Crones Don't Whine :

A primer for elder women

 

 

Book Review From : 

Crones Don't Whine

by Jean Shinoda Bolen 

 

The outer path we take is public knowledge, but the path with heart is an inner one. The two come together when who we are that is seen in the world coincides with who we deeply are. Jean Shinoda Bolen

 

With her new release, Crones Don't Whine, Jean Shinoda Bolen has given a much-needed boost to old ladies. We've been much maligned over the years, stuck in the rocking chair by the fire (or the heater) with our knitting needles, our socially responsible activities limited to baking cookies for church bazaars. But as Bolen points out, the women's revolution has redefined our roles, and it's now time to elevate the older woman to the status of "crone."

 

Crone is an old word which, along with hag, has been associated with the image of an ugly shriveled old woman. But the word has been redeemed by feminists now growing old, with a cheerful re-reading of the old stories, beginning with Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run With the Wolves, where the archetype of the old woman appears as guide and teacher, and Barbara Walker's book Crone. Menopause is now rightly seen as a cathartic process from which we emerge with a gritty character imbued with self-knowledge, and the word crone is now bestowed as a kind of honorary life credential which implies the many good qualities that do come with satisfied aging. In that light, it is becoming customary for women elders to honor each other with "croning" ceremonies acknowledging the gifts of age, namely wisdom, gutsy indifference to the opinions of others, enhanced patience, and a certain dreamy attunement with the invisible powers that actually direct human activity. Not one of those sweet little old ladies with the permed blue-grey hair and a shopping bag, a crone may actually become fearsome, not only because wrinkled old age is hardly associated with beauty in our culture, but because her detachment renders her independent of male control. Moreover, she reminds us of the profound truth of human experience from which we have so desperately been running, that all the lovely flowers wilt one day, and death is the inevitable conclusion.

 

Calling this phase the "Third Act" of life, Bolen does not hesitate to remind us how it will end. She is not sentimental. Crones don't whine because the signature wisdom of age is the acceptance that what has been cannot now be changed, that whatever the dreams of youth, the story of our lives is what it is. "You may have gotten the idea that you were supposed to marry and live happily ever after, have had perfect children, and (since the Women's Movement) also have had the perfect career. And here you are. Whatever happened or didn't happen before now is what was. You can't live it over."

 

Acceptance of the fruits of life's journey is the basis of another attribute of Bolen's crone: "Crones trust what they know in their bones." They don't bend the truth to please others, and they are far less influenced by the opinions of others than they were when young. Although Bolen doesn't emphasize the reason for this crusty independence, I feel it has to do with being out of the mating game. That desperation of youth, to be acceptable and to appeal to the opposite sex in order to find the ideal mate and produce those pretty children we see in all the PG-rated movies, has left us now. So, rule #11 --- Crones don't grovel. "Groveling is a psychological state of mind in which you defer to another person because you think of yourself as a needy, unworthy inferior. Groveling can also result from being in an abusive relationship that you don't leave when you could. Only a woman who is actually a prisoner or has the legal status of property has to grovel. All others need to get help and get out."

 

As such lines reveal, Bolen, a Jungian psychotherapist, has little patience with self-inflicted suffering of any kind, and sometimes she seems to take for granted that every woman has the choice to carry her burdens gracefully. Women for whom life has been less kind, who look back on their lives and shudder over lost opportunities and lost time, or who find themselves in their "golden years" disabled by multiple sclerosis or poverty, may not feel her wisdom speaks to them.

 

But one can trust Jean Bolen to always come out the other side with a rousing cheer for the power of women to change the world, and that is how she ends this little book. Those juicy, creative, meditative and wise crones of our generation are indeed unique, a herstorical precedent. We have lived longer than ever before, passing through menopause still hale and hearty, and even quite attractive, as Jean's beautiful beaming face on the cover assures us. We're definitely not done with life, not about to go obediently to our place on the shelves over the piano. We're awake, we're aware, and we've little enough to lose -- so let's go get 'em!

 

" Humanity is on a destructive course, one way or another, and life on this planet is endangered by male human beings with power. Time seems to be running out on homo sapiens. Biologically, the continuation of the species has always been up to women. Now I think that it is up to crones -- women and the exceptional men who deserve the name -- to bring forth the sapiens (which means wise in Latin) in time to insure the spiritual, psychological, and intellectual continuation of humanity." 

 

 

 

Jean Shinoda Bolen is a psychiatrist, Jungian analyst in private practice, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the american Psychiatric Association, and a feminist and former board member of the Ms. Foundation for Women. She is the author of nine other books. One, The Millionth Circle, has spawned a growing movement to shift the global paradigm by seeding circles all over the world. Jean will be one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming Gather the Women Congress. Visit her website at www.jeanbolen.com/

 

 

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