So What Does the Term “Women of a Certain Age ” Mean Anyway?

Here I am writing a blog for almost a year targeted to “Women of a Certain Age” and I have yet to define what the term means. I kind of assumed we all knew if we fit into this group. But as the saying goes, “when you assume, you make an asset of you and me.” But through my research, I’ve found it seems to mean different things to different people. Does it mean you have to be in a specific age range, have gray hair, stubborn wrinkles, or all/none of the above?

According to Urban Dictionary, it is an “Ironically polite term for a woman who does not want her actual age known, e.g. one who is close to or just over the menopause.” Are you kidding me? How scary is that definition?

The dictionary goes on to say”things which define women of a certain age are:

  • Exceptionally gaudy clothing 
  • Homeopathy and aromatherapy
  • Sensible haircuts
  • Books on feminism
  • Affairs with paperboys
  • Coffee mornings.”

So clearly, their definition is one to cast aside.

Women of a Certain Age – Where Did the Term Come From?

The derivation of the phrase “women of a certain age” comes from famous poets and authors in France and England in the early 1800s. But the two countries used the term in completely opposite ways.

The French felt women’s maturity and experience are more revered as they age (“Women of a Certain Age in Paris,“), and are considered more erotic because they are more experienced. The implication is that they would take young suitors who want to learn from sexually experienced women.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines that sense of certain as “that which it is not polite or necessary further to define.” In other words, they mean a woman of a certain age is old and therefore her age should be kept a secret.

The famous poet Lord Byron referred to such women as spinsters. In 1817 he wrote: “She was not old, nor young, nor at the year which certain people call a certain age. Which yet the most uncertain age appears.” But in 1822, he nastily called women of “a certain age”, “certainly aged.” Ouch, Lord B.

Another colloquial phrase used by people is “long in the tooth.” You won’t believe where that saying comes from. Apparently, when horses age their gums recede and their teeth look longer. Nice – now we are old horses put out to pasture.

In France, women of a certain age are considered sexier (and sort of loose) and in the UK spinsters. How crazy is that? It’s no surprise that the various derivations of the term ” women of a certain age” were coined by misogynistic men who sought to control women and gave it a very negative connotation.

Thank God things have changed since that time and I am a proud member of this group. I am neither more erotic nor a spinster. The one thing we can all agree on is that it refers to people (not just women) who are exiting “middle age” and embarking on “older age.”

Because life spans have increased, we are no longer the shrinking violets of society. Today, we are one of the most powerful demographic groups in the country. Many of us are just hitting our prime in our respective professions. Some of us head social advocacy groups and hold leadership positions previously unavailable to women. We have Oscar-winning female directors and writers. Heck, we even elected the first female Vice President.

Most importantly, our sheer size and financial strength mean men can no longer define or control us. We are making our own mark and it is finally affecting pop culture where youth was always synonymous with beauty. No More!

  • Cher modeling Ugg Boots at 75 years old
  • Ava DuVernay Academy Award Winning Director
  • Christie Brinkley Modeling at 67
  • Iman the model still models at 66 years old
  • Heidi Klum is 48 years old
  • Demi Moore Looks Amazing at 59 Years Old
  • Iris Apfel Models at 97 years old
  • Helen Mirren age 69

Marketers are tapping into this lucrative market and now have brand ambassadors for their fashion and beauty products who are in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and one who is 100 years old. Thank God things have changed over the last century and we are no longer marginalized.

I find great comfort in seeing my age mirrored back to me walking the runways, in starring roles on television, in the movies, on social media, and in print ads.

Since I can’t find a universal definition of the phrase, “women of a certain age,” here is my take on it. Frankly, it is more about having experience than anything else. If you have been out in the world, have opinions and advocate for causes you are passionate about – then this community is right for you.

It has taken us a long time to get here and we have incredible power because of the sheer numbers of us. So listen up people, don’t underestimate or overlook us – we are doing the heavy lifting in our communities, businesses, and politics. And we are just getting started.

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Published by Amy Sandelman Harris

Welcome to our community. I use my voice on my blog to affect change through philanthropy, advocacy, and activism. My blog is meant to inspire people to get involved.

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