Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age, tackles the common but little-discussed topic of aging for women. And has lessons for us all about how to live a good life.
Mary Pipher is the author of several New York Times bestsellers, including books that explore the lives of women and girls, and the unique challenges of youth and aging.
Reviving Ophelia, written while her daughter was a teenager, explored the lives of teenage girls and the stresses and anxieties they face. Originally published in 1994 to great acclaim, the 25th anniversary edition, updated for the 21st century, appeared in 2019. Another Country focuses on the challenges adults confront when caring for people in the later stages of life. Pipher wrote it while caring for her elderly mother. And her latest book, Women Rowing North, discusses the issues women face when aging, and the experience of getting older. Being in her 70s, once again Pipher draws from her own life.
In the introduction to Women Rowing North, Pipher defines the foundation for happiness, even if it does not come easily. Key traits include resilience, positive attitude, gratitude, and intentionality. She provides examples of aging from a variety of female perspectives, offering a window into the realistic reactions and challenges of women. And the book shows how being older and being female provides the emotional resiliency and capacity to deal with aging.
The firsthand anecdotes and examples offer guidelines for women to navigate their later years. These guidelines have helped the women in the book, as well as the author, to lead more enriching lives. And she hopes the same lessons will help the reader. Yet instead of a self-help book with steps to follow, Women Rowing North shows through personal experiences how you can get more out of your life even when it becomes more limited. It also shows how you can find joy and happiness with what you already have. Pipher explored this last point in her recent New York Times article.
Ideal for Discussion: Women and All Readers
This book is terrific for discussion because it offers a chance to talk about broad ideas like approaching the later stages of life, caring for friends and family, and caring for oneself and overcoming personal challenges. But it also offers a chance to talk about related ideas that might not appear so obvious. For example, Pipher shows how most older women are actually happier than their younger selves. This finding also provides an opportunity to discuss the definition of happiness, how it relates to contentment, and how it can be redefined at different points in our lives.
While the book aims to reach a specific aging audience, the content is relevant to readers of all ages and gender. Not only can anyone relate to many of the feelings and experiences, but they can also benefit from exploring the stereotypes and challenges of getting older. Younger audiences can gain more appreciation and understanding for older generations. And they will also be better prepared for the next phases in their own lives.
This book provides a range of sincere and inspiring first-hand accounts. These range from single women to those caring full-time for grandchildren. From women in the workforce to women who can no longer work due to health reasons. The book also offers practical and hopeful advice, and there’s a lot to fuel an engaging conversation. But the very personal nature of the book calls on readers to make their own connections and share their stories. This can lead to longer discussions that may drift from the topic. Members can be mindful to find a balance between everyone being heard and everyone feeling comfortable. Groups can find discussion questions for the book here to help guide the meeting.
Women Rowing North is well worth the effort, a relevant and insightful lens into a common but under-discussed life experience.
To read more by Mary Pipher: Reviving Ophelia
For more about women navigating different phases of life: Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun