Monday, February 13, 2012

women in their forties

I've read a couple of pieces lately which indicate that college educated women between the ages of thirty-five and forty are more likely to be married than high school educated women of the same age. Other articles have noted that thirty-five through forty-five are the ages when people are most likely to get divorced.

College educated women are more likely to remarry.

I've been thinking about what happens during these years in the last day or so because of the death of Whitney Houston. Houston, like Judy Garland, did not commit suicide, but certainly facilitated her own death through substance abuse linked with her own set of personal demons. Both women sought help, though I'd argue that Houston stood a better chance at long-term recovery because she came to substance abuse later in life and had a better support system around her, family and otherwise.

Perhaps inevitably people have drawn comparisons between Houston and Amy Winehouse; Winehouse died in time to fall into the "dead at twenty-seven" category that places her with so many other very talented musicians who died terribly young. I'd argue that it's the Garlands and Houstons we should look at more carefully.

Garland died at forty-seven, Houston at forty-eight. I think this is telling, and I've made a note to look for other women who fall in this category. For Winehouse and Hendrix we can say, "ah, how tragic, so young" but for these women the two additional decades produce more of interest. I'd also note that they both produced children whom they adored, thus "fulfilling" woman's traditional role. Did aging out of reproduction play a part in their addiction and demise?

Houston died less than a week after Madonna's Super Bowl extravaganza. I read a great deal of catty commentary about her age, most of it, I suspect, written by people who wouldn't last five minutes in her heels, let alone be able to dance through a twelve minute dance number. Madonna has always seemed to me quite canny. She's less of an artist than Garland or Houston, and I think she knows it. Certainly Madonna has filled her fair share of tabloid inches and has made some questionable choices, but allegations of excessive reliance upon drugs or alcohol are not among them. She stays in shape and, interestingly to me, adopted children when she passed child-bearing age - roughly the age of Houston and Garland.

I'm not claiming that motherhood is all that defines a woman and can keep her sane, not do I downplay the challenges to breaking an addiction at any age, but the contrast between these three women strikes me quite forcefully.

Oh, and for those of you who think Houston lacked talent, I present Whitney Houston's isolated vocal track on How Will I Know.


tommyspoon said...

I disagree with your assertion that Madonna was "less of an artist than Garland or Houston". She's superior to either of them in this regard: she has dictated the terms of her career in a way that neither Garland or Houston ever could. You could argue that women in Garland's era didn't have the chances and opportunities that were widely available in our time, but Garland was a HUGE star in her day and she was content to go along with what her handlers, agents, and studios put in front of her. Pills and booze took care of the rest.

You can debate some of Madonna's career choices (and I do), but she's in charge of her artistry -- nobody else. Speaking as an artist, that's all I want.

Doug said...

This post particularly caught my interest since, in recent months, multiple family friends - with wives in the 35 to 45 category - have initiated divorces.

I chalked it up to coincidence -- which, to some extent, it probably is; but now that you've mentioned that most divorces happen in this range, I'll want to take a look at why that might be. In our friends' cases, the divorces have been (legally anyway) initiated by the wives; though, the husbands contributed to a greater or lesser extent to the conditions precipitating the legal filing.

Harriet said...

I find this post very interesting for a number of reasons. First, I don't think there is a question of Houston's talent. I'm not crazy about a lot of the songs she sings, but there's no denying that she had a gift and that she knew how to use it.

I'm intrigued by the gendering of this post. First, why women and not men? I do think there's a qualitative difference in the way we deal with these types of deaths in the media and that the difference is greatest in middle age. It's interesting that you mentioned Hendrix with Winehouse, but no men in the middle age range. I think there's less of a gender divide in the portrayal of the deaths of the young. At middle age, you see more men portrayed as killed by a fatal flaw and more women killed by a failure to thrive -- resistance to gender roles, inability to match gender roles to roles as a performer. I find this completely fascinating, because it hasn't significantly changed in 150 years (I work on media portrayals of women performers in the late 19th c.).

lemming said...

Billie Holiday was forty-four.

Interestingly enough, as I ponder this topic, Demi Moore is forty-nine. I'm not sure where her younger husband and need to party with her adult children figures into this notion of mine.

Tommy, I'll defer to you, an actual artist, on how you see the term. Certainly Madonna has had far more more control over her artistic output, and hasn't been afraid to push her range. I'm not convinced that she has as much raw talent as a Garland or a HOuston, though I do think she's gone to great lengths to maintain and improve what she has.

kittiesx3 said...

A couple of unrelated points—first, I would put Madonna in the entertainer category. Her raw vocal talent isn’t great although she has most definitely done a lot to improve what she has and her ability in dance is quite good. She’s also not afraid to work harder than most and she doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. Sure, lots of female vocalists are more talented, included the late Whitney, but I don’t know of many who have remained so focused on defining who and what they are as artists or entertainers.

Second, yes, Whitney had a magnificent instrument—not at all to my taste but that doesn’t diminish the raw ability she had. Her choices in terms of drugs and alcohol were hers to make and sadly she died from her choices. That doesn’t make her an idol but rather someone to be pitied and never emulated. Same with Amy Winehouse.

Finally on a personal note, I was divorced at 35 (he initiated the divorce) and to my surprise married again at 43. I had no idea marriage was fun :-)