Dr Wendy M. Gough
Bunkyo Gakuin University, Japan
Jodie Moffat, Maria Scoda, & Susan Laura Sullivan (eds), Women of a Certain Age, Fremantle Press, Fremantle, 2018; pp: 171; RRP $27.99 Paperback.
The award-winning Women of a Certain Age is a collection of feminist essays written by Australian women that is sure to inspire readers across genders and age groups. The essays, written by women from a variety of sociocultural backgrounds, chronicle the writers’ life paths and significant experiences of growing up, growing older, and achieving success in a world that often seems like it would rather render them invisible than recognize their personal and professional achievements. Each of the fifteen contributors draws from her life to show how she developed a powerful sense of self and describes how she expanded her opportunities, gave back to society, reflected on her relationships and experiences, or feels restless about the future.
The essays weave together narratives that women around the world who do not quite fit into the boxes society wants to place them in can relate to and sympathize with. Jeanine Lean’s ‘Black boxes’ explores the experience of an Indigenous woman who doesn’t measure up to the evolving expectations of Aboriginal women put forth by white scholars. In this thought-provoking essay, Leane describes being pushed to use English and embrace western culture as a child, having her heritage questioned in academic and professional settings, feeling pressure to embrace her heritage later in life, and encountering roadblocks when trying to academically deconstruct the image of Aboriginal people put forth in white literature. This description of Leane’s experience with navigating cultural perceptions and boundaries gives the reader a first-hand perspective of an Indigenous woman who feels she does not quite fit in culturally within her own society, yet uses this to help her succeed academically and professionally.
The essays are not limited to describing the experiences of women making their life within White Australian society. Some, such as Susan Laura Sullivan’s ‘Seeking singular single older women’ deals with historical and cultural pressures and issues of discrimination faced by women in Australia and other traditionally male dominated societies and workplaces. In her essay, Sullivan describes the inescapable experiences women of various ages face in their day to day encounters with people. She tells of her experiences living in Japan and Oman at various stages of her life along with those of other single women she has encountered personally and professionally. These women find themselves not quite conforming with social expectations due to personal choices or life circumstances. She details dealing with men who assume that women must, by nature, want to have children or are somehow deficient for not aspiring to get married. Other women described in Sullivan’s essay are pushed to follow social norms that expect women to disrupt their career aspirations in order to be caregivers. All in all, the women in Sullivan’s essay are strong and successful in their own right, yet still find themselves just outside the norm due to male power structures. As a result, like Leane and the other writers in the anthology, Sullivan makes a powerful case for successful women to become role models for younger women dealing with similar social or professional situations.
The narratives in the book sometimes seem a bit disconnected, but they bring together a group of diverse voices and experiences. This challenges the reader to think about the various ways that women make their way in the world and find success in their unique identities. Overall, the essays presented in Women of a Certain Age give an inspiring look into the lives of women who have embraced their lives outside of the boxes society wants to place them into. The collection successfully brings together the voices of a diverse group of women who may not fit the typical middle-class Anglo-Australian stereotype. It also serves the function of introducing modern feminist perspectives told from firsthand experience by a group of women in an age group that is often forgotten or passed by.
By sharing their personal narratives, the writers reveal how their expectations and sociocultural perceptions of themselves and those around them have evolved, yet in many ways remain rooted in outdated cultural ideologies about gender, race, and ethnicity. From the point of view of a woman in the same age group as the writers assembled in Women of a Certain Age, the collection stands out to me as a refreshing set of essays that can inspire and provide unique and meaningful role models for women and men of all ages. Rather than whitewashing their stories, the writers show some of the many ways that women can be frustrated with a social system that tries to place them into prescribed boxes yet still be strong willed enough to embrace their circumstances and continue to work toward achieving their goals.
As Susan Laura Sullivan writes, there are "a multitude of ways to be normal," and "being accepted as such, both inwardly and outwardly is ideal" (p. 118). The essays compiled in Women of a Certain Age give us a taste of just some of the multitude of ways women can define their sense of normal and find acceptance and success.
Dr Wendy M. Gough
Bunkyo Gakuin University, Japan