"I lived the first 15 years of our life without any reflection. No questioning about who am I? What do I want? That is my fight in life right now. Not just for myself but for every single girl out there. You cannot take a girl’s voice away. You cannot take a girl’s education away. And I will fight for that."
Meet “the original” Houry! At 56, she brings unstoppable positive energy to advocacy for the rights of women and girls worldwide. Her journey of joy and discovery began in the 1970s when she left her Armenian community in Lebanon with her new husband, arrived in New York City and quickly transitioned to a life of disco at Studio 54 and building a posh hair salon business that catered to glitterati from Madonna to Jennifer Grey. More than thirty years later – with three sons and a successful business – Houry realized that in the rush to do it all she hadn’t taken the time to reflect or, as she said, “feel the sand between her toes.” And she’d been too busy to get the education she’d longed for all her life. A therapist, a divorce, a job search, and night school led Houry to fulfill lifelong dreams: becoming a woman who has a voice, a college degree, and who has no problem feeling things, being present, and saying whatever she wants. Or, as we call it, a Being in Total Charge of Herself!
"I’m still the same person that was my mother's disciple. Women have to have their own resources. That’s what my mother was saying when she said, 'Your husband is your degree'. You need your own resources. I also need to ask for help. I cannot be superwoman."
Hendrica Okondo, 62, credits much of her wisdom and courage to women: her mother and grandmother, Nobel-prize-winner Wangari Maathai, and countless women leaders who she worked with over 40 years supporting women’s and girls’ rights worldwide. Raised in Kenya, she’s lived and worked in more countries than most people will visit in a lifetime (from Sudan to Somalia and the UK to Switzerland), had more careers than most people dream of (from scuba diver to gender advisor) and is a storyteller extraordinaire. She recently returned home after ‘retiring’ from an international career in the United Nations and the World YWCA. She now follows her passion to promote the sexual and reproductive rights of young girls throughout Africa, blending her profound and life-long Catholic faith with an irrepressible spirit. She likes to remind religious leaders that the first person to see the risen Christ was Mary Magdalene, who is portrayed as a sex worker by many writers, so -- if she was the first person to see the risen Christ -- then Christianity was started by a sex worker. Shower yourself with her sage advice and contagious laughter as soon as you can!
"To me, it's not about age, it's not about race, it's not about ideology...I don't know that we have ever confronted such a dangerous time to democracy in our country. What it does say to me is that we fundamentally have to fight for democracy. And that means many different things."
Maya is a nationally renowned racial justice and equity activist and advocate. And she is no longer an optimist. But she hasn’t given up hope. She has “a passion for the possible” combined with a laser focus on fighting for our democracy. If you watch TV news, you've likely seen her share her sharp analysis on the assault against our country’s values and heard her wise counsel on priorities for collective action, including activism on the upcoming census. At 54, she has litigated, lobbied the U.S. Congress, and developed programs to transform structural racism in the U.S. and in South Africa. Maya recently served as Counsel to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, chaired the New York City Police Department’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, founded and led the Center for Social Inclusion, and is now Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School. Maya's guidance, struggle and compassion in these perilous times are enough to turn these Two Old Bitches into possibilists as well. And you?
"I’d be struggling to make the fabric do what I wanted and she’d say, ‘no, you have to listen to the fabric, the fabric will tell you where it wants to go.’"
Idelisse’s mom -- Emma Delfina Carattini Padro de Malavé – died at 99 on December 10, 2017. And we wanted to record this podcast as a tribute to her life, a life that spanned nearly a century. She grew up in the hills of Puerto Rico, thwarting gender stereotypes and asserting her love of freedom and beauty, and then immigrated to New York in her early 20s for work and family. Both fierce and (as Idelisse says) ‘demure’, Emma’s story is about love of family and homeland, the strategies that smart women developed to survive and thrive, and channeling talent and imagination into creating every day beauty. That creativity lives on in Ide and Emma's granddaughter, Esti. As does the determination that Ide and her daughter Esti inherited from Emma: to live life fully and with appreciation for the indescribable feeling of the morning sun, the comfort of that first cup of coffee with steamed milk, and the memory of Emma’s music-filled laughter.
"It was just an ocean of stars. And you’re in the middle of night. And it’s pitch black. You can’t see your hand in front of you. And…you just sit there and wait for the light."
Having a crazy dream is good. Making it come true is rapturous! And that’s what Betsy “La Guapa" Gude did on the cusp of her 59th year, all-too-aware that 60 was not far off. One of her dreams was to cross the Atlantic on a ship, but not a luxury liner. As you’ll hear, her odyssey began when Betsy happened upon the Galeón Andalucía (a replica of wooden ships in Spain's 16th fleet) moored in Kingston, New York last summer. Barely a month later, she joined 23 strangers as part of the crew on the Galeón’s three-week voyage (during hurricane season!) from Atlantic City to Spain. The trip offered a silence and a beauty that she could never have imagined ...and changed her forever.
