Got your coffee? Here’s the “news” from Salon.com:
WOMEN OVER 50 ARE INVISIBLE
Rampant ageism and sexism have left women of a certain age virtually powerless in American society
Virtually powerless? Holy crap. I had no idea we were in this much trouble.
But first, great news!
I tweeted about the above article, and Jane Friedman responded. We’d met briefly before, when she was at Writer’s Digest Magazine. Jane is now a top editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, and a renowned publishing and media expert.
Turns out, she was bugged by this, too. We agreed to do a tandem blog – she would address the under-fifty perspective, and I – since today is my 59th birthday – the over-fifty. I know you’ll find her POV extremely interesting. Mine will probably be better, because I’m older, but as soon as the whippersnapper gets a few more wrinkles, she’ll be all right.
Okay, back to the article. The author, Tira Harpaz, is an accomplished woman. Yet, she feels invisible, and thinks we are, too. Her comments below describe the pain she’s feeling.
- “It hits you in areas where you feel most vulnerable–a loss of attractiveness and sex appeal, the end of fertility, a glimpse of a slow, lingering decline.”
- “People I met at parties would look slightly disappointed and then look past me, and gradually, I began to shrink inside.”
- “As I eased into the row, the 30-something man sitting in the window seat glanced up at me. It was a brief glance, but it conveyed disappointment and complete disinterest.”
- “When the radiologist no longer asks if there’s any chance you’re pregnant. When the cashier at the movie theater, glancing indifferently at your gray roots, suggests you might want the senior discount, years before you might qualify. When people in the subway don’t really look at you as they politely offer you a seat.”
As much as I disagree with Harpaz, she’s not alone. You’ve heard it yourself. Maybe even felt it. However, today, I’m going to suggest an alternate explanation, one that might set you free. Sort of.
I think invisibility isn’t about age. It’s about gender. It’s about being female.
Let me make my argument. From the time we’re old enough to raise our hands in a classroom, we’re ignored in favor of the boys (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998). While boys often speak out of turn and assert themselves, little girls sit back, waiting for the teacher to call on them.
Per Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, school children were asked to perform a small task and then pay themselves what they thought they deserved. (First graders were asked to award themselves Hershey’s Kisses.) In first, fourth, seventh and tenth grades, girls consistently paid themselves 30% – 78% less than boys.
In her new book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg laments how young, professional women discount themselves, from second-guessing their readiness for promotion to declining an offer to sit at the table with the decision-makers.
And then that goes away.
Whether it’s gender or age, women can change the culture, and they can start today. For more on this, read the excellent In the Company of Women – Indirect Aggression Among Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop, by Drs. Pat Heim and Susan Murphy. They cite research showing that women hang back, out of fear that other women will punish them if they act like they’re special. The authors call this the Power Dead-Even Rule, and it’s pretty chilling. You can read a summary of the most important points here.
We older women should model powerful behavior for our girls, and encourage them as if their futures depended on it. If I were counseling younger women, I’d say stop waiting for an invitation. Grab the reins and demonstrate your presence. Older women: You were raised to be nice, and to put others first. Are you still waiting for permission to live? Stop right now. Take off your shoes and walk on the lawn.
Finally, all of us need to support, rather than snipe at, powerful, amazing, barrier-busting women.
Sexism exists. So does ageism. (For proof, reread Ms. Harpaz’ statements, above). But if you feel as I do, you might agree that invisibility is a choice. And as for me? I choose to resist.
What do you think? Is this invisibility real, and if so, do you think it’s because of gender or age? Let me hear from you.
PS: Blogging with Jane is the best birthday present ever! Be sure to check out her post here.