Fifty women at 50 part one: "I feel like I'm only getting started"
The first part of our look at the differing experiences of women at 50
Jane Kennedy, Penicuik
Jane Kennedy is a product and community manager for an Edinburgh-based recruitment company. She is married with two children.
“I really stressed about turning 30. I was absolutely horrified at the fact of turning 30. I enjoyed turning 40. It was fine. It’s quite a defining decade, your 50s, from the point of view of… will I stop working during this time? What else is going to happen to me? I’m looking forward to it with a little bit of trepidation.
“I would say the biggest thing is I didn’t expect to have lost my mum. My dad had cancer for the last 15 years and so I was always kind of mentally prepared for losing him, but I wasn’t prepared for losing my mum at all. My mum in her 70s was like somebody in her 50s, she was full of energy and then she had cancer and was in hospital for seven months and never left the hospital. That was two years ago and really hard to deal with. I’ve got two kids, 19 and 21, and I’ve had a bit of difficult time with my son in terms of his mental health. He’s struggling to find his feet a bit. He did a journalism course and he wants to be a sports journalist, but there’s no sports at the moment. I worry about him and I worry about what his future is going to look like. My daughter’s pretty resilient, so I don’t really worry too much about her. She’s somebody who make her own way in life no matter what.”
Charlene Easton, Glasgow
Charlene Easton is an associate director at The Big Partnership. She is married with one child.
“I’m at a different stage at 50 from some women, being an older mother. I have a nine-year-old son, so I’m doing the home schooling thing and trying to work as well.
“I know I’m supposed to feel it’s some point of reflection, but I don’t feel like that. I don’t know if it’s because of lockdown or because 50 doesn’t feel so big a deal; it could be to do with having a young child, but I feel like I’m only getting started.
“I lost my dad two and a half years ago. We recently lost my mother-in-law too, so we have a parent on each side who has been bereaved. They are not physically ill but need emotional support.
“It doesn’t feel unfair, but you do feel that responsibility weighing down on you a bit more. You’ve got your parents and you’re thinking about their future. You’ve got your kid, family, relationship, job.
“But it doesn’t feel like a bad thing; it does feel good to be there for people. I don’t think having responsibility in life is necessarily something to fear.”
Professor Linda Bauld, Edinburgh
Linda Bauld is a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh. She specialises in public health interventions aimed at preventing cancer and other chronic conditions. She also works two days a week for Cancer Research UK as their cancer prevention adviser. Bauld is married with a son aged 17 and a daughter of 15. She turned 50 at the beginning of June.
“I was very fortunate. I was born at a good time in history in a high-income country, a good time for women. I’ve had huge opportunities that my grandmother and my mother didn’t have in terms of being able to progress in my career. I never really faced, I think, any overt discrimination or disadvantage, although I recognise that many women still do. And so the good thing about being 50 is I worked very hard for many years and now I’m fortunate that I feel I can make a contribution to society and I’m at an age where I’m sufficiently experienced to do that and to support younger women in their careers, and others, men as well, and be involved in decision making.”
Jo Watt, Edinburgh
Jo Watt grew up in Edinburgh but went to live in Paris, before completing a degree in Edinburgh on her return. She lives with her partner and her two teenage sons.
Jo was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and, on her recovery, decided to switch careers from working for investment management companies into tech.
“I just wanted a change of scene, and it’s been really exciting, especially for someone of my age, to move from investment management, which is often quite dry – you know, pinstripe suits and stuff – to working for quite a cool company with lots of much younger people. In fact, I am the oldest person in the company. That’s something that happens when you turn 47 or 48, suddenly your older female colleagues start to leave and you’re catapulted into the position of oldest lady in the office.
“Finance is very male dominated, but less so now, and women do not seem to go into tech. In the company I am in, there are probably 16 or 17 people, and I do have one female colleague, but she is on maternity leave, which means I am the only female. I am also the oldest, so there are a couple of labels to deal with there.
“I’ve always been 26 in my head. I used to tell my boys I was 27, and then of course they got old enough to ask, ‘Surely you’ve got older?’ When I told them my age – which was 40 – they almost fell off their chairs. Then they said, ‘But Mummy, we thought 27 was old!’
“I think I have had a much more varied life than I would have expected. If I knew when I was younger all the things I’ve done, I think I probably would have been quite excited.”
Jen Frankwell, Moray
Jen Frankwell is a designer-maker/illustrator. She has two daughters and lives with her partner, her stepson and their dog.
