The Swedish Term That’s Inspiring Young Women
‘Tant’’ captures the bad-ass confidence and experience that comes with growing older
I recently referred to myself as middle-aged. My friends immediately shut that down: “You are not middle-aged after 60!”
Actually, the Miriam-Webster dictionary defines middle-age as “the period of life from about 45 to about 64,” so clearly I am middle-aged — at least for the next few months.
But I’m struggling with the names available to me as I leave midlife — senior citizen doesn’t quite capture me. Nor does being an elder (certainly not a wise elder) or a woman of a certain age. Anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite likes olders, but I’m not sure I love that. Others are calling people my age young-olds, but even young-old (emphasis on young) doesn’t sound all that compelling.
There should be a word to better capture what comes after midlife.
So I was delighted to stumble upon a study about the tant — a Swedish word derived from the French word for “aunt,” tante.
Although tant is a stereotype and can be used as a derogatory way to describe an older woman — hefty matronly, invisible, sexless and frumpish — and as a warning to not age that way, researcher Karin Lövgren notes, it can also refer to “someone who dares to speak her mind without a thought of pleasing others.”
And if that doesn’t capture exactly what this phase of life is about, I don’t know what does.
In her study of woman aged 45 to 65, Lövgren discovered:
“Self-esteem increases with age, according to the informants. One becomes more confident, more aware of one’s own opinions, and more secure in standing up for and expressing these — qualities that have traditionally been ascribed to the tant.”
And because of that, young Swedish women are celebrating the concept, admiring the idea of being a woman who speaks her truth without a thought of pleasing others, and to finally be free from the male gaze.
What one might call “the f*ck it years.”
An example of a tant is the award-winning 1985 photo Woman with the Handbag, taken in Växjö, Sweden, by photojournalist Hans Runesson of Danuta Danielsson as she smacked a marching Nazi-skinhead with her handbag (although just 38 at the time, she was hardly a tant).
There is no immediate English equivalent, Lövgren notes, but “biddy” comes close.
Just like many single women have recently begun to embrace the once-derogatory word used to describe them — spinster — perhaps it’s time for middle-aged women to reclaim “biddy” or “crone,” or find a better, more powerful word that captures the confidence and experience that comes with growing older. One that lets all women know that there’s much to look forward to at midlife and beyond. One that doesn’t “empower us” — we already have power; we just need to have it acknowledges and respected — but unleashes the tant inside all women.
Because she’s in there.
Hey, I’m working on a book on changing the narrative about middle-aged and older women. Interested? Follow me here, on Medium, and on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and let’s do this. Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your values and goals? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon. And we’re now on Audible.
For more by this author, try:
The Tragedy of Heterosexuality
Why do women put up with men who feel entitled to women’s emotional, sexual and domestic labor?