We are not done, it is not over, we are coming into our prime. Happy Birthday Noon
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (March 10th 2023)
It's two years today since I started my Queenager platform noon.org.uk - thanks so much for being part of it all.
This week was not only International Women’s Day (I’m going to be rounding up everything I learnt from the six events I’ve done on Sunday) but also the second birthday of my platform for women in midlife Noon.org.uk (home of the Queenager).
I set it up because I wanted to change the conversation about the later stages of women’s lives to one which was more optimistic and reflective of the women I saw around me. But also because when I left my big job as a mainstream newspaper executive after 23 years and was spat out into the world, I couldn’t find anything that would help me navigate those next steps. So in the spirit of President Obama who famously says: Be the change you want to see in the world, I set up Noon to help women in midlife find their next chapter.
The idea was for it to create a community and to give women hope and support through their midlife clusterfuck into a new phase. I knew from ten years as a newspaper columnist that when I really cared about something, other people tended to too. And I knew that my own midlife maelstrom – redundancy, empty nest, menopause, huge identity crisis, global pandemic – was also reflected in the lives of many of the women I saw around me. (This was backed up by our research: Queenagers are Forged in Fire, over half of us have experienced at least five mega life events, divorce, bereavement, redundancy, bankruptcy, mentalhealth problems, anxiety, depression, the stress of caring for elderly parents, tricky teenagers (particularly now when there is an epidemic of mental illness in that generation) not to mention our own ill health, menopause etc.
Turns out I was onto something! Two years since we launched Noon and it is clear this midlife conversation is really resonating. That feels incredibly humbling and I am very grateful to all of you who have supported me. Particularly you fab paid subscribers who keep the whole thing ticking along financially (if you’d like to join the ranks of paid up Queenagers I’d be super grateful, there are all sorts of benefits, including £45 off the Stella app which helps treat all things menopause, as well as being able to join Noon Circles, coming free to many of my talks and generally being in the inner circle).
When I look back I have a feeling of vertigo. I can’t believe now that I had the chutzpah to do it. I remember walking around my neighbourhood in the lockdown slush with a friend talking about what I wanted to do with Noon and her giving me a well-meant reality check along the lines of: we’ll be grinding it out on Instagram and no-one will care. I just felt in my bones that that was wrong. That there was a new conversation that needed to be had. That there was a Noon shaped space in the world.
I am so grateful to everyone who has helped. All of the incredible busy women who immediately said ‘yes!’ when I asked them to be on my Advisory Board. My angel and co-founder Claire Gillis who believed in me (and in all of you) right from the start. Jennifer Romano at Accenture who commissioned the huge piece of research The Rise of the Queenager (launched last year and the largest study so far of ABC1 women in the UK 45-60) who proved that my hunch about Noon and us being a new kind of female at this point, was right. We discovered women in midlife felt unseen (50%) were way more likely to buy from a brand that represented them (63%) and overwhelmingly agreed with the statement, “I am part of a pioneering generation”.
They are right: there have never been women like us Queenagers before at this point in our lives. In 2019 women over 40 started earning more money than women under 40 for the first time EVER. We also uncovered the amazing Forged in Fire data – that over half of you have been through at least five huge life events, but that those who have experienced those challenges are now happiest as they have their lives set up just as they want.
In tandem with the drumbeat from Noon championing a more optimistic conversation around Queenagers, there has also been the wider unfolding conversation around menopause, fuelled by high profile celebrities being so brave about sharing their own struggles and stories. This is a global first, we are at the forefront of this conversation – and for me the chat around menopause is just the start of the Queenager generation beginning to roar. But it is really important that the menopause conversation isn’t a vanilla sisters-only party. Our Inclusive Menopause event – with the wonderful Carolyn Harris MP – (you can watch it on that link) as all about how women in the poorest parts of the UK get only half the rates of HRT as women in the richest parts. And women of colour experience earlier onset menopause and worse symptoms and less treatment. That has to change.
