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On Women Turning 30:
Making Choices, Finding Meaning

Interviews and Photography
by Cathleen Rountree
I spent my twenties looking for answers and only when I turned thirty did I realize there weren't any, and that I was asking the wrong question. Instead of saying,"What is the answer?" I should have said, "Why or how can this be meaningful?"
-- Katherine Spilde
Nell Newman
Nell Newman

I did feel compelled to do something contributive when I started this business, and I still do; but the product came out of being such a pessimist about the state of the world and being very depressed about it in my teens and twenties to the point where the only outlet for me was that I had to do something to make a difference. Otherwise I couldn't exist.
--- Nell Newman

Susana Herrera
Susana Herrera

What was significant about turning thirty for me was the opportunity for a
new start. I felt this was going to be my decade, Carpe Deum -- Seize the Day. Finally, a new opportunity to experience a different way of expressing myself. It’s a marking place, a turning point, a way to begin over again.
--- Susana Herrera

It's a wonderful feeling to have the faith that even though I don't know how in the world I'll put this next film together, I know I'll figure it out. It's having faith in the process, honoring the process, & not pressuring myself to be so brilliant as to have worked the whole thing out before I've even started!
--- Lisa Leeman

To thine own self be true. You will pay a price, certainly, for every pursuit of every passion, but if you don't follow your passion to wherever it leads you, you will pay for it in different ways. The only regrets I have are the times I said no -- when I should have said yes -- out of fear.
--- Kate Noonan

Endorsements & Reviews
for "On Women Turning 30"

From: Liz Smith, “Newsday,” New York, New York
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, December 22, 1999

-- Still on the book beat: Cathleen Rountree has done it again. Now added to her series of remarkable books on the various decades of a woman's life is “On Women Turning 30.'' This is a must for every young woman, as well as for those women (and men) who want some insight into the expectations and decisions that accompany this dynamic and getting-younger-all-the-time age. Remember when 30 was the beginning of the end for women? Now it's the beginning of the beginning.
--- Liz Smith

From: Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary

Cathleen Rountree’s marvelous series on the decades of a woman’s life give us all a peek at our future and our past. For me, the thirties seem like only yesterday; for those going into their thirties today, these are the decisive years -- marriage, babies, and career. These are the paths that color your lifetime. For the young women of the 21st century I can only give one piece of advice: Be decisive -- no one has as much time as they think.
--- Mary Travers

From Riane Eisler, author of “The Chalice and the Blade,”
“Sacred Pleasures,” and “Tomorrow’s Children”

This wonderful book completes Cathleen Rountree’s fascinating series about the lives, minds, and hearts of women at the turn of the 21st century. Like the
other works in this outstanding series, “On Women Turning 30” stands as a gift not only to readers today, but to generations still to come.
--- Riane Eisler

Lisa Leeman
Lisa Leeman

Table of Contents


Nell Newman ~ Making a Difference

Susana Herrera ~ Adventure with Meaning

Susie Bright ~ An Unconventional Woman

Lisa Leeman ~ Metamorphosis

Francesca Farentelli ~ A Decade of Transformation and Change

Monica Praba Pilar ~ Pursuing a Vision

Ikazo ~ Making Choices

Elisabeth Targ ~ Harmonizing Science and Spirituality

Charlene Wolf ~ Living a Full Life

Terry Schneider ~ Tough Love

Kamala Deosaransingh ~ Finding Her Heart

Katherine Spilde ~ Finding Meaning

Mima Lecocq ~ The Gift of Motherhood

Randi Gray Kristensen ~ A Solitary Journeyer in Community

Kate Noonan ~ A Well-Crafted and Deliberate Life

Excerpt: On Women Turning 30:
Making Choices/Finding Meaning


What I found during the course of interviewing a variety of women in their thirties and writing this book is that the thirties is a highly performance-oriented, pressure-packed decade. This is not a decade of leisure. In conversation with Susie Bright, the outspoken author of “The Sexual State of the Union” and her newest book on creating a sexual philosophy for yourself, called “Full Exposure,” she told me: By the time a woman is in her thirties, “It’s finally okay to be sexual. We were told not to have sex in high school, not to have sex in college, but now it’s ‘Hey, aren’t you married yet!?’” Women in their thirties are supposed to have put it all together: marriage, children, and, of course, a successful career. It is assumed that they launched their career in their twenties.

Susie asked the question: “When did this all happen? When did the thirties become such a pressure-filled time? It used to be that after thirty women were getting their first divorce, already had kids, and were entering their forties with their kids grown up and leaving home. Think about how much things have changed in the past few decades: it seems like everyone is supposed to be, or allowed to be, immature longer. Teenagers are treated like babies; twenty year olds are treated like teenagers; and yet, when you reach your thirties, you’re suddenly supposed to be a super adult, super woman. There are all these expectations. Women feel that they have to squeeze in ambition between childhood and motherhood. It’s relentless.”

