Marian Cannon Schlesinger is 101 years old. She doesn’t have to care about anything! 101 year-old Marian Cannon Schlesinger can do anything she wants, because she is 101 years-old. She could spend her days stealing ice cream cones from children and then just throwing them into the garbage right in front of them. That would be fine! She has lived for more than 100 years. But no. Marian does care. She cares about you, particularly if you’re a young woman growing up in today’s workaday world. Instead of spending her second year as someone more-than-one-century-years-old knitting or walking the Appalachian Trail or punching kittens because who can tell her not to do what she wants at this point in her really just unusually long life (she is 101), Marian has taken some time over at The Atlantic to share her wisdom about dating, love, and life with the young women of the globe.
Marian, who has written five children’s books and two memoirs, lives in Cambridge, MA. She had something of a charmed, colorful life: daughter of a Harvard professor of physiology (dad) and novelist and co-founder of Planned Parenthood (mom), Marian spent her formative years in a home her parents turned into an informal salon, with interesting and brilliant people coming through the doors at every turn. This free-spirited, intellectual atmosphere fostered a spirit of independent self-confidence in Marian. She wants to pass that on to the young women of 2013. When asked how someone becomes a “free-spirited woman,” her advice is simple: “Just go ahead and do your thing no matter what.” Her mother, she says, always taught her not to worry about housekeeping – that just gets in the way of doing your thing. But Marian has a caveat for feminist thinkers. “This idea that feminism was created in the last twenty years,” she says, “is ridiculous. When you think of all the women that went across the continent in covered wagons. Really. It’s ridiculous. It’s a lot of baloney.” She wants everyone to remember a simple fact: “Women have been powerful characters all through the history of the United States.”
Recognizing the gains made by women over her lifetime, Marian acknowledges many women who seemingly have it all—a good education, a meaningful job, access to a lifetime’s worth of art and culture—still find themselves unhappy or discontented. She “feels very sorry” for these women, those who “all this talent, all this energy and yet nowhere to put it.” She recommends they turn to the communities around them for answers: “I would start by saying you can involve yourself in local problems. There are all sorts of things that have to be tended to in the world.” Finally, she says we should all surround ourselves as diverse a group of people as we can find. “Have lots of people in the house,” she recommends, “and lots of different kinds of people – young, old, black, white, people from all over the world. People have always energized me.” Her ultimate piece of advice brings the message home in a clear way, one that a 101 year-old woman should know plenty about. In the end, she says, “Just keep going.”
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