For me, menopause is just the beginning: of course we should have the right healthcare available for this change that affects 52% of the population and of course GPs should be trained in menopause. It is an absolute scandal that until now that has not happened. But we also don’t just want to be seen through that biological lens: we are way more than walking hot flushes. Again the Noon research showed the way: 78% of us don’t want to be branded menopausal and the weaponisation of menopause in the tragic Nicola Bulley case highlighted some of the dangers.
I set up Noon to highlight incredible stories of transformation – to show what is possible for women at the mid-point of our lives and beyond and all the amazing things we can be and achieve. On our social channels we’ve saluted Queenagers doing just that on the global stage from Michelle Yeo becoming the first Asian actress to get an Oscar nomination at the great Queenager age of 62, to Helena Bonham Carter announcing she is ‘coming into her prime’ at 56. I’m delighted that just this week two of the writers shortlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction are Queenagers who only started writing after 50!
Closer to home, at Noon we’ve run our book club (thanks Penguin), online meet ups and retreats. We’ve launched Noon Dating, set up Noon Tours (with our wonderful partners at Silver Travel Advisory, we’re off to Morocco in a few weeks, and then Spain, come!) launched a Queenager campaign for Vision Express (‘see yourself differently in midlife’, ‘reframe what’s possible’) and provided thought-leadership around Queenagers, what we want and why we need to be included in the conversation both at work and in marketing for organisations from ABTA to Marrriott Hotels, the Defence Women’s Network (women working in the armed forces, prisons and police) to Meta and Saga.
I’ve published articles about this Queenager agenda everywhere from the Telegraph (Only A Fool Would Ignore Midlife Women) to the Guardian, Daily Mail, You Magazine, Campaign, Good Housekeeping and have appeared on Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show and the World Tonight on Radio 4 (thank you Madonna and Ritula Shah!). And I’ve lost count of the number of podcasts! We now have a dedicated Noon Team (Diane Kenwood is Editorial Director, Alison Page our Chief Commercial Officer, Karen Stenning is in charge of events and Megan Peyton is Chief Technical Officer).
A massive moment for Noon was launching this newsletter on Substack – my interview with Sheryl Sandberg for The Queenager was one of the platform’s top 10 best read articles of 2022, and we are officially a Substack Bestseller. I’m also delighted to announce that I have just been commissioned to write a Queenager book, provisionally titled So Much More to Come for a major global publisher. It will come out next year. I am so delighted about that because it will give us a global stage for the Queenager conversation; we know it resonates because many of you are already subscribing from overseas – and a third of the traffic to the website is coming from outside the UK.
So as we celebrate International Women’s Day and our second birthday, I feel proud to have made a small contribution to the ongoing struggle for equality and equity. I often feel like this conversation around older women – how we value ourselves, how we still HAVE value and purpose even though the culture fetishises fanciability and fecundity in women above all else – is the last bastion of feminism. There is intersectionality in all of this – it is way harder to be a woman of colour, or disabled, or from a poor background. But this business of gendered ageism – where ageism meets sexism – affects ALL women, and it is so ingrained in all cultures that we don’t really even see it.
But as we have seen in our Queenager lifetimes in the conversations around race and sexuality, it is possible to change the stories we tell and the culture. The kind of comments that were made at my school in the 80s around homosexuality are now anathema, ditto much of what was said then about race. In the same way, we can change the script around ageing and around how we value women. By subscribing and reading this newsletter you are all a part of that. I am trying to extend the runway for all women by saying loud and proud that women don’t have sell by dates. Why should men be seen to age like fine wine, improving with age, while women are seen as peaches, one wrinkle and we’re done? That needs to to into the great dustbin of history.
The truth is that now more than ever Queenagers come into our prime in midlife. We are not done, we are not over, we refuse to be invisible. We matter and we have a voice. We have come so far already in the last two years – I feel really optimistic!
So thanks for supporting our work at Noon and for being a Queenager!
Lots of love