Fighting invisibility Most Liked Hot Conversation

Earlier this month BBC Director General Mark Thompson responded to accusations that the British government owned broadcaster was treating older women unfairly. The accusations centered around issues such as representation of older women as presenters and program hosts and the nature in which older women were represented in general in the BBC programming.

There had been some incidents over the past few years where older woman were removed from their positions and replaced with younger women. One incident involving on air host, Miriam O’Reilly generated particular attention and in the end an employment tribunal judged against the BBC in the case of Ms O’Reilly’s dismissal.

Mr. Thompson wisely councils against knee jerk reactions which would remove competent younger BBC employees and replace them with politically correct appointees. Is that what we want? I think not. The BBC like any good government owned organization, commissioned a report on the issue. This quote from Mr. Thompson in reference to that report speaks to the meat of the whole issue, “But a significant minority of respondents — and not just older women themselves — did tell us that they felt that older women were ‘invisible’ on the airwaves. That perception, and the reality behind it, is what we have to change.”

What does being invisible on the airwaves really mean and what would it take for older women to feel visible in the media? Is it up to the media to make changes or is it up to the women themselves? I have heard this word used as women over fifty describe the way they feel in the world. In order to address this issue, which I do believe is real, we will need to dissect and understand the true nature of this invisibility.

Let me take a shot at defining invisibility for women over fifty: failure to be seen for all that a woman fifty plus is at this stage of her life.

It is not like “they” do not see us at all just “they” fail to see us as anything other than a homogeneous, monochromatic group known as the aged and thought of as less interesting.

This is a big mistake. Being female and fifty is a different ballgame than it was just one generation ago and for the most part the media has failed to acknowledge this at the most subtle level. The options available to women fifty plus are endless and impact our working, personal, spiritual and physical lives. We are no longer fitting onto the old track or into the old track suit for that matter…retire and give up the three P’s-Power, Prestige and Passion.
We are as multi dimensional as we were when we were thirty five, maybe even more so. Some of us work for income into our ninth decade, others establish charities in foreign countries, others go back to school and start again, some write books or make films, some become nanny grannies and revel in the years they did not have so simply with their own children. Many women just finally hit their stride as they enter their fifties, think Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, and Margaret Thatcher.

Women 50 + have embraced the stage of human development that begins at fifty and is characterized by expansion and freedom in our thinking and our actions. When we are small children we enjoyed an open space of exploration and limitless boundaries then as we matured we were shaped into the responsibilities and roles of adulthood. We willingly gave up many freedoms and dreams and pressed toward midlife, focusing tightly on the prizes of acquisition and the rewards of achievement. Post fifty we begin to enter a space again which moves towards freedom. As one of my mentors put it “life is a journey to and from freedom”.

We move ahead into this unfamiliar territory with the renewed confidence and the strength which comes from a life lived and explored. We hold dear a corresponding sense of self which makes many of us a far braver and far bolder version of our former selves.

The media for the most part just have not caught onto what is happening yet. They have failed to capture the zest and vitality and the sense of freedom that we are experiencing and they continue to see us, paint us up and write us in, as old which means bland, one dimensional and bereft of options. Decisions to replace older female personalities or executives with younger employees are driven by the mistaken belief that the younger audience requires this and that ratings will benefit from it. Someone is missing the point. A woman in her late thirties worried about her upcoming fortieth birthday can see her future open wide and rich before her when she realizes that at sixty she can still be a dynamic on screen presence.

In all fairness to the media I do think that we need to be comfortable with what we are at this age at the same time as we ask the media to represent us more accurately. I don’t need to see every face fifty plus botoxed and ironed smooth to see beauty fifty plus. I don’t need to see a perfect figure to see sexy and I do need to acknowledge that the seasoned years like all years are a mixed bag. Meryl Streep needs glasses now to read her acceptance speech. Does this detract from her outstanding theatrical performance? No, it is just one of the slightly more obvious issues of being an actress over fifty. Why was giggling nervousness on the podium at twenty five more acceptable than reading glasses at sixty four?

