Midlife Crisis: The Feminist Origins of a Chauvinist Cliché

October 31, 2020
Midlife Crisis: The Feminist Origins of a Chauvinist Cliché

The phrase "midlife crisis" today conjures up images of maleindulgence and irresponsibility—an affluent, middle-aged manspeeding off in a red sports car with a woman half his age—butbefore it become a gendered cliché, it gained traction as afeminist concept. Journalist Gail Sheehy used the term to describea midlife period when both men and women might reassesstheir choices and seek a change in life. Sheehy's definitionchallenged the double standard of middle age—where aging isadvantageous to men and detrimental to women—by viewing midlife asan opportunity rather than a crisis. Widely popular in the UnitedStates and internationally, the term was quickly appropriated bypsychological and psychiatric experts and redefined as amale-centered, masculinist concept.The first book-length history of this controversial concept,Susanne Schmidt's Midlife Crisis recounts the surprisingorigin story of the midlife debate and traces its movement frompopular culture into academia. Schmidt's engaging narrative tellingof the feminist construction—and ensuing antifeminist backlash—ofthe midlife crisis illuminates a lost legacy of feminist thought,shedding important new light on the history of gender and Americansocial science in the 1970s and beyond.