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The definition for crone in Webster’s is “a withered old woman”. The historical definition is a wise old woman, “long in the breast” with the status of ruler, decision maker, healer, and priestess.
When a woman gets old there is no place for her in our society. She is relegated to solitude, the rocking chair, the nursing home. In contrast, we honor age in men. They are the elder statesmen, the controlling forces in business, universities, hospitals and law firms. Older women are rarely promoted into these well-paid positions of power and status.
It is interesting that “middle age” coincides with the time a women loses the power to reproduce. In our society menopause is viewed as a medical problem, as a disease that needs to be monitored on both an emotional and physical level.
The perception of life after menopause is a biocultural phenomenon. In our culture it is considered problematic but in others it is looked on as a time of freedom and growth as well as a time to enjoy the respect of the community. Release from menstrual pain and taboos, and the risks of childbirth meant that women in their golden years enlarged their roles, becoming the doorkeepers of birth and death, the adepts of the healing professions, the judges and arbiters of mores. They were looked up to for their knowledge and experience.
Post-menopausal women retained positions of power and respect in society until the Inquisition began to defame and exterminate these powerful women who posed a threat to the phallocratic church and the growing medical profession.
The church, having earlier severely circumscribed the lives of fertile women, now moved to nullify the influence of those who were biologically independent. Since that time older women have been seen as ugly, stupid and useless, at best pitied and at worst abandoned and abused.