I don’t need my news anchor to be my age or my gender to value the news more but I do admit that it irritates me that the general public still accepts the credibility of the older male anchor more readily than the older female and is more willing to listen to the older male, apparently a father image issue.

But my guess is that this will slowly change as the next generations see strong successful female role models in their homes and come to expect them on the news too.

The bottom line is ladies; we still have some work to do. The boomer generation and the generations before us had some tough firsts to achieve. We had to carve out some new paths in which our daughters and granddaughters could follow. I was one of only two women in my 1971 university economics class, my professor did not want me there and he made it tough. I never worked so hard for any grade because I was determined to claim my right to that credit.

As the early feminists called us to stop the inequities, to stand bravely and to speak out for what we knew was right I call on us all to do the same thing now on the topic of aging. Make yourself visible through your actions.

• State your age proudly
• Act what you know today
• Show what you can do today
• Introduce those who have not seen 50 yet to the vibrant world of opportunity which awaits them on this side of the hill.

We must be the change we want to see happen…sound familiar sisters?
Link to the article on the BBC

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Posted in Fifty and Fabulous.

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11 Responses

  1. Hawk Lady Hawk Lady says

    I seem to be finding quite a few posts that speak to things I have been thinking about today Jaki. I think you are right in stressing that we as women have to address these types of issues but I would go one step further. I think that we are part of the problem. I am as guilty as anyone.

    We are as critical, if not more so, of a woman when she doesn’t maintain her appearance to an arbitrary standard of youthfulness and élan. Many of our contemporaries embody that criticism in their effort to combat it. Think Jane Fonda or Suzanne Sommers. We are over half the population but if we truly want to make a change we will need to expend as much energy in commending women for their intelligence, experience,wisdom and talent as we do in criticizing her weight, her clothing, her makeup and hair. In doing so perhaps we, individually, will have less fear of aging.

    5 like

    • Jaki -- fiftyfab.com Jaki -- fiftyfab.com says

      Thank you for your comments and I agree completly.
      I think we need to be clear about what is visable, our intelligence, our hearts and our wisdom sometimes does not get top billing even from ourselves. I don’t care if other people get plastic surgery or Botox or whatever but I do care if older women , by that action or any other, perpetuate the social norm that female value is solely in our form. Enough with that! We have been fighting that one too long and we have just too many fine role models who prove we are so much more

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  2. Vicky1956 Vicky1956 says

    I can understand the “invisiblity” factor. I resisted it at first. Then I realized that by being invisible I am in a position of power. I float on the perimeter while the younger women are vying for position and posturing for center stage. Just when there is a lull in the action, I step in with the words of wisdom, the power of KNOWING, and the wisdom borne of experience and chutzpah…and I calmly, authoritatively, eloquently…state my position.

    Suddenly…magically :-) …I am not invisible. I am a wealth of resource and support which I freely give. I have nothing to prove; I am successful and good and kind, and I want to nurture the young women. I am clearly visible to myself. And I don’t need to compete. I am confident, happy, and a doggone good role model.

    And…I’m 55! Woohoo!

    Great post!

    8 like

    • Jaki -- fiftyfab.com Jaki -- fiftyfab.com says

      You have mastered the obstacle Vicky!
      Congratulations. Your actions prove the point of why we should not need to feel invIsible. But I think you make the most pertinent point- you do not feel invisible to yourself. When we are secure in our own value the world cannot hurt us for we have the greatest gift,comfort in our own skin.

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    • Luc's Mi'Mi' Luc's Mi'Mi' says

      Amen!  I’m right there with you, girlfriend!  I love being 63 and being sought after as a mentor, confidant, coach and cheerleader by younger women.  I was blessed to have two women in my life who shared these same attributes with me–my Mom and her Mom.  Both of these women were among those amazing and valiant trailblazing women who lived life to the fullest in the first half of the 20th century.

