Best of TEDxWomen: Mary Catherine Bateson


Cultural anthropologist/author Mary Catherine Bateson’s recent TEDxWomen Talk about life after menopause.

At this point, staring head-on into the eyes of my youngest child, I am a hair closer to menopause than I am to breastfeeding and childbirth. It is disheartening, as I age, to realize how our culture presents these two life-changing events. On film and in stories, childbirth is seen as a time of hope and opportunity–the “happily ever after” to our Disney-princess romances–while menopause is most often presented in terms of flop-sweated, hysteria-tinged tragedy. The idea that menopause could be the gateway to a rich, authentic new chapter of life feels largely unexplored.

This was not the narrative reiterated at last week’s TEDxWomen Talks at the Paley Centers in New York and Los Angeles, however. While speakers actually covered a spectrum of ages and life experiences, one message, in particular, rang out repeatedly:


That is a powerful statement, I think. It gets to the root of something that women are told both explicitly and implicitly through the media–that as we age, we become less valuable and desirable, and with that decreased value, opportunities diminish, doors close. Do it all (motherhood, graduate school, bestseller, start-up business) now, at the same time, while you still have some worth! This has some profound effects on our decision-making and prioritizing: by trying to “do it all” at once, women do not acknowledge that motherhood is a full-time job in itself, and so risk feeling overwhelmed, anxious, alienated, depressed, and unsuccessful when they struggle to combine parenting and career.

Perhaps we need to pace our expectations for ourselves and take a longer view of our lives…

In one of my favorite talks from the TEDxWomen Talks, cultural anthropologist and author Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of Margaret Mead, elaborates on how, with increased life-expectancies, a new period of “extraordinary opportunity” has been inserted into the lives of women after menopause:

I believe that in this third act, this second-adulthood period, when we have the accrued wisdom of a lifetime and are still active, we can play critical  roles in meeting human problems. One of the biggest problems in this country is short-term solutions: getting ahead of the next election cycle or quarterly report…What I would like to see, is the notion of older adults, especially women, as advocates for peace and justice for the future and future generations…[to create] a sustainable, peaceful, just world…

This added longevity is our major source of hope in the world at this time.

I’ll be adding other talks to GeekMom in the coming weeks–but yes, this one was my favorite!


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