In Praise of Successful Agers
Bruce Emond, WEEKENDER | Thu, 03/24/2011 2:06 PM |
Psychologist and women’s rights activist Saparinah Sadli is still going strong at the age of 83.
Psychologist Saparinah Sadli is familiar with the work of Sigmund Freud, but is certainly no disciple. After all, Freud famously proclaimed that people could not change their ways after their personality-forming childhood. Saparinah, by contrast, firmly believes that everyone has the potential to learn and grow throughout their lives.
In 2007, as she approached her 80th birthday, Saparinah published a slim but important book about older women, Menjadi Perempuan Sehat dan Produktif di Usia Lanjut (Becoming Healthy and Productive Women in Advanced Age). The work’s focus on older women enjoying full and interesting lives – “successful agers” –reflects its author’s experiences during her own interesting and successful life: Saparinah is Professor Emeritus in psychology at University of Indonesia, co-founder of the university’s pioneering Women’s Studies Center and former head of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, established following the May 1998 riots.
Saparinah, or Ibu Sap as she is known, remains strong and vibrant. There are the inevitable nuisances that come with aging – she rues her diminished hearing – but the sharp-witted widow of the late economist and mining minister Mohammad Sadli celebrates the freedom that comes with being an older woman, as she describes here.
I thought nobody would write about women who are older, what they do and what they think about their lives.
So I wrote the book when I was getting close to 80, and I was looking at my friends who were 80 or older, and I could see they were still very active and healthy and independent. I gathered friends very informally for interviews and, as a psychologist, of course I consulted psychology books about what it means to get old. I called the book being productive in old age, because that’s what I saw around me, because there are so many older women who are very productive, doing lots of things and making their own choices.
Maybe I am part of that, too. It may have to do with my background as a lecturer, because when you are around young people they keep you on your toes. You have to keep up with them, because they read a lot that you don’t read and they do a lot which you don’t understand.
When my mother was old, she figured very prominently in the family. As one of the older women in the family, she had a special place in ceremonies and family reunions. And that was true for all older people in society because people always treat you differently to younger people. Now elderly women don’t take that place so much, but they are very active. In my mother’s day, older women did the activities that elderly women were supposed to do, like cooking and crocheting.
For me, aging has to do with your physical health, and also material wealth.
You need to be healthy, even with all the shortcomings – so maybe you don’t hear so well or are forgetful, but you are still able to be self-sufficient, and that is so important. But then you also need to have money to do the things you want to do. Because, in my observations, elderly women are more creative and more flexible in wanting to nurture other people. Old men want to be active, too, but it’s more about fulfilling their own interests.
I see that women, when they are older and their children have their own families, they enjoy the freedom of not having to take care of their children and not look after their husbands so much. They love their independence and being able to do what they want with their free time. I think the “empty nest” and “post-menopausal” syndromes are maybe more of a myth.
I can’t say I had a golden age. Life is a process.
When I was working for my doctorate, I was very nervous, but when I got it, then at that moment it was my golden age. And when I was asked to set up the Women’s Studies Center (1990), I was very nervous. I refused at first because I wasn’t a women’s studies person. But then other people said to me, “Just accept it, and we will help you.” When it was established and running, that was another thing that was done. I consider myself very lucky that I have reached this age, that I am relatively healthy, that I am relatively busy, but what is nice in old age is that you can make your own choices. If somebody asks me to do something and I want to do something else, then I can say no. When you’re younger, and you are told to do something, you have to do it, because you’re part of a structure, they are paying your salary.
Today there is this glorification of being young, with all the advertisements about staying young.
It’s wrong to be influenced by that. Just show your age. Well, if you are old you are not young! I always laugh at those old women who think they are young by trying to dress like young people. I think it looks horrible. Dress like an older woman. I don’t mean sloppy, but with elegance and according to your age. Today, people are told to wear their hair this way or put on this type of makeup to look younger. I don’t buy that. My only hope is to have a healthy old age.