When Mary Pipher, a New York Times
best-selling author, told her friends she was next writing a book on older women “like us,” they immediately protested, “I am not old.” What they meant, she says in a recent New York Times opinion piece
, was that “they didn’t act or feel like the cultural stereotypes of women their age. Old meant bossy, useless, unhappy and in the way. Our country’s ideas about old women are so toxic that almost no one, no matter her age, will admit she is old.”
Mary Pipher’s work is far from “old” or “useless.” She continues to discern the needs of the times and her writing presciently strikes a chord
in the zeitgeist
. Her most recent book, Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing As We Age
(January 2019), happens to coincide with the news of older women ascending
our mainstream institutions and culture. But while men’s value has long been perceived as rising with age, women’s has often fallen in popular perception.
“In America, ageism is a bigger problem for women than aging,” Mary writes. “Our bodies and our sexuality are devalued, … and we’re rendered invisible in the media. Yet, most of the women I know describe themselves as being in a vibrant and happy life stage. We are resilient and know how to thrive in the margins. Our happiness comes from self-knowledge, emotional intelligence and empathy for others.”
Mary’s self-knowledge, emotional intelligence, and empathy have been decades in the making. A clinical psychologist in private practice in Lincoln, Nebraska, Mary is author
of the #1 New York Times
’ bestseller, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls
, in addition to 9 other books (three of her books have been New York Times
bestsellers). Mary has written extensively on developmental issues facing young women and girls, as well as the struggles of modern families – and now, of the joys and challenges of women aging.
Mary is a community organizer and activist for many causes. In her book Seeking Peace
, Mary speaks
about her own struggles that emerged as a result of her professional success, and how self-care, self-exploration, and Buddhist practices helped her regain a sense of inner peace and meaningful engagement. In her most well-known work
, Reviving Ophelia
, she reflects on the struggles faced by young girls, such as depression, eating disorders, and suicide, as they navigate adolescence and try to find their true selves.
has both the independence and hardiness of a well-lived life on the prairie. She was born in the Ozarks and grew up in rural Nebraska. As a child, she enjoyed reading, writing, swimming, spending time outdoors, and being around her friends and family, all of which she enjoys today. Mary went on to study cultural anthropology and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969 before earning her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska in Clinical Psychology in 1977. She was a Rockefeller Scholar in Residence at Bellagio and has received two American Psychological Association Presidential Citations, one of which she returned to protest psychologists' involvement in enhanced interrogations at Guantánomo and other sites.
Mary specializes in how American culture affects people's health and has appeared on Today
, The Charlie Rose Show
, PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer
, and National Public Radio's Fresh Air
. She speaks across the country to families, mental health professionals, and educators, and is particularly passionate about the importance of community
and development of healthy relationships between children and adults. "There's been a shift in how people are grouping in this country," she says. "In the '90s we put all our 8-year-olds in one place, our 14-year-olds in another, our 80-year-olds someplace else. There's a certain kind of toxicity from age segregation."
Mary lives in Nebraska with her husband Jim and is an adjunct clinical professor at the University of Nebraska.
Join us in conversation with this wise and spirited writer and activist!
Five Questions with Mary Pipher
What Makes You Come Alive?
I feel alive when I am being kind to myself and others. I like to work and I am fortunate the work I do gives me joy. I also love to be outdoors in natural settings. One of my favorite experiences is lying down and looking at the day or night sky.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
Haha. My life is full of pivotal moments. I do a lot of pivoting. I left a small town in Kansas for UC Berkeley in the late 1960's, I had a baby when I was 24 and not married. I happened upon a chance to go to graduate school in psychology where I met my husband and found my calling. After going to Joanna Macy's workshop at Spirit Rock near San Francisco, I started an environmental group that fought the Keystone XL in Nebraska. I was in my 40's when I decided I would honor my long-buried wish to write. In 2001, I began meditating and studying Buddhism. Every epiphany feels like a great lesson that changes me at a deep level.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
When I was a lonely girl in junior high in Beaver City Nebraska (population 480,) an old Swedish immigrant asked my mother if she could give me pottery lessons. I visited Mrs. Van Cleave every day after school. We had tea and cookies and she listened to me while we painted china plates or made coil pots. I needed exactly that person in my life at the moment in time and she sensed it. She knew I need attention. She was an artist and wanted to give me some knowledge of art and aesthetics.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
I only have one thing on my bucket list which is to be awake.All good things follow from that.
One-line Message for the World?
I have no message for the world. But I would tell the world, and by world I mean all living beings, that I am grateful to be part of this beautiful organic whole.