It’s true: you are as old as you feel.
What’s more, the words used to describe aging - spry vs. feeble, wise vs. forgetful - and the commonly accepted stereotypes, or “stories,” about elders influence people’s sense of health and well-being.
The Center for Women and Work (CWW) explored these stories and images in its 12th annual Gathering at the Well forum, an interactive annual event that addresses issues related to healthy workplaces for women. CWW is directed by Psychology Prof. Meg Bond.
This year’s forum topic was Gray Hairs, Golden Opportunities: Older Women and Work That Matters.
“The event was very successful in combining more academic ‘stories’ with more ‘everyday’ stories - and with the whole concept of storytelling and the search for ‘happy endings’ vis-À-vis work that matters, broadly defined,” says Asst. Prof. Andrew Hostetler of the Psychology Department. Hostetler coordinated the forum with Imogene Stulken of the Protestant Campus Ministry.
Two main speakers addressed academic research on the subject.
Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Social Work. She spoke about her study of aging, Engaged as We Age, that investigates the impact on mental and physical health of multiple engagements in life: continued work, volunteer activities, care giving, education and training.
Margaret Morganroth Gullette is an essayist, cultural critic, activist and prize-winning writer of nonfiction, and a scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. She spoke of the poise of midlife women, even in the current adverse economic conditions.
As counterpoint, four older women from Lowell spoke about how they have been able to stay engaged and vital in their work or in the community. There was also an interactive task in which each table group was assigned a different fairytale and asked to rewrite it so that the downtrodden or despised women in the story had happier endings and “golden opportunities for work that matters.”
Three women were honored with the new Splash! Award. Lynne Brown-Zounes, executive director of Home Away From Home Adult Day Health Care, has created the largest adult day health center in the Merrimack Valley, serving disabled adults and seniors. Rosanne DiStefano, executive director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, has spent three decades advocating on behalf of the needs of older adults and family caregivers.
The third award was given to Frances (Fran) Peters posthumously for her many contributions to the community. A graduate of the Lowell Technological Institute in textile chemistry, she became technical director of testing at the UMass Lowell Research Foundation and also worked in industry. Her hand-crafted jewelry has been donated to the Center for Women and Work.
Stories of several women and their accomplishments were featured on posters around the room. These included Zelma Ritvo ߝ scientist, pianist, co-developer of synthetic vitamin B12 and mother-in-law to Psychology Prof. Robert Kunzendorf.
Kunzendorf said, in part, “My mother-in-law went to graduate school in the sciences at a time when very few women did and she became a working mother at a time when very few mothers worked. Both as a student and as a teacher, she experienced the unfairness of gender discrimination. As her son-in-law … I feel most strongly that discrimination against women in general, and my mother-in-law in particular, has been the biggest waste of talent on the planet. In that spirit and in her memory, we have asked that the [Psychology] departmental donation be given to the Center for Women and Work.”
Funding for the forum was contributed by FOX Relocation Management Corp., Enterprise Bank, Trinity Emergency Medical Service, John Chemaly, the Psychology Department and the Office of Student Activities and Leadership.