Henrietta Hay Column May 22, 2009
It’s up to the 'crones’ to be activists and save the world
Here I am, 95 years old, and I still don’t know what to call myself. I don’t like “old lady.” “Senior” is OK, but lacks personality. Ah ha. I found one.
The answer comes from Greek mythology. The word “crone” is a part of The Trinity — Maiden, Mother, Crone. The three are one, just as each woman is one through her life.
A crone is a Wise Old Woman. In our society, we don’t often find “wise” and “old” used in the same sentence, and if you add the word “woman” — forget it. But that needs to be changed.
In 2009 how old is old?
Once it was 50. But I would get shot if I called my boomer friends old. Besides, I was still riding my motorcycle when I was 50.
How about 60? Nah. The boomers are just turning 60 and are still working and helping with grandchildren. OK, let’s say 70 for “older.”
Far too many women over 70 are sitting back watching the world go by. We are, however, the logical activists. The “maidens” tend to be so starry-eyed that they don’t know there are problems. The “mothers” are busy trying to hold home and children and job together. So it’s up to us, the “crones,” to be the activists.
One of my favorite crones is Madeline Albright. She has had a spectacular career in government. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 as the 64th secretary of state. She was the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government.
Prior to her appointment, she served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. She has served in more important positions than I can possibly list here. She is fluent in French and Czech and can speak in Russian and Polish.
And she is only 72 now. Oh yes, she has three daughters.
She is a hard act to follow, but do you remember Shirley Temple? As a child she acted and danced and sang herself into the hearts of America. Born in 1928, she became America’s sweetheart.
I have trouble imagining her as 81 years old. From 1974-1976 she served as the U. S. ambassador to Ghana, and later as ambassador to Czechoslovakia. She was the first honorary Foreign Service officer.
Child star to crone!
One crone who is not with us anymore was Rosa Parks. As a young woman she refused to go to the back of the bus. She spent all the rest of her life active in the civil rights movement and died in 2005 at 92.
A most amazing crone celebrated her 100th birthday last month. Rita Levi Montalcin serves as a senator for life in Italy. She shared the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering mechanisms that regulate the growth of cells and organs.
She says, “At 100 I have a mind that is superior — thanks to experience — than it was at 20.”
It would be hard to find a stronger contrast than that between Montalcin and — well, do you watch “Dancing With the Stars”? Cloris Leachman, 83, was dancing up a storm that few 20-year-olds could match. No kidding! She was born in 1926. She has had a long career in acting and singing. And it is obviously not over.
Crone Gloria Steinem is considered, along with Betty Friedan, the most important feminist reformer in the second wave of the women’s movement. Now 75, she is still going strong.
Let’s close the all-too-short list with one of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou. Now 81, she is one of the finest writers of her generation. She has been honored by universities, literary organizations and government. She has received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, among others. She remains active as a professor at Princeton and has just published her 15th book.
I like the name “crone.” Guess I’ll keep it. The modern “maidens” are beautiful and energetic, but not too interested in social reform. The “mothers” are trying to survive and keep it all together. So it is up to us, the “crones,” to save the world.