Our mothers raise us. They create “home.” We love them and they love us. Yet, these sacrificing and serving beings, once they start to age, get discarded culturally. Not in Europe. Not in Vietnam. Not in India. But right here in the good ole USA.
Discrimination against aging women has now been well proven and discussed in multiple academic studies and legal reviews. It’s a reality spanning multiple life genres: in romance, in the workplace, and even in geriatric medicine by some gerontologists (too many of whom use the term “granny-bashing” but not “grandpa-bashing”).
Female ageism is pervasive. Nobody wants to be an old lady. Instead of honoring and looking up to the person that helped raise the next generation and stand by their sides no matter what, older women are socially seen as embodying everything that nobody wants to be: invisible, unattractive undesirable, ineffectual, and old.
Old men aren’t seen this way. Goldie Hawn proclaimed in the comedy movie First Wives Club (Sept. 20, 1996), “Sean Connery can be 300 years old and still be a hunk!”
- If there is discrimination against African-Americans on the job, they can take legal action.
- If there is sexual harassment against young women or gays, they can take legal action.
- But it is well proven that older women don’t have the same legal foot to stand on.
Old age discrimination in the workplace is extremely difficult to litigate.
Older ladies don’t have the law watching their bending backs.
All this is happening in contrast to the fact that women live longer than men!
Many widows are still standing while their older husbands are lying horizontal in cemeteries—everyone knows that.
So we have more widows and women that still need to supplement their retirement income with part-time jobs. Social security’s future is shakier and life keeps getting more expensive. But the job market is not receptive to hiring older women.
Studies highlighting this are referring to women 60 and older for getting work. Today, sixty is the new 40, as more and more women in their 60’s are fit, fiery, and still full of lots of ways to serve humanity while enjoying their own lives. Yet employment is less available to these still “jamming” women.
Outrageous studies have shown that age discrimination in the work force actually starts to rear its ugly head around 35 years old. These “newish” maturing women won’t work as many hours or take as much guff as younger meeker ladies in their twenties. Their bosses and employees report in surveys that they start to see them as less attractive as they near their 40’s.
OKCupid did a study that reported that women in their earliest 20’s get the most male attention across all ages. The study, published in OkCupid’s co-founder Christian Rudder’s book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), show that while women on their on-line dating site OKCupid remained mostly attracted to men their own age, males for the rest of their lives stay consistently attracted to 20-year-old women.
Juxtaposed to this, in a study by Elite Singles, emerging statistics suggest that contemporary younger males are more amenable to romancing older women. These men grew up with scenes of movies romanticizing this type of coupling. And it’s thought that younger men are more open to dominance and monetary support from older women, compared to earlier generations in which the women sought out these values from older males.
There are a number of famous studies looking at ageism in the American workplace. A groups of economists tackled this dynamic. David Neumark and Ian Burn from the University of California-Irvine and Patrick Button from Tulane (where I was a hormone scholar) ingeniously submitted over 40,000 sham applications for jobs in 12 cities that had been advertised online. They sent bogus resumes supposedly from younger, middle-aged, and older age groups, older being from 64 to 66 years of age.
The researchers found that female applicants in their mid-60s were much less likely to be called back for job interviews than men of their same age group, even when applying for lower-skilled jobs, let alone higher-skilled ones that their mock resumes suggested they were especially qualified for.
Callback rates were 35% lower for older workers than for younger workers, but much lower for older female workers. The authors were surprised by the extent of less discrimination toward older men and more for older women.
Another sham resume experiment was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. These researchers sent out bogus applications applying for a senior science faculty appointment in labs across the country. The lab resume raters were statistically more likely to rate the male candidate higher on competence and “hirability” and were more likely to offer the male candidate a bigger salary and greater professional mentorship.
In this study, the female scientists favored hiring males just like the male scientists did. Females are often biased against other females, especially if they are smart and especially if they are smart, powerful and attractive. Some psychologists suggest this is a contributing reason that Hilary Clinton didn’t win the 2016 presidential election. Women were jealous. They didn’t want to see a strong and attractive woman succeed. We women in the US have been bred to compete with our sisters, rather than unite, when it comes to individual female success. And men tend more to vote for menGender bias can be a powerful force in elections.