Using Naomi Wolf’s definition of feminism: “Women’s ability to think about their subjugated role in history, and then to do something about it,” all the women interviewed for this book have an awareness of what they owe to the feminist movement and consider themselves feminists.

Who are women in their thirties? Unlike the decade of the forties and beyond, women in their thirties usually have not had the time necessary to make a name in their chosen field. Many of those who have, such as Camryn Manheim, Jodi Foster, Natasia Richardson, Alfre Woodard, Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, Janet Jackson, Lili Taylor, Courtney Love, Emme, Calista Flockhart, Sarah McClaughlin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Laura Dern, Brigid Fonda, Joan Chen, Emily Watson, Mariel Hemingway, Molly Ringwald, and Diva Cecilia Bartoli, are all in the arts and entertainment industry and have achieved celebrity status. Noted authors in their thirties are feminist-spokeswoman, Susan Faludi, Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the best-selling “Prozac Nation” and “Bitch,” Helen Fielding (author of the best-selling novel about a thirty-something single woman, “Bridget Jones’s Diary”), and Julia Alvarez.

Other women, who are not well-known, but, undoubtedly, will be in the future, because they are all pioneers pushing back frontiers of inquiry, technology and gender, are: the Chicago-based sexual harassment and discrimination attorneys Mary Stowell and Linda Friedman, who filed a class-action sex discrimination suit on behalf of twenty-three women against the brokerage house of Salomon Smith Barney -- the second largest firm in the nation; the project manager, scientist, and engineer for the planetary exploration of Mars at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Sarah A. Gavit, Suzanne E. Smrekar, and Kari A. Lewis -- all but Lewis, who is twenty-five, are in their thirties; Margaret Edson wrote her play “Wit” -- a story about the life and death of a John Donne scholar -- when she was only thirty, it took her seven years to get it produced, but when she did, it was on Broadway and it received a Pulitzer Prize; Heather Mills was a British model until she lost her left leg in a pedestrian accident, one year later she founded the Heather Mills Health Trust to recycle artificial limbs to amputees from Croatia to Cambodia, she managed with extraordinary resilience to turn her misfortune into a powerful vehicle for helping others; Michelle Banks, a deaf African American actress, is the founder and Artistic Director of Onyx Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., the first deaf theatre company for People of Color in the United States; Michela Alioto, a charismatic young woman in her early thirties, has decided to follow in the footsteps of her high-profile political family pursue a life in politics. This in itself is not unusual, but the fact that Michela has been wheelchair-bound since a ski-lift accident when she was seventeen left her paralized from the waist down is; and Patricia Buttenheim and Ann Snoeyenbos, a nurse and reference librarian, respectively, from Manhattan, are ultra athletes who competed in the Double Ironman race (that’s 4.8 miles of swimming, 224 miles of biking and 52.4 miles of running -- and these are consecutive events. The women’s record, set in 1994, is 22 hours, 7 minutes.).

And who are the women you will encounter and be inspired by in this book? As mentioned earlier, some of the current trends for women in their thirties in the new millennium are that women in their thirties have postponed having children in their twenties. Of the sixteen women included here, twelve do not yet have children. Women are observing serial monogamy and/or marrying later than in past decades: of the sixteen women included here, eleven are unmarried. Having come of age after the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, women are experiencing more freedom in sexual orientation. Four of the women in this book consider themselves either lesbian or bisexual. If a desire for children precedes the actualization of a committed relationship or marriage, women are opting for single parenthood or, in the case of some lesbian mothers, opting for the choice of a two-mother family, rather than the traditional father-as-head-of nuclear family. One woman among the sixteen became pregnant as a single woman and made the choice to raise her child on her own; and another woman is helping to raise her female partner’s child.

All but two of the women have satisfying, full-time careers that they have chosen and are financially self-supporting. There are six women of color. Their careers range from an academic scholar, Randi Gray Kristensen; teacher, Susana Herrera and Kate Noonan; performance artist and theatre director, Kate Noonan; anthropologist, Katherine Spilde; chef and mother, Mima Lecocq; writer and mother, Susie Bright; writer, Susana Herrera and Ikazo; mother and student, Char Wolf; social activist, Rebecca Walker and Kamala Deosaransingh; documentary filmmaker, Lisa Leeman; psychotherapist, Francesca Farentelli; visual and environmental artist, Monica Praba Pilar; environmental activist, Nell Newman; professional athlete and trainer, Terry Schneider; and medical doctor and psychiatrist, Elisabeth Targ.

Women who are currently in their thirties are the first post-baby boom generation and the first generation to fully benefit from the second wave of the Women’s Movement which began with the publication of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” published in 1963. There is a range of women in their thirties: those who are single and love it and are ensconced in a rewarding career/profession; those who are trying to do it all: marriage, children and career; those who are married with three kids and have no professional life; those who are terrified that they will never marry and have children; those who choose to bear and raise or adopt children as single mothers; and women who have deliberately chosen a lesbian or bisexual lifestyle.

