In the first week of December 2021, as if by divine intervention, the launch of Midlife Slices coincided with the 4th annual Silver Sirens: Redefining Aging event, held this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art overlooking spectacular Sydney Harbour.
The event brings together women around the world (in-person and, since COVID stopped us travelling, online) each year to explore the riches, superpowers, and challenges that come with aging, and to celebrate the rise – and rise – of 50+ women.
I treated myself to tickets as a reward for bringing Midlife Slices to life, and as a gift to my friend Leigh for being my greatest cheerleader this year and being instrumental in the launch of the site. And what a day it was!
Founder Faith Agugu, walking the talk
Silver Sirens’ visionary and Founder, Faith Agugu, embodies the extraordinary potential for the modern midlife woman: “We are living in a unique period in history, one in which women have more power than they’ve ever had to create the kind of world they want for themselves – and for generations of women to come.”
Having had to sacrifice dreams in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, Faith believes that women over 50 are ready to explore new territories, navigating risks and opportunities for success.
“After 50, women can choose to successfully redirect creativity from raising children to birthing projects that impact and contribute to their community and culture. And, vitally, our current models of leadership, power, and authority are disintegrating making way for new paradigms.”
Globally, women are successfully challenging historic (and negative) narratives around their role in the world. And the crumbling of traditional structures is making way for female life perspectives to be included in narratives across all areas of life.
But there are no blueprints or roadmaps for redefining aging, or the evolution of consciousness around gender, culture, and sexuality, that is taking place.
Women are rebuilding from eons of oppression and trauma, and there are many, very real challenges still being faced by women globally. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored society’s reliance on women both on the front line and at home, and simultaneously exposed structural inequalities across every sphere, from health and the economy to security and social protection.
2021 event highlights
After a Welcome to Country with Wiradjuri woman, Aunty Donna Ingram, in which she touched on the important role of women in indigenous cultures, we heard from speakers on the issue of aging, ageism, and sexism in the workplace.
Academic and age diversity consultant and speaker, Catherine Rickwood PhD, gave a brilliant presentation on our society’s outdated (and frankly, in 2021, utterly ridiculous) retirement stereotypes, and encouraged us to ‘be the change you want to see’ in our own workplaces, reminding us that systemic change really can be affected by small, individual efforts as simple as a conversation in the lunchroom.
Grassroots Australian feminist and public policy specialist, and Founder and Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust, Mary Crooks AO, shared her fascinating perspective after several decades of policy activism on behalf of all women.
The Trust’s recent publication, About Bloody Time, “makes the case for menstrual revolution as an essential key to unlocking gender equality.”
Menstruation, despite great change in the gender equality movement, is still largely taboo. Women don’t talk about it, even with their friends, let alone within their workplaces. It’s still stigmatised and demeaned, yet Mary emphasised that without complete acceptance of this vital bodily function, we’ll never advance.
Redefining (women’s) aging in the media
Tracey is well-known for her vocal advocacy for women’s rights in the media after being ousted by a major Australian TV network following her return from maternity leave following the birth of her second child.
I’d just the night before finished Tracey’s book The Good Girl Stripped Bare, which I’d stumbled on in a local street library and, knowing that she’d be speaking at this event, decided was some kind of universal (if not erroneous) sign that Midlife Slices was ‘meant to be’.
The two had a bloody good time bantering about their experiences working in media for so many years and some of the key issues covered in Tracey’s book, notably the still huge divide between how women in media (in particular TV) are viewed and treated by both management (and viewers!) compared with their male counterparts.
Tracey explained the conundrum; you’re either too young, too inexperienced, and not enough, or too old and…. you guessed it, not enough. It’s her strong belief that “you can’t be what you can’t see” that makes her continued advocacy work in this area so important.
Authors, academics, performers and more
There were so many wonderful speakers and guests on the day, I’ve actually had to give up my goal of reviewing all of them to get this post published.
I bought AACTA Award-winning Phyllis Foundis‘ book, The Joy of Sags: Sexual Adventures from the Pre-Menopausal Frontline. More on that later.
Journalist and author, Alicia Young, shared her experiences as a bi-racial midlife woman in Australia.
We met the wonderful Rosemary Kariuki who was named 2021 Australian of the Year Local Hero. Rosemary fled Kenya for Australia in 1999 and experienced great isolation and loneliness in her early years here, yet is now widely recognised for her work helping other displaced women overcome isolation and gender violence.
Cultural commentator, fashion anthropologist, and our MC for the day, Charlotte Smith, talked to us about aging in the public eye and the role of what we wear in defining – or at least demonstrating – our personalities. She then interviewed Canadian-Australian author, UNICEF national ambassador for child survival, and more recently, disability activist, Tara Moss.
In a segment titled Our Elders are Treasures!, Francesca Emerson (who, amongst many other accomplishments in the performing and creative arts, rose to fame as one of the world’s first black Playboy Bunnies) and psychologist and academic, Jo Milne-Home, took part in a heart-warming interview with 20-somethings Olivia de Govrik and Dara Petlueng.
American TV, stage, and film actress and standup comic, the timeless Mariann Aalda, had us in stitches with a cabaret about aging – and masturbation. And Dahlia Dior performed “No Regret” and “She Got the Whole World”.
Pictured (L to R): Silver Sirens Founder, Faith Agugu, with journalists and authors, Tracey Spicer AM and Jacinta Tynan.
Acknowledging Australia’s South Sea Islanders
An important word regarding Australia’s indigenous and First Nations women.
In Australia alone, women over 55 are the fastest-growing group of homeless, an increase of 31% in just the 5yrs to 2016. Of those, indigenous women experience poorer health than all other Australian women, with many suffering health problems “due to the context of their lives, with significant impacts being related to dispossession, forced removals from family, racism, marginalisation, and exposure to violence.”
To that end, and in accordance with the following Silver Sirens’ guiding principle –
Silver Sirens champions social and environmental causes, shining a spotlight on disadvantaged members of our community including the continued struggle of our First Nations and Australian South Sea Islander people for full recognition
– the Australian South Sea Islanders – Port Jackson (ASSI-PJ) was selected as the official charity partner for the 2021 event. On the day, the organisation was represented by its President and co-founder, Emelda Davis, who touched on the importance of recognising the role of ASSI people in Australia’s colonial history.
ASSIs are the descendants of some 60,000 Pacific slaves stolen from their island communities in 1847 to NSW and between 1863-1908 to QLD from the eight islands of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands as well as Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, New Caledonia, and Fiji (Rotuma).
The 1994 Commonwealth recognized ASSIs as ‘a distinct cultural group’ who suffer the same disadvantages as Indigenous Australians. ASSI have an evident kinship with First Nations Australians as they were placed on the same missions, reserves, stations and plantations during colonisation.
Redefining aging with hope, courage, and good humour!
So, WOW. That was the day in a nutshell. It was so exhilarating, I was buzzing all evening and into the next day. So many amazing midlife (and beyond!) women doing such important work in so many different fields with courage, intellect, hope, positivity, and above all, good humour.
Silver Sirens: Redefining Aging was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more, a re-imagining – and collective redefining – of what it means to be a woman today. Bring on 2022!