Recently, Forbes published a list that defies conventional beliefs. It is ’The 50 Over 50’, a list of women who have become successful and powerful after the age of 50, with some even in their nineties. This list is produced in partnership with Mika Brzezinski, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe and her Know Your Value Initiative. It is the second annual list of ’50 Over 50’.
Why is it important to publish such a list? Because one in two people in the world hold ageist views according to UN figures. Because the older a woman becomes, the more she is devalued. Yes, older people are generally considered to have less value than younger people in our society. But older women fare worse than their male peers.
This deprecation and depreciation of women as we age, is deeply entrenched in the English language. As editor of WomanGoingPlaces, I wrote an article entitled 999 Ways to Describe an Older Woman after I found out that Google offers 999 adjectives and nouns to describe an older woman. Nearly all are pejorative.
Older women imbibe this loss of worth and it becomes part of their self-image. That is precisely why WomanGoingPlaces has continued to publish and aggregate the stories of remarkable Australian women in order to challenge these negative stereotypes. This is the same motivation behind the publication of the ’50 Over 50’ list.
And it is the reason a list like ’50 Over 50’ can be transformative.
Not every woman can realise the extraordinary success and achievements of many of the women in these lists. But they can recognise that the debasement of older women is based on lies. They can also recognise that this prejudice is destructive to them individually, and they can reject it. Lists such as ’50 Over 50’ can be life affirming and age affirming to older women.
You can’t be it if you don’t see it
The slogan – “ You can’t be it if you can’t see it ” – is a powerful tool in promoting role models for young girls to emulate the success of adult women.
But older women also need role models. Not only in order to combat negative stereotypes. We need role models because never before in history have millions of women had to navigate unprecedented longevity. We are also the first generations of women with decades of experience in higher education, the professions and the workforce, but with few precedents of how to age – other than the stigma of being a burden on society.
We fully recognise that ageing brings the very real danger of poverty and homelessness for too many older women. That is precisely why WomanGoingPlaces became a social enterprise advocating for the economic security and social inclusion of women aged 50+.
But we also need to be aware that this is not the full spectrum of experiences for older women, and that along with the dangers, there are also the opportunities.
“For many of the women on the list, their success and innovative thinking is not in spite of their age, but instead, a direct result of it, ” says Deborah Kilpatrick, the 54-year-old co-CEO and executive chair of Evidation Health, a digital health company worth $1 billion.
We need to create new models of ageing.
They may also help to balance or reduce the prejudice of the rest of society.
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