      By the way, I was one of the first women to land a prized position in a male-dominated profession and received same the consideration as my male peers in promotions and salary, dollar-for-dollar throughout my entire 30-year career.      

      Vicky, to coin your words, ” I am a wealth of resource and support which I freely give. I have nothing to prove; I am successful and good and kind, and I want to nurture the young women. I am clearly visible to myself. And I don’t need to compete. I am confident, happy, and a doggone good role model.”

      2 like

  3. Generic Image Anonymous says

    Strangely Jaki a few months ago I realised that I was trying to be something I am not. A blonde, I decided that at 65 I am more than entitled to be a Silver Fox. I must admit that for a while I looked more like a Racoon as the colours grew out but am at last sporting a silver pixie cut which will be allowed to grow a little, or so I thought. Hubby as it turns out just loves it the way it is.and so do I. No more elaborate hair dressing, just a very good cut and wash and go.
    I discovered though, that the whole excercise has been a lot more than about hair colour, I have felt more energised as I am now becoming who I want to be and not who I thought I should be. I have taken to walking. Hubby bought me new trainers and is enjoying the new energetic me. I have lost weight, not out of any wish to be thought younger or sexier but as a natural progression from wishing to do more and be more. I feel sexier than I have for many years and I notice that I get more smiles and better service than I ever did before
    At last I am my own woman and although I have noted my husbands good response to the changes it is, in fact, all for me now and I like it, I like it a lot.
    So yes I agree that we must be visible to ourselves first. We must first divine who we are and the rest of the World will see it too.

    3 like

    • Jaki -- fiftyfab.com Jaki -- fiftyfab.com says

      Welcome to the silver fox club.I have been all silver/white for 10 years and I love it.
      I think my understanding of the true depth of beauty grows with each birthday and I am very grateful for that.

      0 like

  4. Maryl Maryl says

    Reading your post, Jaki, I felt like I could have been reading my blog’s manifesto and mission.  My partner and I founded SecondLivesClub.com for GenX and Boomer women like ourselves who have already achieved great things in life and now want to go on to do something more unique and by our own design. 

    And about how the media treats women in general, there’s a wonderful documentary titled “Miss Representation” which I missed on TV but am scheduled to see the end of this month.  If you all get a chance, see it.  It apparently hits on some of the points Jaki makes.  Thanks. 

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  5. Jaki -- fiftyfab.com Jaki -- fiftyfab.com says

    Thank you I will check out this show.
    I think that as we take on our second acts we need to advertise our age.It is by saying I am 61 and working on a new book or starting a new business that we show the value in the age.
    A few years ago I wrote to More Magazine and took them to task for dropping there previous habit of stating the age of their models and other women featured in the magazine.
    I asked them to consider how inspiring it is to read about a woman doing something bold and amazing, like starting a school for girls  in Afghanistan and then finding out she is 65! Doen’t that give us all permission to keep following our dreams and to be what we want to be at any 
    More sent me a polite response but other than on a few feature articles they have not  reinstated the practice

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  6. Vonnie Kennedy Vonnie Kennedy says

    I love this post, Jaki. And as long as we feel good about ourselves, we’re doing great. The media, on the other hand, has a long way to go. Just last night I glanced up at a tv commercial showing a middle-aged, slightly over-weight woman looking at herself in a mirror. I thought, hey what’s this – an average boomer woman – wow! I unmuted it only to find in was an ad for cholesterol medicine. grrr.

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    • Jaki -- fiftyfab.com Jaki -- fiftyfab.com says

      Frustrating isn’t it? But my question to you is what disturbed you about this ad?
      It is true that cholestrol issues increase with age and I assume there is some science behind suggesting that overweight people have more cholestrol issues, though certainly thin folks are not excempt.
      What disturbs me is the lack of balance in the ads. It seems that we , women over fifty, are still being marketed too more for our problems than our joys.
      Has it always been that way and now we are just more focused ourselves on the problems so we notice the imbalance or is this a boomer marketing strategy that has not caught up with the reality of opportunity in this stage of our lives?

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