Citing her age at somewhere between 5 and 100 years old (decide for yourself, she suggests), Luxor Tavella revels in beauty, art and mystery. Forty three years ago -- after leaving her native Milan and studying textiles in London -- she opened her Soho fashion boutique, Paracelso. It is her gallery, a living work of art. Visited by famous artists and designers – including Alexander McQueen – and customers who have been buying from Luxor’s collections for decades, this ‘icon of West Broadway’ has a style uniquely her own. From riding camels in the Sahara (and changing her name from Bianca to Luxor) to studying with zen masters, Luxor’s life and survival through the gentrification of Soho is testimony to following one’s heart and love of beauty. Visit Paracelso at 510 Broome Street for an extraordinary few hours with this graceful and wise maven of creativity and beauty.
Janice Zarro Brodman is a writer and political activist who busts norms and defies categories. That’s why she wrote her recently released book, “Sex Rules!: Astonishing Sexual Practices and Gender Roles Around the World". Like Janice, the book entertains, challenges and delights with little known "astonishing" sexual, romantic and relationship mores from around the world. With humor and affection, the book might change your entire perspective on that most basic drive, sexuality. A perfect Two Old Bitches guest: she recently left a 25-year career working in international development and is now infusing her vast experience of travel around the world and political activism in the U.S. into her writing life. Janice will only give clues to her age (best we can tell, she’s somewhere between 60 and 70), but who cares? Her passion, her inquisitiveness, and her pursuit of justice are relevant at every age. So order her book, listen to her reading excerpts from it on this interview, and stay tuned for more about astonishing sex and gender roles from Janice in the decades to come.
“If you’re in love with what you’re doing., what are you going to retire for? ...What are you going to do for the next 25 years?”
For 63-year old Martha Cortes, it's all about oxygen. An internationally recognized leader in restorative aesthetic dentistry, Martha says that oxygen is the best supplement there is. She uses holistic and innovative practices to expand people's airways so they get the maximum amount for overall health and well-being. She's not like any other dentist we (or you) have ever met. A creative scientist and researcher, Martha was born in Colombia and raised in the States. She was President of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (twice) and was the first woman and Latinx to hold that position. With wide-ranging curiosity, confidence and endless energy, retirement is not an option for Martha, now or in the coming years. Martha is as intriguing as she is intrigued by life, from health and science to art and dancing. As a child, she danced flamenco, but these days it’s dancing tango with “taxis” that gets her out of the office. Taxis? Listen and learn.
“Sexism on its own is so ugly. When you pair it with ageism, it is devastating.”
“Why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different?” Writer and activist Ashton Applewhite, 65, set out to answer that question almost a decade ago. What she discovered is at the heart of her successful blogs, This Chair Rocks and Yo, Is This Ageist? and her recent her book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, a must-read for old and young. Today, Ashton continues to blog and speak with passion and unshakeable determination to mobilize more of us in the fight to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind. Her recent TED talk has already garnered over 1 million viewers. Not surprising, since Ashton makes her case not just with facts but humor. She’s a funny woman! In fact, her first book, Truly Tasteless Jokes, and its three sequels reveal “a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time.” They also made publishing history by occupying four of fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list. Ashton is also the author of another stereotype-busting book: Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, which Ms. magazine described as “rocket fuel for launching new lives.” Ashton is a kindred spirit who shares our goal to explode myths about gender and aging and re-define what it means to be a woman at any age.
"When you’re in a band, there’s a dance you’re all doing. When it works it’s orgasmic. Everyone is listening, moving together. It’s perfect. " - Diane Scanlon
"I’ve gone from religious to righteous, and now, to rebellious." - Freida Williams
In their 50s and 60s and still as hot as ever, Freida Williams and Diane Scanlon love performing together. They are long-time friends and supporters for each other in a testosterone-driven, ageist music business. They’re both committed to using their music and talents to reverse mounting sexist and racist practices and rhetoric throughout the U.S. This was a joyful first-ever Two Old Bitches interview of two friends together. And we cannot begin to thank them for their insights, their magical voices and their boundless creativity!
Race is for me the bottom line. When I’m seen, I’m seen as black more than a woman. Maybe that’s a reality of being a black woman.
