Five Questions for...Suzanne Braun Levine

This week, Pamela Redmond Satran—author of the New York Times bestselling book How Not To Act Old, creator of the online serialized novel Ho Springs, and the developer of nameberry.com—asks Suzanne Braun Levine—original editor of Ms., contributing editor of More, and author of the recently released Fifty is the New Fifty—five questions on feminism, ageism, role models, and what's next.

1. Is age a feminist issue?

Absolutely. For women ageism is an extension of the beauty and behavior standards imposed by a culture that values youth above all. It is another way of depleting our power and impact—and it is very demoralizing. The good news is that being in our fifties, sixties and seventies is about empowerment. There comes a time when each of us hears herself say, “You know? I don’t care what people think any more.” And she’s on her way to getting to know and trust in herself—and her aging body. The more we accomplish, the more we resist being marginalized. The world needs our confidence, experience—and sense of humor.

2. You’ve had an enduring yet diverse career. How has your career changed over time—and how are those changes an outgrowth of your changing interests versus your age versus changes in the business?

The notion of earning a living as a writer is almost an oxymoron. But it can be done. Ironically, since writing is such a solitary pursuit, success requires a kind of self-promotion that feels very awkward to many of us. But we are never more primed to set words down than we are at midlife. For one thing, this is a time of life when we are getting really good at speaking up, speaking out, and letting the chips fall where they may. In other words, each of us is finding her voice and building the authority to believe she has something to say. In my case, I spent over thirty years as a magazine editor polishing other peoples’ voices and making sure the right experts were consulted to validate the author’s message. Now as I work on my fourth book, I smile sometimes when I sit in front of the computer trying to find the words to express what I think.

3. How is our 50 different from our mothers’ 50?

Let me put it this way: When my mother was fifty, if she wanted a job, she had to look under “Help Wanted—female”. If she wanted to take out a loan, she needed her husband’s signature. If she was interested in politics, she would volunteer in someone else’s (usually a man's) campaign. Everywhere she turned she was reminded that she was a second class citizen. Needless to say, when she lost her child-bearing credentials she was considered to be at the end of the road. Back then, menopause was called “the change of life”—which meant a woman’s life was supposed to stop changing. Sounds like a long gone world, but it all changed in our lifetimes.

4. What can older and younger women learn from each other?

At first I was surprised when a women in her thirties would tell me she bought two copies of my book Inventing the Rest of Our Lives—one for herself and one for her mother. What I came to understand was that we are becoming role models (in ways our own mothers couldn’t be for us), and younger women want to understand what opportunities and possibilities lie ahead. They are in the midst of the stage of life that is driven by trade-offs, and are encouraged by the prospect of being ready, willing, and able in twenty years to get back to experiences that had to be put on hold. For us it is important to see that many of the lessons we are learning now—like saying “no” and going it alone—won’t apply when they get to our stage. They will have their own issues, and they will be a new generation of role models.

5. What new things do you see ahead for yourself?

Since my kids are still in their twenties, I look forward to seeing how they turn out. Since I find writing about women so exhilarating, I hope that when I finish Falling In Love Again—about how we love and whom we love as we become our best selves—that I will be ready to get on to the next one.

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Tags: #issues we face, #nonfiction, 5questions, Suzanne Braun Levine, editor, feminist

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Comment by Karin Lippert on April 21, 2010 at 11:40am
Wonderful to see Suzanne, author of "Fifty Is the New Fifty" here. I know the book and her website - www.suzannebraunelevine.com - very well as I am working with her. She always brings fresh insights to the topic. We've known each other for many years, and as we have aged, her books have meant a great deal to me because the are empoering. One of the truths in terms writing about women, is we are always writing about ourselves. Suzanne has put her own story and her voice into her books...there are narrative threads, and threads of memoir throughout. We are living our second adulthood more connected to other women - writing and books have a lot do with that. Book clubs often come to resemble consciousness-raising groups where truth-telling is a component along with the books, food and wine!
Comment by Deborah Siegel on April 19, 2010 at 10:52am
Suzanne, it's so great to have you here. Your response to question number 4 is intriguing to me as a youngish (HA - not so much anymore) feminist in the midst of the all-intensive new motherhood. I've been telling myself "this is a chapter in a book of many" -- and your sentiment makes that really feel true.

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