was an old woman who lived in a shoe..."
the Shoe Doesn't Fit, Don't Live in It!
by Morgana Morgaine
you in your 50's or beyond and now single and/or living alone (for whatever
reason)? Are you discovering that your own particular shoe no longer
meets your needs economically, socially, emotionally, or physically?
US Census 2000 tells us that 18,700,000 women 65 years of age and older
reside in our country and that 55.7% of these women are unmarried. In
addition, 25.5% of American households are single-occupant households,
around 26,724,000 people. Of these, many more single-occupant households
are female than male. This earmarks a good-sized population of women
who may have living situations that do not really work for them. Why?
Because living alone puts the burden on one individual to financially
provide and maintain all the goods and services that are needed to maintain
a life. We can all look at the costs involved in everyone having their
own house, their own lawnmower, washer and dryer, car, and on and on.
It is hardly an efficient arrangement economically and we havent
even talked about the labor expenditure for one person to do
there are the social and emotional needs of women. Much of our social
lives revolve around dinners with friends, belonging to various groups
and participating in other community activities. Nothing is wrong with
this, but it is true that the opportunities for intimacy, dailyness,
and a natural flow of sharing with others is more limited.
the baby boomer generation giving us a bumper crop of middle aged women,
it may well be time for a huge cultural shift and an opportune time
for women to reinvent living arrangements.
there have been women who have envisioned AND created new housing/lifestyle
arrangements that have fostered a community spirit and provided a safety
net for women by changing and improving the economics of householding.
most exciting and inspiring lifestyle model for women that I have found
was established and flourished in Europe in the 12th, 13th centuries
and beyond. The founders of this cultural shift were called the Beguines.
These Northern European women established a variety of living arrangements
to meet their economic, spiritual, and social needs.
a time when the prevailing options for women were either to marry or
join the religious life in convents/monasteries, these women chose a
different path. Many did not want the strictures of a traditional marriage
nor did they want to be bound to the patriarchal hierarchy of the Church
Fathers in a nunnery. Also, many women did not have the necessary dowries
to join the established religious communities; an option more readily
open to women who came from wealthy families. As women of middle and
lower class economic status who did prize a spiritual life and a measure
of economic security, Beguines ingeniously created shared lifestyles
through a variety of community models. For some, this involved living
in large groups similar to convent life, but without the vows and restrictions
that the Church mandated. Other Beguines opted to share a home in common,
perhaps in groups of 4-6. Still others would buy houses in close proximity
to each other and share a spiritual, social, and sometimes work life.
There were well known Beguines as well who were artists, writers, wealthy
patronesses who financially supported their Beguine sisters,
and there were women whose wise leadership encouraged the mystical life.
intriguing aspect of Beguine life involved their property agreements
through which they willed their houses to one another so that the Beguine
lifestyle could be sustained. Dayton Phillips, a researcher who examined
the wills and addresses of the Beguines of Strasbourg, reveals
that a whole section of town was inhabited by women who shared houses,
rented to other women, bequeathed property to their Beguine friends,
and ensured that other Beguines could become tenants after the present
residents moved on or died.
the peak of their popularity, more than 3000 (known) women lived in
Beguinages of one sort or another, primarily in Holland, Belgium, and
Germany. By the middle of the 15th century, there were reportedly societies
of Beguines in almost every urban area of Europe. The movement became
so popular as a successful lifestyle option that the Church, threatened
by these independent women, exerted pressure to close the Beguinages.
Some women were forced into Church-directed convents, others were forced
into the streets, and still others were burned as heretics. Nevertheless,
a small number of women calling themselves Beguines still survived in
believe that the Beguines inspire us to take a look at our choices and
perceived lifestyle limitations. They inspire us to entertain other
options. They remind us of the precept that form should follow function,
although it seems that we often maintain forms (structures) that dont
really support our functions at all. Because these structures are so
culturally ingrained and affirmed, we just make do and watch our money
and energy drain away in inefficient systems!
for all of you who are getting nervous about independence and privacy
and the hard work of relationship etc., let me say that
the key words here are options and choices. What the Beguines teach
us is the art of possibilities and opportunities; that a
variety of lifestyle designs can support a sense of community, belongingness,
and financial relief.
every woman wants to live in the same house with another.
women might consider small efficient bungalows built on shared property
with some common areas for gardens, social dining, celebration. Others
might consider an apartment building owned in common and re-modeled
to allow individual units as well as common spaces. Larger homes might
be re-designed in such a way as to house 4 women or more. The point
is to move out of the shoe box, to focus on common needs first, then
talk about individual requirements and then design housing arrangements
to meet the needs.
encourage women to take a look at their current lifestyles and consider
alternatives that might better support a more nurturing and economically
balanced lifestyle. Dream a little about how spending less individually
on the goods and services needed for daily living might free up monies
to take that trip to Tuscany or work less hours or follow whatever dreams
you have tucked away inside. So much of our TIME, ENERGY, AND MONEY
goes to maintaining individual lifestyles, that for many the hope of
a dream nest egg is a dream of diminishing returns! Re-structuring our
lives would open many exciting doors for middle age and beyond.
to wind this up and get you fired up, here are some things that Wise
Women have said or are doing:
is definitely womens work. We all do it in one way or another.
I recently read in a study by the McAuley Institute (mcauley.org) that
women around the country are building quality, affordable housing
as they try to help their neighbors, friends and themselves improve
their lives...women executives lead 46% of community development corporations
and other community building initiatives based on a 10% sample of 1900
Pinkola Estes, in her book Women Who Run With Wolves, said:
If she (a woman) cannot find the culture that encourages her,
then she usually decides to construct it herself. And that is good,
for if she builds it, others who have been looking for a long time will
mysteriously arrive one day enthusiastically proclaiming that they have
been looking for this all along.
Leckey, an educator, suggests in her essay on Women and Creativity
that: womens creativity has been enhanced by structures
allow for spiritual exploration by providing time and space and study
evoke community, where life can be shared and consciousness enlarged;
evoke community, where life can be shared and consciousness enlarged;
articulate a common purpose or common cause;
provide opportunities for solitude where the soil of creativity can
be cultivated, where seeds barely formed can take root and be protected
and nourished until strong enough to become visible.
Dont you think it is time for the Old Woman to dump her Shoe?
get out of the boxdesign households and lifestyles that
support our real economic, emotional, physical and soulful needs? Oh,
and yes, add to that, doing it in a JOYFUL manner!
Read more about it:
Beguine Spirituality edited by Fiona Bowie from Spiritual Classics Crossroad
Publishing Company, New York, 1990
A Passion for Friends by Janice G. Raymond Beacon Press Boston 1986
lives in Asheville having relocated from New Mexico. She is the Coordinator
for Clown Programs at The Health Adventure where she teaches classes
in clowning and directs a Troupe of volunteer clowns. She strongly feels
the call to community (in some form) and perhaps her passion for the
Beguines stems from enjoying such a life in the distant past!.
Beguine Spirituality edited by Fiona Bowie from Spiritual Classics
Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1990
for Friends by Janice G. Raymond Beacon Press Boston 1986