Portland is known for its village geographies and tight-knit neighborhoods. But there are other vital communal bonds that connect us, sustaining and enriching the city. These communities, which often draw members from across rivers, hills and zip codes, run the gamut from book clubs to professional organizations to local chapters of national foundations. They endure for years, if not decades, and become sources of support and power to their members while they work to create a more just society.
This Spring, we are looking at one of those communities-a group of women who have been walking together every week since 2004. The Women’s Wednesday Walkers are self-sustaining and self-renewing. These women come from wide-ranging backgrounds and all sectors of the city. They believe in the health benefits of walking and the social benefits of being together. All of the members we interviewed, looking back over the years, are astonished at how powerful the group is and the ways it impacts their lives.
In January, several of the women traveled to Washington DC to take part in the Women’s March, and the rest marched here in Portland. For the Wednesday Walkers, the January March represented a global amplification addressing many of the topics regularly discussed in the weekly Portland walk.
It seemed as if a for a day, the entire world understood that women who walk are about more than counting steps. Every week here in Portland the Wednesday morning walkers are not only discussing their personal lives, but also issues of equity, justice, compassion, education, well-being and tolerance. Outside of the walks, they participate in organizations and humanitarian causes throughout the city, contributing where they feel the most passionately engaged.
Their interviews attest to the fact that they are committed friends, travel companions, source of solace and encouragement, and a deep well of energy and resilience for one another.
In her 1949 groundbreaking feminist work “The Second Sex,” Simone de Beauvior, wrote that when a woman reaches 45 to 50 years old, she becomes "consistent with herself." In this new phase of life, roughly commensurate with menopause, women achieve, “a health, balance, and vigor they did not previously have."
There are many accounts which report women over 50 feel invisible in our society. But emerging trends are something to which more attention should be paid. To outline only a few:
Women now control more than half of personal wealth in the US, and the share of women’s wealth is growing more quickly than men. Globally, women control about a third of the wealth, and that will also continue to climb.
Evidence suggests women age better than men.
- As people age they generally become happier, and also feel more keenly the need to see justice in the world. Check out the Tedtalk by Stanford Longevity Studies professor, Laura Carstensen. On top of their other inherent skills, women over 50 are spreading more joy than younger counterparts wherever they go.
To get the inside scoop on the advantages that accrue to many women with time, author and coach Fran Sorin’s article on truths that women over 50 know is a smart place to begin. It includes a twist that resonates all the way back to de Beauvior’s original thought.
Sorin writes, “there is both freedom and urgency that happens with this coming of age.” Each point Sorin goes on to make has been repeated and affirmed within the women’s walking group, whether it is ruthlessly analyzing your life, learning to say ‘no,’ or maintaining a beginner’s mind.
Sorin’s piece is a thoughtful reminder that a woman’s knowledge and power reaches its fullest expression at the moment when society foolishly imagines decline is imminent. How many steps does it take to raise the consciousness of a nation? Lace up your sneakers. We’re going to find out.
Davia Larson, writer and editor