We met up with Inca Alexandrina Mohamed, 63, on her 'graduation' day, after a three-year apprenticeship to deepen her work on racial justice. Her reflections on her journey as a Black woman, a lesbian, a 'new world creation' and a social justice leader are illuminating and captivating. Inca artfully blends smart, strategic thinking with heart and liberating playfulness. Her facilitation work --helping groups of people committed to social change to get to where they want to go-- is as successful as it is joyful. That’s how Inca rolls, all the while dressed with colorful and distinctive style. Her lifelong commitment to racial and gender justice and to young people is undiminished by time though it is evolving and taking new forms. Listen, learn and laugh as we talk with this bright spirit who shares how she is giving birth to an even more intentionally loving and free version of herself.
"I’m someone who’s very lucky. I didn’t come from anything fancy. I’ve always been determined to do whatever it was I should be doing. There’s nothing in the arts that I haven’t attempted. I’m still at it."
At 86, Sondra Lee is simply unstoppable. At 16, she stormed a Broadway theater after auditions were over and landed not only a part but a lifelong friend, Jerome Robbins. Robbins was the one one who cast her as the original Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, an unforgettable performance on the stage and television. Over the years, her career expanded to directing, teaching and coaching, as well as painting and sculpting. Whether she is reflecting on her friendship and affair with Marlon Brando or sharing insights about feminist organizing in New York City in the 1970s, her skill as a storyteller makes each aspect of her fascinating life a lesson in standing up for yourself, following your dreams, and kindness. Sondra’s first memoir, I’ve Slept with Everybody, introduces us to the legions of well-known people she’s known and loved. Her upcoming book – As I Was Saying – will tell her fans even more. Now at the point in life where the obituaries in the morning paper too often include her friends, Sondra continues to face disappointment and loss with her old stand- by: Getting to work!
"I’d like to write the great American novel, but I don’t think I’m the person to do that. I think I’m the person to find that.”
Whether you’re thinking about writing a book or just love reading them, you’ll want to listen in on our conversation with Malaga Baldi. At 61, Malaga has been a literary agent for more than 30 years and shares her wisdom about publishing, writing and living a good life (“delayed satisfaction is muy importante!”). She is living what we call ‘the gravy years’: fully enjoying her professional, family and personal life and marveling that she got the life she wanted, including the ice cream. What’s it like to reach the point where you finally get to be the person you want to be? Listen to Malaga and find out!
And for more about the authors Malaga represents and the books she loves, check out www.baldibooks.com
"Certainly I have felt many times that I’m hovering over an abyss. But you have to make that leap over to get to the other side."
Kathy Brew, 64, is a self-defined, label-defying “hybrid:” a documentary filmmaker, public television producer, curator, teacher, and artful dreamer. After college, she stumbled on her first job making educational filmstrips –remember those dreaded “hygiene” films in seventh grade? Then in the early 80s, she left New York for California with her first husband and began her work in media and the arts in San Francisco. When she got an unsolicited grant of $5,000 she made her first award-winning film, “Mixed Messages,” about girls and proscribed gender roles, the first of many of her arts and social issue documentaries. “Design Is One,” about the renowned designers Lella and Massimo Vignelli, is one of the more recent that Kathy made back in NYC with the “love of her life,” documentary filmmaker Roberto Guerra . Kathy envisioned finding a partner who would be her “best friend, lover and collaborator.” And she found that in her 17-year relationship with Roberto. Still in the deep sorrow of losing Roberto in 2014, Kathy also dreams and feeds her undaunted creative spirit. She’ll soon be traveling to Peru as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching and making art, and continuing to unfurl her “out-of-the-box,” full and free life.
"I am what I am. I have defined who I am. I no longer have to be careful with what I say because it might offend some organizational rules. So I’m able to be the best of what I can be. Unfold my highest goal. I’m free!"
Socorro Reyes, 68, hasn’t run for political office --yet-- but she’s a politician at heart! She’s an irrepressible and principled pragmatist who artfully navigates the legislative process to advance her life-long passions: human rights and gender justice. Socorro advises parliamentarians and is a Senior Advisor at The Center for Legislative Development International in the Philippines. She returned to her country in 2011 after leaving her job as the Chief, Asia-Pacific and Arab States at UN Women in New York. Socorro is now reaping the harvest of years of work as an advocate, a teacher, and a mentor. Her activism takes many forms, including her advocacy for the release of Senator Leila de Lima, who has been detained by the repressive administration of Philippine President Duterte (see link below). Socorro's love of politics is balanced by her devotion to her granddaughters, her unquenchable curiosity, and a spirituality that -- as she says -- grows exponentially as her mortality becomes more real!
"I think about that wonderful Adrienne Rich quote that the genius of a spider is that she weaves and spins at the same time. That for me is the guiding principle in writing: to weave and spin at the same time."
