The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (June 11th 2023)
I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine and a relaxing in what feels like the first blast of summer; I just had my first picnic under the dappled shade of a silver birch tree.
Dear Queenagers –
I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine and a relaxing in what feels like the first blast of summer; I just had my first picnic under the dappled shade of a silver birch tree. Heaven. And a necessary respite from quite the week.. It’s super-encouraging that the tide is slowly beginning to turn on ageing – that our Noon mantra of So Much More to Come, that 50 is only half-way through and the power of this new young/old cohort, is beginning to be thought about. Last week the pace quickened…
On Tuesday I went to media agency OMD to be on a panel to launch their new Growing Old Disgracefully report which highlights that the over 55s make up 30% of the population but control 60% of the wealth and yet appear in only 10% of adverts. The report draws on our Noon research and uses me as an expert witness. I particularly loved their LGBTQ+ 55Plus focus group who were truly Forged In Fire; their tales of struggles in harsher times and their joy that the Gen Z “cavalry are coming” to take up the charge when it comes to all things gender and sexuality was a joy to see. There is so much diversity, wisdom and grace in this cohort – our stories need to be shared, partly so we can remember how far we have come. And so we can inspire the next generation…
Then on Thursday evening I was honoured to be a keynote speaker on Queenagers, gendered ageism and how we can change careers and lives and find a whole new chapter at 50, at the wonderful Vanessa Vallely’s We Are The City Gender networks event held at the very Succession swanky offices of Mazars by St Paul’s. It was great to meet so many people from huge global corporations interested in exploring the bit of diversity which is always forgotten – ageism – and focussing on how we will never get to gender equity if senior women drop out in droves. Not to mention thinking of Queenagers as some of their most powerful customers… I love seeing how energised younger women are by the idea that they don’t have to pack everything into their thirties, that there really is time, that at 50 we come into our prime.. as I say it I can see them relax. I talked to so many who say they need more Queenager role models at work.
Maybe the tide is beginning to turn on old attitudes – I hope so! This article from the New York Times (free to you to read) is stunning on the current transfer of wealth from older boomers down the generations.
And on Friday, I got a blast from my old life when I went on Radio 4’s World at One(my bit is at 38 mins in) to talk about how the influence of newspapers has declined since Prince Harry was hacked back in the noughties.
It made me think about the huge change there has been in the media landscape in the last couple of decades. When I was a newspaper executive (1993-2021), particularly in the early years, newspapers really were at the centre of the culture. In those pre social media times, if a politician, or celebrity, or even royal, wanted to communicate with the great British public, then the papers were the mass medium of choice and Editors were the gateway.
As we now know, there were huge abuses of this hegemonic power. My old boss Rupert Murdoch shut down the News Of The World because of the hacking scandal, saying it was one of the most shameful days of his life. In those days the circulations of print newspapers were huge – the Sun sold 4 million copies a day (now it is 700k). My old alma mater the Sunday Times sold well over a million every Sunday with a readership of 5 million. And the money rolled in, from advertising and cover price. I remember one of the old ad managers saying he was running a monopoly; there was no-where else for big brands who wanted to reach his rich demographic to go: he just sat there, went out for lunch, and the phone rang – kerching, kerching.
Those days, of course, are long gone. With dwindling circulations comes dwindling revenues – 80 per cent of money from digital ads goes to Google and Facebook, not publishers. (That’s why online publishers such as Buzzfeed and Vice News have gone bust). And as the print and advertising revenues have gone south, so I’m afraid, has much of the investing in original reporting, or investigations, or holding power to account; all of which were the upsides of the newspaper stranglehold on public life but were also really expensive.
Newspapers were/are a bundle: you get your news with the crossword and fashion and Jeremy Clarkson, or whichever columnist you favour. But these days, anyone with any profile is on social media, or has a substack account, or writes books, or does a podcast and can communicate with their audience directly. They don’t need a newspaper to do that for them anymore. Newspapers still persist but for an increasingly ageing readership (particularly for the print versions). Online subscriptions work but they massively reduce the reach of the pay-walled content and its influence.
