Hot flashes are the least of menopause. You will want to drive a knife through your heart; you will want to leave your lover, no matter how much you have loved them. You will feel as though your life is over, because it is. You will realize for the first time that your whole life people have looked at you because you are a woman and people look at women – but now, suddenly, you are invisible. But then something magical happens:
You are a woman, the ten years have passed, you love your children, you love your lover, but there are no longer any persons on earth who can stop you from being yourself…You would never want to be a girl again for any reason at all, you have discovered that being invisible is the biggest secret on earth, the most wondrous gift anyone could have given you.
Hollywood made me pause this week. Twice. And it doesn’t happen often, even if I live in its bosom.
Over coffee and toast, like a voyeur, I read the New York Times’ expose on Miramax Harvey Weinstein’s fall from his (not so solid) perch of power and fame. In case you haven’t heard, the casting couch is still alive and well and, for the last 30 years, good old Harvey acted inappropriately with young actresses and assistants, exercising his power over women who were not in a position to speak out. Apparently, it was the worst kept secret in Hollywood – as Ashley Judd remarked, adding that it was time to have this conversation. What is shocking is not that this happened but that it went on for so long, with the tacit approval of an entire industry, and nobody speaking out because Harvey anointed stars and broke movies.
This gave me pause because I was that girl once. In an industry dominated by testosterone laden men, for the longest time I did not question, I did not walk away, most certainly I did not go to HR. I took it as acceptable behaviour, the condoning of which was par for the course if I wanted to get ahead.
Two days later, I chanced upon the excerpt from Mary Ruefle’s essay on menopause, buried within an interview with one of my favorite actors, Frances McDormand, whom the male writer describes thus: She is 60 and sexy in the manner of women who have achieved total self-possession.
It felt serendipitous as I have been mulling self-possession for the last couple of weeks, trying to find a way to write about it without sounding like a…well, self-possessed ass.
Something has changed in me – whether it’s age, menopause, cancer, my latest studies or just late blooming (or, most likely, a combination of all) I noticed I no longer suffer from the exquisitely feminine syndrome of not feeling good enough.
Over the course of my life, I felt like an imperfect mother, a not good enough partner, a fraud and a cheat in school and at work: if I got ahead, if I got good grades, it was always a mixture of luck and people not paying enough attention because, if they had, they could have seen I wasn’t as smart as they thought.
The truth is – I actually am. As smart as they thought, and then some. I would have even been much smarter had I not made excuses for my brilliance, had I inhabited it the way I do now. Because I have come to the place in life where I know myself inside and out, I am very aware of what my limitations and shortcomings are and I am rarely blindsided by them. I keep them at the forefront while playing to my strengths.
I have finally stopped apologizing for being competent or for having an opinion – there are many things I suck at but just as many where I excel, and to be fully comfortable with both thoughts has been a revelation. At last, I found and embraced self-possession. And that involves also accepting with equanimity all the times I did not speak up, all the times I didn’t walk away. I would act differently now, I do act differently now. So, maybe, in Hollywood and elsewhere, it’s women my age who need to look after those younger women who haven’t yet found their voices, or their self-possession.