As always class and geography still affect a woman’s place in the world. “In Minnesota,” according to Katherine Spilde, a participant in this book, who was born and raised in Minnesota, “it may still be significant if a woman is unmarried by her thirties, whereas in California or New York City [both areas in which Katherine has also lived], the emphasis is not the same.” In general, women in the middle-class and upwards take for granted that they will attend college. If they don’t, it is usually related to the class/economic system, rather than to gender bias as it was in the past.

Even though there have been structural changes in terms of women’s rights during the past thirty-five years:

Title 9, which allows women to play professional sports
The supposed shattering of the glass ceiling
The Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas case, which brought attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the work force

It takes time for these new awarenesses to reach society in general.

There is a lagtime in catching up to new freedoms. While there may have been political emancipation, the backlash against women has taken a more subtle turn in symptoms such as an increase in eating disorders. As the old structures fall, are women now taking the lead in holding themselves back by internalizing a patriarchal prejudice? Two of the women I interviewed for this book speak at length about eating disorders -- Katherine Spilde of her own difficulties with anorexia, bulemia, and weight gain and loss; and Francesca Farentelli of her experience as an eating disorder therapist. What have been the stereotypes about women in the decade of their thirties? The thirties is a decade of childbearing. If a woman isn’t married yet, she’s on her way to spinsterhood Women should be settled in a career.

The thirties is the decade of “serious” (leading to marriage) dating The biological time clock is ticking and women feel a desperation to have a traditional marriage before they can bring children into the world.

What I have found to be the current trends about women in their thirties in the new millennium are that women in their thirties have postponed having children in their twenties; they may be exploring several careers before settling on one; in an era of AIDS and safe-sex consciousness, women are observing serial monogamy and/or marrying later than in past decades; having come of age after the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, women are experiencing more freedom in sexual orientation; if a desire for children precedes the actualization of a committed relationship or marriage, women are opting for single parenthood or, in the case of some lesbian mothers, opting for the choice of a two-mother family, rather than the traditional father-as-head-of nuclear family.

How has the decade of a woman’s thirties changed for women over the years? I gave birth to my only child when I was twenty years old in 1969, went back to undergrad school in my mid-twenties and graduate school in my late-forties, and opened a restaurant at thirty. By the time I was forty, my son was half-way through college, and I had been married and divorced and had three other long-term relationships. Most of the women in this book remain unmarried and childless. Some by choice, some in the process of trying to conceive, some hoping for the magical remedy of the “right man” or relationship to answer their dilemma, some resigned, willingly or otherwise, to never having children.

I saw how tense many women in their late-thirties are about “getting their life together.” Some of those who are not in relationship with a man feel a desperation as their biological clock ticks away “like a New York taxi meter,” as Francesca Farentelli put it. Curiously, it used to be the forties, a time when women’s looks begin to noticeably change, that this desperation set in, but now the big question for women in their thirties is: why aren’t you married, why aren’t you fit, why aren’t you pregnant, why aren’t you producing: kids, work, career, etc.?

Many women are taking this question of children to a new level. Examples of well-known women who have chosen to have children on their own as single mothers are: Jodi Foster, Diane Keaton (in her 50s), Sinead O’Connor, Linn Ullmann (daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman), and, of course, the most public of all single mothers, Madonna, who contributed to the debate on “family values” that both major American political parties have addressed.

One of the major changes to have marked the second half of the twentieth century has probably been the erosion, for better or worse, of the nuclear family unit. In 1950, only four percent of American babies were born to mothers who were not married, and the stigma of birth out of wedlock was so great that many of them were placed for adoption. Now, according to Melissa Ludtke, in her book “On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America,” almost a third -- more than a million a year -- are born to unmarried women, a change that has sparked bitter national debate over everything from sex roles to welfare reform. As a means for art to answer this question, in the 1999 novel by Elizabeth Berg “Talk Before Sleep,” the thirty-six-year-old protagonist is Patty Anne Murphy, a real estate agent, who is single and wants a baby more than anything. Her solution? Convince her gay best friend, Ethan Allen Gaines, who has also struck out trying to find a partner, to give parenthood a shot together. They do. Recently a friend sent me a quote from a July 29, 1999 newspaper article in “USA Today.” The article was about Lifetime television and their new executives. It quoted Gloria Steinem as saying: "Lifetime is very valuable. It celebrates women’s power. For their profiles, viewers would be quite interested in women who are not famous. There should be more profiles on interesting , worthwhile women who are not famous." Most of the women I have chosen to include in this book are “interesting, worthwhile women who are not famous.” All of them are interesting because they are passionately living their lives, fully engaged. They are all worthwhile because, no matter what your age as the reader, each woman will inspire you with her energy, enthusiasm, and commitment. The women in this book, each in her own way, are making choices and finding meaning.

copyright ©2000 by Cathleen Rountree

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On Women Turning 30:
Making Choices, Finding Meaning

Interviews and Photography
by Cathleen Rountree

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