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Midlife CrisisThe Feminist Origins of a Chauvinist Cliché$
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Susanne Schmidt

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226686851

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226686998.001.0001

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(p.1) 1 Introduction
Midlife Crisis

Susanne Schmidt

University of Chicago Press

A favorite gendered cliché, the midlife crisis conjures up images of male indulgence and irresponsibility—but it was first successfully presented as a concept about women’s rights. This chapter introduces the feminist definition of midlife change put forward by the New York journalist Gail Sheehy in the 1970s. It examines Sheehy’s place in existing origin stories and disciplinary histories of the midlife crisis and challenges the dominant narrative of science popularization. Pointing to the focus on men in contemporary tales about midlife crisis, it highlights instead the particular relevance of life-choices and midlife reassessments for women. Lastly, it discusses the gendered double standard of aging and the literature on menopause, gender, and science, drawing attention to the relevance of feminist contributions and critical and liberating concepts of middle life and aging. In the course of the discussion, the chapter also gives an overview of the book.

Keywords:   feminism, gender and science, human development, life course, menopause, popularization, Gail Sheehy, Kieran Setiya, Susan Sontag

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