With the smashing of the bundle has gone the point of the paper. And with that habit that old notion of tribe, of knowing what kind of person you were and where you stood, from what paper you read, is also passing. Instead we are finding our own tribes in new ways; particularly those of us who feel we are part of a new and emerging young/old demographic which is not being seen or really talked about much in the mainstream.
This feels personal to me because the reason I set up Noon.org.uk was because I wanted to create a home, a community, a place for women in midlife, where you lovely Queenagers could read about and find each other. After years in the national press I realised that there was a whole posse of us older women who felt unreflected and unseen in the culture (over half of women 45-60 according to our research).
I knew that newspapers were not interested in the older female because I knew at first hand how hard it was to get articles in the paper about them. The default view in the media has traditionally been that women are there to ‘brighten up a page’ as an editor once said to me: meaning, put in a picture of a pretty girl to cheer it up. Women in papers tended to be victims or arm candy (don’t believe me check out the research I commissioned as Chair of women in journalism on all of this.) It’s why I set up Noon, so there was a place where the world was seen from a Queenager perspective, where we could begin to tell the inspirational stories of what can be possible for women at this point without our stories and our vision being filtered through a massive corporation (usually the reflection of a senior man).
What I love most about meeting you all at our events and circles, the retreats and tours is when you say: “I love Noon, because I feel I have found my tribe.” So many of us end up feeling tribe-less at this stage of our lives; some of you say it’s because you’ve become different so you need new people in your life who accept you as the new you. Others left the job that has defined them for years, or retired, or started a new career, or moved somewhere where they don’t meet that many women like them. Others have had kids who have left home and found their old school-based community has evaporated. And a good third of our Noon community didn’t have kids and are looking for new and energising connections; new ways to create a lasting legacy and new companions and ideas.
All the women who come are united in their sense that we are not done, it is not over. That we are just getting started. Doing all the things we wanted to do. Coming into our prime. I love it that I can take all the things I learnt in newspapers – story-telling, community building, zeitgeist reading – and now do that for all of you and to propel this new story about how we value women and what we can do as we age.
Noon and this Queenager newsletter is a rallying call for a new perspective on the rest of our lives. In the 100 year life, 50 is only lunchtime, we’re on coffee and petit fours, with the whole blissful afternoon and evening ahead of us. The fact that we will all live longer is one of the great gifts of science and we are one of the first generations who gets to decide what to do with it, what that extension of life can look like. That feels exciting. And unexplored, and ripe for us to what we want with it. This midlife pivot into becoming is genuinely uncharted territory. We Queenagers get to be the first generation to really do it. And the research show that where women lead, men follow; we really are pioneers.
So here’s to new tribes, new adventures and new ways of knowing and finding out about things. Social media gets a hard time, but I love it because it has enabled all of us to find each other, create our own micro tribe and speak directly to each other, without being mediated through the distorting lens of huge media corporations who all have their own agendas. I and my team at Noon are fully aware that we are custodians of your trust, of holding our tribe safe and sacred, sticking up for Queenagers and our values. Of course
it we won’t be for everyone, but that’s fine. There’s room for lots of different micro-tribes, so everyone can feel happy and seen.
As for poor Harry, we know the papers harassed him, destroyed his trust in people around him and hounded his mother to an early death in a Paris tunnel. The trouble is that courts aren’t interested in moral arguments or bigger truths, they deal in specific facts. I couldn’t see much actual evidence eg this voicemail was hacked on this day by this person with this phone, in all of the broader truth-telling last week…. I’m not surprised Harry is angry with the British press, if you read his memoir or watch the Neflix saga it’s clear he is still traumatised. Hopefully he’s now got it off his chest and can get stuck into his own new tribe and family in California. We can’t change the past: we need to make our piece with it and use what we learnt and all the experience we now have to get excited about building a better future.
So with that in mind…
We are nearly full for our Noon One Day Retreat at Wasing on July 8th – so if you are thinking of coming, jump in quick!
And I can’t wait to talk to you all about the brilliant The Change which is our tome for Noon Book Club on June 19th at 7pm – the author’s critique of how advertising depicts women is very much in line with what I saw in journalism, it’s going to be a great discussion. (It’s free for everyone to join, click on the eventbrite link to be sent the login details).
Have a fab week
By Eleanor Mills