At 67, Hillary Clinton is now a “woman of a certain age.” So much emphasis and worry are put on physical aging in women that the emotional maturity and freedom that can come at this time are given short shrift. That robs everyone of a great natural resource. For women of a certain age, it is our time to lead. The new standard for aging women should be about vitality, strength and assertiveness.
One of the largest demographics in America is women in their 40s to 60s, and by 2020 there will be nearly 60 million peri- and post-menopausal women living in the U.S. Because women’s average life expectancy is currently 81 years, we’re easily spending a third of our lives postmenopausal. That is a great opportunity for growth and change.
The long phase of perimenopause is marked by seismic spikes and troughs of estrogen levels, which can last for more than a decade in many women. But afterward, there is a hormonal ebbing that creates a moment of great possibility. As a psychiatrist, I will tell you the most interesting thing about menopause is what happens after. A woman emerging from the transition of perimenopause blossoms. It is a time for redefining and refining what it is she wants to accomplish in her third act. And it happens to be excellent timing for the job Clinton is likely to seek. Biologically speaking, postmenopausal women are ideal candidates for leadership. They are primed to handle stress well, and there is, of course, no more stressful job than the presidency.
Estrogen is a stress hormone that helps a woman be resilient during her fertile years. Its levels rise and fall to help her meet her biological demands, which are often about giving to others: attracting a mate, bearing children and nurturing a family. When estrogen levels drop after menopause, the cyclical forces that dominated the first half of our lives have been replaced with something more consistent. Our lives revolve less around others and become more about finally taking our turn.
In my new book, Moody Bitches, I look at how women are taught from an early age that moodiness is a problem to be fixed. That is simply wrongheaded. Women’s moods are our body’s intelligent feedback system. If we learn to manage them properly, they are a great resource and a tremendous source of power. They show us when we are primed for certain challenges and opportunities.
And the postmenopausal emergence, if you will, coincides with the point at which most women will have a fair amount of experience under their belts. (Perhaps they’ve already served as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, for instance.) This is often the right time to make a push, to take more of a leadership position, enter a new arena or strike out on one’s own. My mother was a great role model in her perimenopause, taking her symptoms in stride and referring to her hot flashes as “power surges.” She got another degree and switched careers; that appealed to me as a teenage girl. Now I see this rise in power as a way to channel new energy and even new anger. It’s a chance to make changes that should’ve been made decades ago. This may also be the time when children — adolescents in particular — are ready to take on more responsibility, so perhaps there is a benefit for everyone in changing that family dynamic.
“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” said a 73-year-old Ronald Reagan of 56-year-old Walter Mondale. Hillary would begin her presidency at exactly the same age Reagan did, but her life expectancy would be longer than that of any other President in recent times. And she would have all the experience and self-assurance of a postmenopausal woman, ready to take her rightful place at the table — or in the Oval Office.
Julie Holland, M.D., is a psychopharmacologist and psychiatrist, and the best-selling author of Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER and Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy, out this month