READING Erik H. Erikson's (1950), one was terrified. The eight stages of development Erikson outlined were intimidating if one was still dealing with Stage 3 (Initiative) when one was supposed to be in the tall cotton of Stage 8 (Integrity). Erikson's daughter, Sue Erikson Bloland, the author of this month's cover story, "Fame," objects to the implication in her father's scheme that the stages happen in a kind of lockstep sequence, and that a person finishes with one before moving on to the next. How, she asks, can one talk about Intimacy (Stage 6), Autonomy (Stage 2), and Identity (Stage 5) as issues to be worked on independent of one another?
Bloland received a degree in philosophy from Oberlin College and went on to study anthropology and sociology at the University of California at Berkeley and the New School for Social Research, in New York City. "Despite marriage and motherhood, I still felt like an adolescent in my thirties," she says. She had a latent ambition to be a psychotherapist, but "my father took up so much space in the profession that it seemed there was no room for me." Only when his powers were clearly waning did she become a therapist. She says that the long struggle to come to terms with her father's celebrity which she describes in "Fame" has made her a better therapist today. Bloland maintains a private practice and also writes, lectures, and conducts workshops. She is currently at work on a book about fame.
Her primary interests include the impact on women in midlife of negative cultural attitudes toward aging. "Women go through a deep process of mourning about losing their looks," she says. Youth, profitably in this culture, is the medium of beauty. In many ways women age better than men, and they do not lose their sexuality, as the cultural myth suggests; yet past fifty they become "invisible," whereas grandfathers can take up with women half their age with cultural impunity. Bloland encourages women to embrace the freedom from feminine stereotypes that is the real gift of middle age. And she notices a welcome trend: actresses like Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Susan Sarandon, and Rene Russo, who still get good parts, are making midlife more visible, suggesting that the culture is not beyond change.
Photograph by Robert Downey.
The Atlantic Monthly; November 1999; 77 North Washington Street - 99.11; Volume 284, No. 5; page 4.