I am quite vocal in life. Being assertive is an important trait to me. But I cannot singlehandedly fight the very subtle airbrushing of the older woman in society. As I age I notice that the spaces where I was once listened to and enthusiastically sought out are gradually receding.

No, this isn’t my imagination. Turning this well evidenced bias into a single experience diminishes the experience of ageism. Society’s tendency to blame the individual for its failings is downright maddening. We live in a world where systemic bias embeds itself in the way people think about older women.

Messages about older women are fed to us via advertising and marketing around the themes of incontinence and illness. I long for a time when an older woman with grey hair advertises a popular perfume on TV.

The term “ageism” refers to two concepts: a socially constructed way of thinking about older persons based on negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging and a tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the real needs of older persons.

Ageism and age discrimination (fact sheet) | Ontario Human Rights Commission (ohrc.on.ca)

Ageism isn’t selective and the uber rich and famous aren’t exempted either. Madonna is the most recent high profile older woman to have publicly called out ageism. She spoke about the intense focus on her looks instead of the substance of what she said at an awards ceremony. I remember the time when Madonna first burst onto the music scene and was endlessly praised for her looks as well as her music. She captured the 1980s zeitgeist.

Fast forward the decades and Madonna has put her finger on the pulse again but, in this case, it is the essence of ageism – older women are judged on their looks and dress sense. Suddenly your achievements, essence and wisdom is washed away because you look older and, subsequently, have transgressed society’s obsession with youth.

I referred earlier in my post about the ‘spaces’ I inhabit. Below are examples of where ageism is experienced and how it plays out.

Some examples of ageism in the workplace include:

  • refusing to hire people over or under a certain age
  • asking for someone’s age at a job interview when it is not relevant to the work
  • enacting policies that unfairly privilege one age group over another
  • viewing older people as out of touch, less productive, or stuck in their ways
  • viewing younger people as unskilled, irresponsible, or untrustworthy
  • bullying or harassment

Some examples that appear in personal relationships include:

  • treating family members as though they are invisible, unintelligent, or expendable based on their age
  • making ageist jokes that imply someone is less valuable or less worthy of respect, based on their age

Everyone over the age of 50 has a story to tell and if they don’t they are either damn lucky or plain thick skinned.

I am calling for the the theme for International Women’s Day 2023, ’embracing equity’, to be a lived everyday experience which includes the older woman.

While older women continue to meaningfully contribute to their political, civil, economic, social and cultural lives; their contributions and experiences remain largely invisible and disregarded, limited by gendered disadvantages accumulated throughout the life course. The intersection between discrimination based on age and gender compounds new and existing inequalities, including negative stereotypes that combine ageism and sexism.

International Day of Older Persons | United Nations