Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age
Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 3 out of 5 ⭐️’s
This is a review of the nonfiction New York Times bestseller Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age by Mary Pipher. Pipher is a clinical psychologist, and bestselling author— you may recognize her as the author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls— published in 1994 and a #1 New York Times bestseller. In Women Rowing North Pipher directs her attention toward women who are crossing over into a different phase of life, more specifically— those over the age of 60. She doesn’t identify an age, per se, however, she uses language such as “older women,” —and after reading the book it is my understanding the intended audience would be best suited for women 60 and older, and 60 may even be a stretch— especially for those 60 year old women whose lifestyle and attitude more closely resemble women in their 40’s. There may be some instances where a woman in her 50’s might benefit from the book but that would likely only be the case in situations where she has endured great hardship early in life, never properly established confidence and/or independence, or that she generally lacks the skills required to grow and evolve as she transitions through life’s phases.
What is it about?
Pipher uses her experience as a woman who has traveled through the various stages of life—child, adolescent, young adult, wife, mother, empty nester, etc in addition to data collected from interviews she conducted with older women from all different backgrounds, of varying ethnicities, differing socioeconomic statuses, and from all walks of life in order to obtain the material necessary for her book. She addresses various obstacles women often encounter in this phase of life, things such as— death of a spouse, change in employment status, loss of identity, loneliness, etc. Pipher provides suggestions for how to cope with such changes, and encourages acceptance, gratitude, and resilience as a way to achieve a healthy outlook, which she says is the key to living a long and happy life. Pipher emphasizes the importance of relationships at this particular stage. She provides ideas for how to develop new relationships, and also explains how crucial it is to have a relationship with yourself — as in being able to be comfortable alone, in silence, and to really listen to what your body and mind needs. Pipher ends the book with a section discussing authenticity and explains that the most important thing one should hope to arise from this phase of life is to free oneself of prior identities or in her words “false selves” that aren’t true to who you are, and to fully embrace your true authentic self.
I enjoyed this book. Not in the way that I enjoy a book I give a rating of five stars, but I was able to see the beauty in it. I love Pipher’s optimism, and the way she uses language to inspire others. I understand what she is trying to do with this book. She is clearly trying to help aging women navigate through a new and challenging phase, with also the hope to perpetuate a newfound appreciation amongst all of society for the beauty of the aging woman. Pipher seems interested in reducing the stigmas associated with older women, such as a loss of beauty and respect with age. It’s a much different experience for men, who often become more respected with age— where wrinkles are deemed physically appealing and alluring, and a sign of wisdom and experience. It’s a much different experience for women. The tone of the book suggests that if women could let go of worry, doubt, regret, and sadness— and instead embrace their beauty, gifts, joy, talents, and stage of life they’re in— then it would redefine the aging woman and change the way other women and everyone else views them too. Pipher is trying to invoke change, and I like that.
So the reason I rated this book with only three stars is because even though I can see what Pipher is trying to do, I think she misses the mark. First of all, she interviews women who—even though they come from different walks of life— seem pretty darn similar to me. It’s as if each one of the women are the same person. They all seem to have life figured out, and are living their best lives as they age and go through hardship. It just doesn’t seem realistic. It is as if she asked a group of her evolved, aware, all in, inspired friends to allow her to interview them and she changed their names so she could have a panel of really inspirational women that could share their stories to inspire other women. It just fell a little flat for me. Also, going into the book I didn’t realize how specific it was to older women. I have a lot of friends in their 50’s and I’m curious about the different phases I will inevitably go through as a woman but this just didn’t speak to me specifically, nor can I imagine it would speak to my friends in their 50’s. I think it should be more clearly identified as a book for late in life women. Lastly, I don’t like how she alludes to the benefit of suppressing sadness, pain, or a particularly painful moment. She talks a good deal about reframing one’s mindset to think about something more optimistically, which is really just putting a silver lining around it. I think the best way for us to get through something difficult is to feel the difficulty of it— in it’s entirety, to fully understand and experience it before it is released so we can grow, evolve, and appreciate what has happened before moving on to the next phase, which hopefully is a happier one. But her suggestion is almost akin to stuffing emotion or avoiding it to focus more on what is good in life instead. Unfortunately that never really deals with the problem, or the pain, so that still lingers until it’s addressed.
My Take Away:
I wish I could rate this book higher, but because of the sweet upbeat, non specific advice provided, which might be deemed irrelevant—especially by aging women who are already headstrong, confident, and self aware— I just couldn’t give it more than three stars. Who would this book be good for? Aging women who look for their self worth in the reaction of others, or who haven’t been able to develop the self confidence to do things that other women their age are doing because they’ve accepted they are “too old.” At one point in the book Pipher talks about how she knows women who are in their 60’s who act like they’re in their 90’s and women who are in their 70’s who act like they’re in their 40’s. She explains how it’s all about mindset and perspective, and that it drives how we live and act as we age. Pipher iterates— the younger and stronger we view ourselves— the happier and more productive we will be, and the longer we will live. If this speaks to you then this might be the book for you, or maybe you know someone that would benefit from it. But, if you’re merely curious and want to check it out, even though I didn’t rate it so high— it is quite lovely, her writing style is beautiful and reading it is likely to lift your spirits.
What did you think about my review? Do you plan to read Women Rowing North? Have you already read it? If so, what did you think? Please share your thoughts below!