“There’s a lot of ageism in our society, but I think the new wave of 50s are way more dynamic now. I don’t think they will accept ageism, or the status quo. But ageing is very difficult as a woman – in fact you’re not allowed to age. Our entire society is focused towards kids, really, and that’s very difficult. It’s a bit easier for men, though it’s becoming harder for men now too, I think.
“But as a woman you’re not allowed to have grey hair, you’re not allowed to have wrinkles, you’re not allowed a muffin top. It’s hard to kick back against that and not hear phrases like ‘letting yourself go’ or ‘women of a certain age’. That’s challenging. It doesn’t affect my direct life, but it’s challenging, mentally, that stuff.
“I think 50 used to be a lot older. I have pals in their 60s and they are very young 60s, but once upon a time it would be ‘Oh you’re 60, you’re nearly dead’. I’m right bang in the middle of the menopause, and that’s another thing that’s different about our generation: the women talk. We all talk about it – we have a WhatsApp chat group – whereas our mothers never spoke about it, ever. I don’t know how they did that on their own, because it’s really hard. It affects my memory, which is hard, and you get halfway through a sentence and forget a word. At first, I thought I had dementia. I was scared, thinking, ‘What’s happening with my brain?’ But then I spoke to other women and it’s really common.
“I feel much more alert and on it than when I was 20, but I don’t really feel any different. I don’t feel any older.”
Cat Thomson, Edinburgh
Cat Thomson is the Scotsman Magazine and Scotland on Sunday picture editor.
“If I’m honest, I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud. Picture editing has never really seemed like a proper job. It’s a crazy mix of ideas, commissioning, researching or persuading people to send you an image.
“My love affair with newspapers started as teenager looking at the amazing images in The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, as well as other national broadsheets.
“In Scotland there have been some trailblazing females, so I can’t claim to be a sole pioneer, but throughout my career of over 25 years there have always more men than women involved in the media. Sadly, even now, that is still the case.
“There has been an astonishing amount of change. My first job as a photographer saw me photographing, developing and printing images in black and white, so pre-mobiles, pre-internet days. Now with smart phones and new technology, images sent directly from the camera to anywhere around the world instantaneously are the norm. There has also been a huge demographic shift with image use. Everyone now thinks they are a photographer. In a way that is true, but you still get goosebumps when you first glimpse a really special image taken by a photographer that will always transcend a quick snap.”
Iffat Shahnaz, Edinburgh
Iffat Shahnaz is a consultant developing social justice, equality and diversity practices and programmes. She turned 50 in May.
“I turned 50 under lockdown during a global pandemic and celebrating while following rules around social distancing is an experience I am never going to forget. The day itself did, at times, feel very surreal as I could not host a big get together with my family and friends. Saying that, it was a very connected birthday as lots of family and friends phoned and FaceTimed. I had lot of inspiring conversations across the globe and as we emerge from this strange time, I am planning to celebrate in person and that’s something to look forward to. I was also very mindful that while I felt I wanted to party, we are in a global pandemic and there is a lot of people across the globe suffering and struggling as a result of the coronavirus and lockdowns and that was something to really think about.
“I turned 50 whist making some major life changes in my personal life, ranging from the loss of my parents, the ageing process making itself known and in my professional life as a consultant.
“I started off my career in Edinburgh and my first paid job was at Shakti Women’s Aid, where I provided one-to-one support to women who had experienced gender-based violence and abuse. I then went on to work on community development projects for community education and for the Scottish Drugs Forum, focusing on a range of issues from proving equality of access and inclusion in service delivery to developing anti-racist practices across various professional settings.
“My late mum wanted to be a teacher. However, as a child of the 1947 partition, there was no opportunity for her due to her gender. I wanted to honour my late mum’s ambition and am now a trustee of Link Community Development International, which works to improve access to quality education in sub-Saharan Africa.
“I am really excited about what I will be able to do, continue to offer and learn in this new decade. Bring it on!”
Karen Cross, Aberdeen
Karen Cross from Aberdeen squeezed in her 50th birthday celebrations just before lockdown. She is academic strategic lead at Robert Gordon University’s fashion management school.
“Turning 50 was a weird one for me. My dad died when he was 45, so anything over 45 was kind of a bonus. I celebrate all my birthdays because I’m still alive.
“I think the hardest part is juggling a demanding career and trying to balance that. I don’t feel old, but I definitely get tired more easily and need more sleep.”