Don’t blame it on the numbers. According to state Census Bureau numbers, more than half a million women between 45-54 call Connecticut their home. Another 177,000 are 55 and older. They outnumber men slightly.
Yet increasingly, ageism is hitting home for vibrant, talented women of a certain age who, arguably, feel the sting more acutely in their personal, social and professional lives.
In a 2019 article in The Atlantic , “The Invisibility of Older Women”, author Akiko Busch writes, “The invisible woman might be the actor no longer offered roles after her 40th birthday, or the 50-year-old woman who can’t land a job interview.”
An informal study by supplement company A. Vogel reported that most women “begin to feel invisible by the time they are 51.” The Busch and Vogel findings touched on a growing frustration among mature women.
State residents 45 and older are climbing in number. The average life expectancy for CT females is just under 83 (78 for males) – the fifth-highest life expectancy in the country (CDC 2018 National Vital Statistics Report.) But are they seen or heard by their communities?
Many women anecdotally pinpoint this time in their lives when they are nudged to the sidelines — subtly or not so subtly. Many are resisting the push, and they reward those who still “see” them.
Can You See Me?
Take the success of TikTok phenom Will White (@whiteyy18 on the app), a 21-year-old Canadian model and landscaper, who has drawn the attention of women over 40 in droves. His video clips, featuring 1980s soundtracks (Stevie Nicks, Kim Carnes, Barry Manilow and others) have gone viral; he speaks to throngs of mature women thrilled that this young man highlights their music. He’s become a national sensation.
Music and culture are only part of the story. While not unique in Connecticut, women also say they feel the sting in the workplace.
According to a 2014 Urban Institute survey, 55 percent of workers in their 50s reported being “forced or at least partly forced to retire,” up from 33 percent just 16 years earlier.
Those national numbers don’t sit well with Nora Duncan, State Director at AARP-CT. Many older CT workers haven’t had a job interview in more than five years, she said. She believes state women across multicultural groups – including Latinos and Blacks – feel the pressure more acutely than men. “Women, in particular, see age discrimination as very prevalent,” she said.
“Age discrimination is real. It has a terrible economic impact for people, and affects long term health and well-being.”
AARP-CT fought for a new state law that makes it illegal for employers to ask age related questions on job applications or in job interviews. SB56, An Act Concerning Age Discrimination, goes into effect October 1 of this year. “This was the culmination of years of work,” she said. “Age discrimination is real. It has a terrible economic impact for people, and affects long term health and well-being. So we pass laws and we fight in court.”
“I hear from women who say ‘I feel like I’m done because I’m 60,’ “said Freedenberg. “And I’ve actually heard from employers who say, ‘I want someone young,’ “
She added, “It’s often women with the higher-level skills… those women who opt out to raise their kids… who come back and end up on a job board system that keeps them out. It’s a shame. There’s more work to be done. These women still have a long path ahead.”
We See It. Can We Change It?
How does society expect midlife women to spend their next three, four or even five decades? While there is no simple answer to that question, one thing is certain. The invisibility factor is real, and it needs to change.
Even our national celebrities acknowledge it. Many use the term “expiration” to describe what they see. Says actor Salma Hayek , 54. “There’s no expiration date for women. That has to go. Because you can kick ass at any age. You can hold your own at any age.”
And America’s sweetheart, Jennifer Aniston, 52, says, “Society has put these expiration dates on us, so we need to change that. It’s like… you’re this age, so now is the time you go off to pasture because you’re of no use to us anymore, to society. She added, “Society needs some catching up to do – the language, the messaging. It’s like we’re a carton of milk with an expiration date.”
In the Words of Jeannie
Remember that the challenge doesn’t begin and end with the 45-54 age group. Take I Dream of Jeannie Actress Barbara Eden, who just turned 90.
When asked what else she wants to accomplish, Eden replied, “Bring it on.”
Frances J. Trelease is a professional journalist, content marketer and career coach, with more than 20 years’ experience using her M.B.A. and reporting skills to launch Trelease Communications (http://treleasecommunications.net; firstname.lastname@example.org), helping organizations craft customized messages to meet their goals.