Disrespect for Older Women is Pervasive

We are a society obsessed with youth and beauty. It’s insane. Kids as young as five think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size. By age seven, one in four kids has been on some kind of a diet. I read about a 19-year-old woman who changes her outfits eight times before leaving the house. Many women wear make-up to go to the gym. A woman can’t flip through a magazine without comparing herself negatively to images of youth and beauty.

Just look to the latest “Star Wars” film. Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia have made a comeback, but the actors have aged. Carrie Fisher is the focus of criticism as having aged badly. At 59 she is an older woman in Hollywood. She retorted “Please stop debating about whether or not I’ve aged well. Men don’t age better than women, they’re just allowed to age. Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary, happy bi-products of time and/ or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.” Well said, Carrie.

Women are accustomed to being judged by their appearance. But post menopausal women face stigmatisms for aging as well as sexism. They are stereotyped on the basis of how attractive they are. A google search of a menopause will turn up advertisements for skin care, hair care, hormone replacements, antidepressants, and beauty tips to keep you looking young. Enough! Menopause changes the way you look and is a condition that is largely beyond your control.

Experts say the keys to successful aging include accepting changes and finding meaningful activities. Getting older is rife with emotional land mines, including loss of independence and illness, but attitude and activity are key to aging well.

“For some reason, our society is very obsessed with pointing out negative aspects of aging” says Susan Whitbourne, PhD, “but don’t get bogged down in all the hype about aging. The clock is going to tick away.” Age brings hard-fought wisdom and resilience and should be valued as such. Age is just a number, but a 30-year-old just can’t have the perspective of an 80-year-old.

Even though women make up the majority of the older population, they have often been ignored. They are stereotyped as inactive, unhealthy, ineffective and asexual. In fact, sexual interest and ability do not decrease with age, but the availability of partners does. Older women are seen as lonely, frustrated and shriveled. These stereotypes are not supported by empirical research.

Interestingly, women’s self image improves with age as compared to men according to a 1967 study by Clark & Anderson. This is attributed to more social contacts among women than men. Women’s self image improves as they become more assertive, less fearful, and less dependent.

Actor W. Kamau Bell was quoted as saying “As soon as a woman gets to the age where she has opinions and she’s vital and she’s strong, she’s systematically shamed into hiding under a rock.” Disrespect for old women is pervasive and often goes unnoticed.

So what can we do? We can support organizations such as OWL, National Older Women’s League (OWL). They were founded to addressed three main concerns: ensuring adequate income, health concerns of older women, and quality of life and the impact of aging. We can also challenge discrimination as it occurs in our daily lives. Women over forty comprise over one-quarter of the US population. We are a strong voting block. Let’s speak out ladies.

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