To Be Neither Seen Nor Heard: How Society Views Women Over 50
I first noticed it around my 50th birthday. I was in a local coffee shop and the barista behind the counter seemingly looked through me as they offered to help the person behind me in line. I felt invisible. And I felt angry.
During the past nine years, this has happened to me more and more. As a woman in her late fifties, I am often seen as unnecessary or redundant. Society wishes to put me out to pasture and forget all about me.
The older I get, the less I care about how society views me. And, here's why!
It Isn't Just "In My Head"
In a article published by Forbes, the author discusses how, as men age, they are viewed as more valuable and competent in the workplace. What must that be like?! In contract, we feel like we lose our credibly with ever passing year.
"In a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the authors suggest two possible reasons why older female job seekers face more age discrimination than males: Age discrimination laws do less to protect older women who may suffer from both age and sex discrimination and, based on earlier research, they say ‘physical appearance matters more for women’ since ‘age detracts more from physical appearance for women than for men.’"
It isn't just you and I that feel dejected. It is women across the world who are being made to feel 'less than' and we're all awfully tired of it. While it doesn't make the fact of the matter less infuriating, it does give me solace knowing I am not alone in my experience.
I Know The Truth
Initially, being overlooked can be quite shocking and it is important to process those feelings. After years of giving back to my husband, our children, my career, the community and those around me, to feel like I was no longer needed was insulting. After everything I have done, what do you mean you don't want me anymore?! That stings and it is important to acknowledge those feelings so that we can work through them.
Once I had a chance to digest the sudden shift in how I was viewed, I was able to move past it because I know the truth! In my 59 years, I have given back extensively to the world around me and absolutely nothing has changed as I approach my 60th birthday. I know that I am still an important member of my family, my community and society. While not everyone may see my worth, I don't care; I know it!
I Tap Into My Needs
When I sometimes feel ignored by a restaurant server or our financial advisor speaks only to my husband, I think about what I need out of the interaction. Sometimes, brushing off the moment is what is called for. It doesn't matter what someone else thinks of me and I do not need to spend anymore time thinking about it.
And, sometimes, I speak up. I need to remind someone that I am involved or that my opinion should indeed be important to them. It truly depends on the situation and what, in my heart of hearts, I know that I need in that moment.
Regardless of the situation, I stand tall and claim the spot in society that has always been mine.
I Know I Can't Win (And Don't Want To)
If I played along with the silly game society pressures women to play, I'd have lost all of my hair by now. As quickly as fashion trends come and go, body trends are just as fleeting. From the curvacious body of Marilyn Monroe, to the slender super models, to the hourglass figure and everything in between, women are often expected to change their body in accordance to the whims of the media. Women are told not to let themselves go, but when we wear clothes that are considered trendy, we are told to dress our age. We are told to age gracefully, but then reminded we should not have any visible wrinkles.
The game never ends and it is not one I have ever had interest in playing. I wear what I like when I like, I embrace the healthy body I have in whatever shape it is, and I feel confident knowing I am being true to myself. No one can win the game that society tries to force on women and so I simply do not play.
I Focus On What I Can Control
I do not have control over how someone views me. If someone judges or ignores me because of my age, that says a lot more about them than it does about me! Since I can neither control other's opinions or the every changing desires of society, I focus on the things I CAN control.
- I can control my reaction to a situation.
- I can control how I present myself to the world.
- I can choose what clothes I want to wear, how I style my hair and how I do my makeup (or if I choose to wear any).
- I can choose the circles I spend time in and focus on the places where I feel valued.
- I can be vocal about my thoughts, dreams and desires, regardless of what anyone thinks about them.
- I can help other women feel empowered and not diminished by their age.
We Are Stronger Together
At the end of the day, I do not need the hostess at a restaurant or our financial advisor to acknowledge me to know my worth. But, we do need to work together to end ageism, sexism, and the stigma women face when we cross over the 50 year mark.
We do this by standing in our power, taking up space in society, and living life to the fullest. When you walk confidently in the world, you never know who you are inspiring to do the same. Little by little, we will change the way the world sees us. Until then, we will continue to speak up and be seen.