Journalist Eleanor Mills has founded a website which aims to change the narrative about women in midlife.
Eleanor Mills went on retreat two years ago after leaving her senior job at the Sunday Times. After years of manic busyness as a leading journalist and mother, she suddenly found herself with time on her hands to think for the first time. Her two daughters were growing up and she felt a little lost.
She came back from the retreat thinking about how she could transform her life and how it was time for a fresh start. “So many people feel they are getting to the end of their useful lifespan when they get to middle age,” she said. “I felt inspired to help people find their next chapter.”
As a journalist, she could see that more and more middle aged women were speaking about their experiences of the menopause and of other midlife issues, but the mainstream media weren’t talking about it a lot. There seemed to be a need for women to share their stories and a market for a site which catered to that.
So Mills set up Noon, a website full of stories and expert advice on everything from wealth and health to reinventing yourself. Her advisory board includes everyone from Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30% club, GP Dr Nighat Arif, returners expert Lisa Unwin, coach Frances Mensah Williams, Catherine Mayer, co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to top divorce lawyer Helen Ward and journalist Eve Pollard.
The site is designed to fight against the huge tide of ageism against women which has been highlighted by campaigns such as Nicky Clark’s Acting Your Age, a raft of new books about the menopause and the Uninvisibility Project. Clark recently announced that she was suspending her campaign due to the challenges faced in making progress despite significant moral support from some quarters. Moral support only gets you so far, though.
Clark has also faced the inevitable abuse on social media. The negative attitudes about changing the narrative don’t just come from men either. Some women who have got to the top of their careers feel they cannot speak up because supporting older women is viewed as tantamount to career suicide.
Mills says younger men do seem to be more interested in gender equality and in work life balance, but she thinks there is still a long way to go to change the way older women are viewed. “It’s a glaring bit of the diversity agenda that is not talked about,” she says.
Yet there is so much potential to unleash. There is, she says, a big disconnect between how older women are viewed – and may view themselves because of the prevailing attitudes about them – and their potential to achieve, given the fact that their children, if they have them [30% of Generation X women who have been university-educated don’t, says Mills], may well have grown up.
She is optimistic, however, in large part due to the transformational stories being posted on Noon, including Lucy Kellaway’s journey from journalist to co-founder of educational charity Now Teach and Julie Owen Moylan’s article about how she wanted to be a writer from very young, but didn’t feel it was possible. She became a hairdresser, but now, at 60, has written her first novel, due to be published soon.
“Midlife is an opportunity to re-engage with the dreams you had when you were younger,” states Mills. She adds that it is important for younger women to read about these inspirational stories and to see women who are comfortable being and looking the age they are.
“One of the big lies told to my generation was that everything was fixed and the world was equal. But it is not,” says Mills. “I think things will change. If we are living until 100 we are only halfway through our lives at 50. We need to recalibrate what our careers can look like and consider life after 50 as a golden opportunity. Women over 50 have so much to give.”