My mother and grandmother’s generations saw many wives become widows without knowing how to write a cheque much less where the money was. The basics of keeping body and soul together were managed, to a large extent, by men who controlled pretty much everything. Men were raised to be providers, organizers, decision makers and dominators. Women were raised to be subservient obeyers whose job was to be homemakers and raise children on money given them by their husbands. Some learned how to manipulate men with flattery, fluttering eyelashes and sex. I’m sure they got what they wanted more often than not but they had to subjugate themselves to get it.
Fast forward to 2017. Women have made great strides although true equality evades us. Still, more women are capable of navigating life independently in this generation than in generations past. Careers, credit cards and bank accounts in their own names and men, no doubt raised by women who wanted more, who understand the value of a partner to share life with instead of being responsible for. These forward movements have helped to mitigate power imbalances. As the year draws to a close not a day passes without a woman coming forward with accusations of improper conduct directed at a politician, entertainment figure or business honcho. Men, too, are coming forward with accusations of predatory behaviour against other men and against women.
Despite people feeling stronger by the #metoo numbers that are banding together to say enough, there are still more people ‘of a certain age’ out there than we might imagine who have led lives as the lesser of two in their partnerships. Frighteningly, there is a younger generation of women who still choose to be subservient. Yes, these days it is a choice.
A commercial tenant of mine texted in a panic that she was unable to enter her business through the back door this morning. Something had to be wrong with the push button combination lock. I texted back that she should simply walk around to the front and enter using her door key and I could look at the combo lock later. Her reply was that the front door key was in the desk drawer inside because she never uses the front door. By the time I was able to get there nearly an hour later, she had figured out that the delivery courier had probably turned the back door knob in an attempt to gain entry for a delivery, an action that should be preceded by an entry code but wasn’t so it likely got stuck. She had corrected the knob’s position and was inside but not before having called her husband as well as myself with an expectation that one of us would rescue her from a situation that she had created by not being prepared with the tools that had been given to her. In no uncertain terms, I told her to put the front door key on her keychain so that she had a plan B whether or not she ever had to use the front door again. In an ‘oh, by the way’ thought, I also checked that she had set up an account with the fuel delivery service to make sure the heat stays on only to find out she had forgotten. Visions of freezing pipes bursting danced in my head. This is not the first time I have experienced her damsel routine. This is how she leads her life and there are far too many others like her.
No matter their age, people who prefer to abdicate responsibility for themselves will always find partners who are more than happy to be dominant. While the expectation that someone else will take care of them may serve a purpose while there is a partner, when that partner is no longer there those who have led a life of subservience may find themselves at quite a loss to be able to cope.
Let me be clear about the point of this article. As long as there are people who are willing to be subservient, there will be people willing to dominate them. As long as unequal power balances exist abuse, inappropriate actions and predatory behaviour will occur. While I don’t doubt the accusations for one moment nor do I blame the victims I believe we should all strive to be able to look after ourselves as much as possible thus reducing the opportunity for predators of any kind to take advantage. Relationships between friends and lovers alike are much more enjoyable among equals. Besides, it also feels good to overcome a situation with independence and strength and the more often it happens, the stronger we become.
Advocacy is a topic that dominates much of what we publish at The Oldish. Giving people the tools to understand situations and navigate through the challenges of aging is the foundation of our work. The Oldish has talked to our readers about advocating for health, wellness, aging seniors we care for and a host of difficult discussions around sexuality, aging parents, inheritances and being prepared for serious illnesses among other things.
We all need help from time to time. There are certain things I can’t lift and I know what I can and can’t fix. What I do know is who to call and that’s just as good. No, I don’t mean calling as though I’m a damsel in distress. I mean I know what professionals I can rely on to fix things that break and they are paid for their time. We should all know:
- where the money is and how to access it. Bank accounts, credit, investments, loans, art and antiques of value.
- where the water turns off. You need the name of a good plumber to fix the leak but you should know how to prevent further damage by turning off the water to the dishwasher, toilet, sink or whole house.
- that plumber will also be able to fix your gas or oil furnace should it break down.
- who you can call if your car breaks down. Not who can rescue you and make the call to the tow truck – know the contact information for CAA/AAA or the roadside assistance program or your favourite tow truck company so that you can call yourself.
- where the passwords are for everything that requires a password.
- where the electrical panel is and how to change a fuse or flip a circuit breaker and what to do if it continues to happen.
- how the bills are paid, how often and roughly what they should be so that discrepancies are obvious.
- the name of a trusted contractor who can oversee home renovations or recommend a good painter or repairperson to take care of basic home repairs.
- who is responsible for fixing your rental hot water heater.
- how the systems in your house work and what maintenance they need to prevent problems. Think changing furnace filters, cleaning out eves troughs, clearing hair out of the shower drain, changing smoke detector batteries, covering the air conditioner for winter or greasing things that squeak.
- how to deal with cuts, scrapes and slivers but more importantly how to understand when something is serious and should be seen by your doctor or emergency room.
- where your medication checklist is
- how to tell a phishing email from a legitimate email, what email attachments can be opened and which one shouldn’t and how not to succumb to door-to-door salespeople.
- where your keys are – home, business, safe deposit box – and who can be trusted with the spares. Needless to say, keep keys needed for regular access with you at all times. Front door and back door.
This is not a complete list but it’s a start. As we age we need more support, especially if we choose to age in place however many of us have one, two or perhaps more decades of being solely responsible for keeping things functioning. Needing assistance occasionally is different from needing help constantly but more importantly setting oneself up as the damsel in need is to invite dominance in every aspect of our lives from those who are close to us. Beyond that, our own attitudes of subservience and our less-than demeanor can easily be read by ill-intentioned strangers. As we move into 2018 and set new resolutions, let’s all take a lesson from the brave individuals who are coming forward to out those who take advantage of power imbalances to correct whatever imbalances exist in our own lives by becoming stronger, more capable individuals so that we can age and advocate for our best lives.