovered lots of new things when I took the time and space to listen consciously to my own Mum!

I really believe that in the listening itself is power. For when we listen and truly hear another magic happens. We don’t just build connections with the women we are listening to but we also hear our own stories reflected in theirs and as they share their wisdom with us we are enabled to embrace our own.

I would love to hear what you think about female elders and their wisdom? What did you learn from your Grandmother? How did she inspire you? You can share your thoughts in the comments or over on the Listening to our Grandmothers facebook page.

Mary Ann has a life-long interest in women sharing their stories and her first book, “Listening to Our Grandmothers“, in which older women do just that was published in September.  She now divides her time between her own creative work as a writer and storyteller and working on projects with International NGOs. She is also a White Belt Nia Teacher & an Action Learning Facilitator. Her online course StoryPower will launch in early 2014. You can connect with her : Web | Facebook | Twitter : @maryannmhina |


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