Jaune Evans is a modern day Renaissance woman! At 66, she’s a writer, visual artist, activist and Zen priest. Through a life she describes as a "crazy quilt,” she worked her way through college as a cocktail waitress, was the first camerawoman at NBC, a baker and a foundation executive. (That’s just a partial list.) Today, she runs the Tamalpais Trust, a foundation supporting indigenous communities, while serving as a priest at Everyday Zen in the Bay Area and offering arresting dharma talks that exude wisdom, warmth and wit. (There’s a link below to listen to those talks.) She has --and is-- writing her own story with gratitude to the "women helpers," from therapists to a host of women creative heroes, that she’s turned to along the way. Jaune is also a member in good standing of the "Better, Deeper, More Club" (so are we!). When you listen to our conversation with her, you'll learn more about the Club and surely want to join!
Go to Everyday Zen: http://everydayzen.org/teachings/?sort=date&author=Jaune%20Evans
Check out Jaune's art: http://www.boxsetgallery.com/evans/evans-master.php?id=6
"We were convinced of our ideas. That gave us the power to confront the tragic situation of the dictatorships. The truth is that we were ready to die for what we believe."
Ana Falu, 69, is a brilliant Argentinian architect, academic, and activist with the charisma and elegance of the sexiest 40’s movie stars. As a lifelong feminist, Ana’s life spanned exile during the dictatorships of Latin America in the 70s, a return to Argentina to re-build democracy, and decades of strengthening global women’s rights movements. Reflecting on nearly 50 years of political organizing and advocacy -- and despite the current setbacks -- Ana still exudes optimism and a profound belief in the power of the next generation to push for change. Her passion infuses the political and the personal, enabling Ana to seamlessly blend her activism, her family, love and sex. Yes, we said sex. And so does Ana!
Aruna Rao, 61, is co-founder and Executive Director of Gender at Work, a global network of people dedicated to building cultures of equality. She dreams of singing “the blues like Nina Simone and rock like Janis Joplin!” And, as you’ll hear in this episode, she has the voice to do it. She's lived and worked in more countries than anyone we know, growing up as the daughter of an Indian diplomat who moved from Pondicherry, to southern Africa, Canada, Japan, the U.S. and many more places. A disrupter-at-heart, Aruna's writings and voice have had a reverberating impact on the way we understand how invisible and entrenched gender discrimination operates in our workplaces, our communities and in countries across the world. With resident Bitch Joanne Sandler and colleagues David Kelleher and Carol Miller, Aruna wrote Gender at Work: Theory and Practice for 21st Century Organizations, released just last year. And good news: Aruna and her colleagues at Gender at Work are starting their own podcast in the next couple of weeks, so check out www.genderatwork.com and join with Aruna and Gender at Work to put patriarchy on life support and then pull the plug!!
"Having been raised and trained as a historian...I already had the notion of generations and the responsibility of each generation to carry people forward in the time you’ve had. It wasn’t that hard for me to say that I’ve made my mark and to let go to the younger folks who now need to come and take over."
At 71, activist historian and organizer, Leah Wise, challenges us to think deeply about the responsibility of generations to carry young people forward as they step up and take over. Our conversation with Leah was rich in history and wisdom, her life reflecting the intersecting struggles and gains for racial, gender and economic justice in the Southeast of the United States and worldwide over the past 40 years. Leah offers us feisty commentary on the sexism that infused (and continues to) so many progressive movements, on the legacy of “polio personality”, and on her odyssey from civil rights activist to low-wage steel worker to leader of Southerners for Economic Justice and a network of similar groups across the Southeast. She offers heartfelt insights into the joys of paying attention to things that slipped by earlier: gardening, the feeling of the sun on your face, starting a sewing crafts business in your 70s, and the pleasures of grandchildren. And she leaves us with a resounding call: to join together to re-build the infrastructure of democracy.
"My husband, when I married him, was a very shy man. He always got third billing. He would always say, “Dodo, you have the talent of an amateur and the temperament of a star!”
Dodo Berk is 102 years old and a “star” to everyone who knows her. She is the vibrant matriarch of a large and loving family, the doyenne of the condominium where she lives on Lido Beach in Long Island and the unofficial Recreational Director at the Florida assisted living center where she spends the winter. In our conversation with her, Dodo broke out into song at the drop of a hat, told stories artfully, and shared raunchy jokes with the panache of a vaudeville comedian. She is the grandmother of a good friend, James Jacoby, and we’d heard about her escapades for years. Launching Two Old Bitches was a great excuse for us to travel to Lido Beach and spend the afternoon with Dodo and her daughter, Sandra. Dodo describes herself as strong, direct but “not bossy.“ We found her to be generous, loving, and downright incorrigible. A child of the Great Depression, she appreciated every change and every gift that her life brought her way and made the most of it. For Dodo, when you don’t get what you want, you have to remember, “There’s always a substitute menu.”