Growing old is not all sweetness and light. Old women especially are invisible. ~ Ruth Rendell
I have said a number of times to daughter # 1 that the older women become the more invisible they are. The last time I said it I guess she was tired of hearing me whine so she said, “You’re always saying that, Mom. I don’t get it.”
I started noticing this odd phenomenon when I was in my forties. I often took my husband’s grandmother to the ophthalmologist after her cataract surgery. She was alert and intelligent and tuned in. She would sign her name on the sign-in sheet. Then the young woman who came over to check her in would look straight at me and ask questions about the patient. I was completely taken aback. I remember looking at her with a puzzled look on my face and telling her, “You need to ask her,” nodding toward Grandmother, “because I don’t know.” (I must insert here that this grandmother was never known by any of the traditional grandma titles. We called her Ole Shoe–another story for another time.) So…Ole Shoe would give me a smile and respond to all questions herself.
If I’m not mistaken, this scenario played out every time we went to that particular office. I guess my not-so-subtle message didn’t infiltrate the mind of my intended subject.
I don’t imagine the office staff person realized she was being disrespectful. She was a nice person as far as I could tell, and very efficient. Efficient is the word that struck me first thing this morning as I was reading my cyber friend Uta’s current post. Uta lives in Australia and she was writing about a very efficient agent who completely ignored her and spoke only with her husband Peter. I’m thinking Uta felt invisible. She would have appreciated some acknowledgment of her existence. She didn’t get it.
After reading Uta’s post I started to do a bit of online research about older women. I discovered an article Tira Harpaz wrote and guest-posted on Salon. (Go to salon.com and type in women over 50 are invisible in the red bar at the top of the page.) Harpaz suggests that women who are in positions of authority are able to delay the onset of invisibility. I think that’s true but it doesn’t include the majority of older women.
So what are we everyday older women to do? Do we have any control over how others perceive us?
I think we do. It may be limited, but we have some control. For me it means staying active. Having a firm step when I walk (unless the arthritis in my right ankle kicks in :)) It means speaking clearly and with authority. It means volunteering. It means asserting myself when necessary, without being strident. (Not being annoyed and strident is hard for me.) It means saying, “Excuse me, I believe I was next in line.” It means standing tall with a smile on my face and determination in my demeanor.
If this is an issue for you, I would like to hear how you stay visible and relevant.
Note: The image of the invisible woman above is from the Harpaz article.