It’s a fairly innocuous sentence, but it reveals a completely different perception of women.
“There is a tendency when you are a 50-year-old (ish) woman, when you are given a mess, to say ‘just give it to me, I’ll fix it up’, “ said Dr. Monique Ryan, Voices of Kooyong candidate. She was speaking about the growing number of 50-ish women becoming independent candidates for the upcoming federal election.
It is the first time we have seen women of this age, as a group, leading the charge to transform Australian politics. These women are putting themselves forward in order to exercise the levers of power. This is at odds with the usual perception of 50-ish women.
50-ish women know they are fully competent to fix messes. But the dissonance between how they see themselves and how society views them is glaring.
Their self-perception is of competence, experience and strength. But they are generally perceived as beings of diminishing relevance, power and competency. That is, if they are perceived at all. Men of the same age accrue the power and competence they have built over their lives and 50-ish men are regarded as being near or at their peak. In short, for men their life experience is like a bank account that accrues value. For women, it’s an account that runs down into debit.
When ageism kicks in
Most women over 50 will tell you that the older they become the more invisible they become. They are assigned to the most disparaged and overlooked sector of our society, despite many of them having successful careers, and a lifetime of professional and personal accomplishments.
50-ish is when ageism really kicks in for women. And I use the word ‘kicks’ advisedly. Because when it happens and keeps happening, it is like a kick in the gut.
Women find themselves subjected to ageism that is both rampant and socially acceptable in Australia. It was revealed that bias against old age is more deeply held than either sexism or racism, according to SBS’s What Does Australia Really Think About….
Nearly half of all Australians over 50 experienced ageism in the past year, but only one in five of them took any action in response, according to new research launched to mark the first Ageism Awareness Day on 1 October this year.
As with racism, ageist stereotypes corrode the self-esteem of the individual. Their impact on women is insidious.
As WomanGoingPlaces pointed out in an article, Google lists 999 words used to describe older women. Only a few are not derogatory.
Ageism has a direct impact on both the lives and livelihoods of older women. They lost the greatest number of jobs as a result of the Covid19 pandemic, and they have been forced to spend the longest period on Jobseeker. The poverty and homelessness they are now experiencing in ever greater numbers is the direct outcome of both the inequalities they have experienced as women throughout their lives and ageism once they hit their 50s.
Ageism as a form of elder abuse
New research shows that ageism is essentially a form of elder abuse. This is the conclusion that arises from a recent study – National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study– conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). The findings are so disturbing that the Federal Government has concealed the study since April 2021 and only released it just days before Christmas. It found that 1 in 6 older Australians had experienced abuse. The most common form of elder abuse was psychological abuse, which covered being insulted, excluded, repeatedly ignored, undermined, and belittled.
All the above information about age discrimination, does not include the experiences of older Australians in aged care. That, as we know from the Royal Commission into Aged Care, is even worse.
As long as older women are viewed with prejudice, have limited public prominence and public consideration, the issues that affect them and their self-worth will continue to be diminished.
The expression – ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ applies not only to little girls needing role models. It is also necessary for women entering different stages of life and going through the process of ageing. The old stereotypes of ageing are crippling. Women need to see a range of female role models and possibilities.
So the growing presence of 50-ish women in the political arena is a significant and welcome change.
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