The invisible older woman category is yet another gender gap
The invisible older woman reflects society’s disregard for women beyond their looks and baby making potential
Much has been written about the invisibility of women as they age. Some artists and even major commercials have featured older women with all their so-called “imperfections” to try and redress the balance. Many older actresses tell us they stop getting parts when they cease to be box office sex kittens. Even the WHO said in its 2007 report on women and aging: “The media and prevailing attitudes often portray men as ageing with wisdom, while women become ‘invisible’ in middle-age and are viewed as a burden in older age. This disadvantage is, in part, due to a tendency to equate women’s worth with beauty, youth, and reproduction.”
Gendered ageism is the new and largest type of sexism. Perhaps it’s not so new – it’s now only it’s being given a label.
Focus on fertility and appearance
French author and television presenter Yann Moix was criticized when he spoke with the French edition of Marie Claire. Moix said he found women his own age “too old.” He even said he would be incapable of loving a woman over 50, despite being 50 himself. The author also said women his age or over were “invisible to him.”
“I prefer the body of young women, that’s all. End of story. I don’t want to lie. The body of a 25-year-old is extraordinary. The body of a 50-year-old is not extraordinary at all.”
Talking to 3Plus subscribers about how they felt, it was clear that many associated invisibility with their physical appearance. Mariette told us that she felt the onset of becoming the invisible older woman when she was 40. “It was as if at some primal psychological level, men realised that my childbearing days were coming to an end, so they needed to spend more time with potential mothers instead. I should add that I am happily married and was only talking about conversation. Younger women also stopped seeing me as a potential competitor, but that didn’t increase their engagement.”
However, it’s not just the loss of their looks that is an issue. The WHO says that women “continue to face inequities related to health, security and participation.” They conclude that this is due to the societal perception that they become the burdensome or forgotten about, the invisible older woman in our headline.
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Rise in divorce rate
Another modern trend is the rise in the divorce rate of older women. They assess their lives and realize they are looking for something more. Women are living longer, are more financially independent, and don’t feel the need to stay in relationships which are unfulfilling. On top of that, many are not even looking to replace their partners. It seems that there is a marriage gender gap. In a report called Older Americans 2016, older men are far more likely to be married than older women. 75% of men aged 65 to 74 are married, compared with 58% of women in that age group. Women tend to live longer and marry men older than themselves, so they’re more likely to be widowed. But they are also opting to stay single.
Barbara told us “I divorced when I was in my mid-40s and I found that men of my own age weren’t interested in women the same age. If I wanted to date anyone I had to look at men 10 years older than that. It just wasn’t appealing to me and I kept thinking about what it could be like when I was 70. Staying single seemed a far more attractive proposition.”
Marianne added “my last partner married a woman younger than my daughter. He now has 3 kids under the age of 7. It was hard enough when you were in your 30s. To have kids that young in your 50s and 60s that are your own, not your grandchildren …..???? Good luck with that!”
The invisible older woman can begin at any age
Women can go through “an invisible time” in their lives and it can be any age. Phoebe confessed. “I used to think it was about being thin and beautiful, but I saw some larger really not very attractive women at the centre of attention. That’s when I realised it was about me; my confidence and changing my habits, but more importantly outlook.”
A big tell is being “involved in the now.” No matter what age, it is essential to be in touch with the zeitgeist and to keep a finger on the cultural pulse. This might mean letting go of old ways and learning some new tricks. Embarking on a path from feeling invisible involves some self-insight and making some changes.
It might be a good idea to ask yourself some questions with regard to the diversity of your friends:
- How diverse is your friendship group?
- Do you have a range of friends and network contacts of different ages and interests?
- Are they all women?
- How can you expand your circle – volunteering, taking a class, or learning a new skill. It’s important to be a continuous learner.
Female friendships are key and can be pivotal for happiness in older women, despite being the focus of sitcoms such as The Golden Girls, YaYa Sisterhood and Steel Magnolias. Research suggests that women are better at sustaining relationships than men, which helps them overcome isolation and loneliness
We also are seeing the phenomenon of the “silver start-up.” Although older women have traditionally lagged behind older men in launching their own businesses, there are signs that increasing numbers of women are becoming mature entrepreneurs, and deciding, for a number of reasons, to try.
Women released from childcare responsibilities frees up a huge amount of time to focus on what’s important to them. Many have juggled full-time employment with parenting, caring roles and running a household and they feel fully qualified and able to take on new challenges. Inadequate or non-existent pension provision are also drivers, prompting older women to undertake an entrepreneurial activity, to boost their income.” Reluctant or not, what female “olderpreneurs” have in common is their wealth of experience, both professional and otherwise.
Beatrice a retired teacher now combines running a thriving Air BNB business with coaching high school students. “I play tennis every day, do yoga, go to a book club, travel, work and see my grand kids.”
Her parting message “I don’t have time to feel invisible. I am visible to the people who I want to see me.”
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