Not long ago I watched the 1985 film, Out of Africa, and found myself crying in the exact same place I cried the last time I watched it. I didn’t cry after Karen Blixen’s lover, Denys Finch Hatton, was killed, or when she says goodbye to her longtime Somali headman, Farah, before she boards the train for Denmark and leaves her beloved farm and Africa forever. I cried when the all-male members of the exclusive Muthaiga Club ask to “stand with Karen for a drink.“ It was the only way the aristocratic, British Colonial men of 1931 knew of expressing their admiration for her strength and resolve of character. The very qualities she’d been forced to develop when the same men had turned a deaf ear to her requests for help.
I cry each time I watch this part of Out of Africa because it reminds me of how few men have helped me along the way or acknowledged my strengths, and I believe the majority of women can say the same thing.
Since the beginning of time, women have been forced to develop their strengths for the same reasons Karen Blixen did: Our intelligence and abilities have been seen as less than; not as qualified as a man. But that hasn’t stopped us from moving forward after a difficult childbirth, near fatal illnesses, betrayal and infidelity, the loss of friends, family, spouses and all we hold dear, and we’ve done it better than most men ever could. And like Karen Blixen, with or without a love relationship attached, women want to be valued and appreciated without having to pay a price for being strong and capable.
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” Karen Blixen wrote in her memoir, Out of Africa.
At various times in my life, I’ve had a home on the highest hill in San Antonio, my Little House in the Texas Hill Country, and a ranch. And like Karen, after the men in my life were gone, and I learned I had no money, I tended the house and the land, appeased the IRS and the mortgage companies, got myself out of debt—more than once—and I know I’m not alone. Every generation of women has come face to face with difficult times when there’s no one to stand with them.
“I was up at a great height, upon the roof of the world, a small figure in the tremendous retort of earth and air, yet one with it; I did not know that I was at the height and upon the roof of my own life.” An older Karen Blixen and her handwriting.
Looking back on our lives to date, I hope we, as women, can see the trials we‘ve endured. As Karen Blixen said, a “magnificent enlargement of our world.” For it is then, the great and small come into focus, and we find ourselves comforted by how hard we’ve worked for our place in it.
“Here I am, where I ought to be.”
To the women over 50, here’s to the strong women we’ve become. May the generations who come after us learn from, and be dazzled by, our bravery and tenacious determination.