And it’s not just older women. There is documented cultural bias against women in general in all walks of life.
In a study in Gender & Society, 254 graduate students in seven PhD programs were assessed and found to exhibit significant gender-bias that affected performance, teacher-student relationship, and student-to-student interactions.
Bias against women can be subtle. Gendered barriers to women’s advancement in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are often indirect, yet influential. They come from gender stereotypes set up by our culture. Scientific cultures often encourage and reward gender practices that maintain gendered barriers. This article in Gender & Society focuses on how individual women scientists’ gender practices themselves may sustain gender barriers.
Findings based on interviews from thirty women in these fields sustain gender bias and distance themselves from “other women” they perceive as having deviated from such norms and expectations! This keeps gender-bending biases alive and thriving.
Musicians are not exempt from this bias. You might think getting hired for an orchestra is based solely on talent. But think again. A famous audition study showed that females are less likely to be hired when the conductor can see what their gender is. Women were hired less when conductors viewed them in reality versus when auditions were held behind a “blinded” curtain. When the musicians could not be gender identified, significantly more female musicians were hired for orchestra positions.
What about math? One study explores whether gender stereotypes about math ability shape high school teachers’ assessments of their students, resulting in the presence of conditional bias. Analyses of nationally representative data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 revealed biased disparities in teachers’ perceptions of ability that favored white males over minority students. Even though test score capabilities did not support this. The researchers did find evidence of a consistent bias against white females, suggesting that teachers hold the belief that math is just easier for white males than it is for white females.
What about Veterinary medicine? This genre of health care has the highest number of women in any other “doctor” profession. Veterinary health care has had dramatic and rapid feminization. Yet in many ways it remains, as this study reveals, masculinized. Women constitute approximately half of its practitioners and nearly 80 percent of students. Yet, the culture of veterinary medicine glorifies stereotypically masculine actions and attitudes. One study examines how women veterinarians understand and function with these gender dynamics within the profession. The analysis revealed that women use strategies to distance themselves from feminized actions, maintaining the institutionalized inequality and masculine ethic of this profession.
What about sports? In the post-feminism world women get more respect in sports. But one study claims that the media coverage is not nearly as sparkling, in fact the researchers refer to women’s athletes as getting “gender-bland sexism” lackluster reporting. Why? Because women are still not seen as important as men.
What are we talking about here? Cognitive bias. A bias against women, but particularly older women and even women against women. Some psychologists suggested that the bias of women against women translated into the voting booths for Hillary Clinton in her failed presidential race.
Women are often culturally perceived as less worthy. And much less once they have lived longer and often, oxymoronically, have much more to offer.
This “unjust cognitive bias” persists today, even though achievement gaps between men and women are closing. For example, there are more U.S. women than men graduating from college and with even higher graduate degrees.
An article published in a legal journal called Perspectives in 2011 by the American Bar Association highlights the rampant bias that still exists, even against powerful women in law, politics, and corporate America. The title says it all: “Media Bias Against Women Stuck in a Bygone Era.” On TV and in media and even on Google, there are consistently more nasty remarks about women’s aging bodies and female personality changes linked to menstrual cycles than you would think would be the case in modern life and certainly more than there are against aging males.
Young girls, in this post feminism era are often told they now “have it all” when this is not true in many arenas of life, as we have just demonstrated. One study in Gender & Society asks: How do teenage girls articulate sexism in an era where gender injustice has been constructed as a thing of the past? When this is not totally true? This leaves women with a sense of instability because what we are told is not what we experience.
Why this hatred and disdain against those who gave us life?
Can it be that the media has convinced us so thoroughly that “outer” appearance trumps all?
Physical appearance matters more for women; age detracts more from women’s physical appearance than for men, so women are the aging losers.
It’s a dastardly double standard.
Nobody makes a big issue over President Trump starting his relationship with Melania when he was 52 and she was 28. But if a woman did that, boy, would she and the younger guy get hit with tonnage of criticism. If Nancy Pelosi or past Attorney General Yates were labeled as cougars, the media would never let that go.
- Women are judged on their looks.
- Older men want younger women who look better.
- Corporations want younger female employees who look better.
- Women want to look better than other women.
Facts speak volumes. Maturing women are the fastest growing demographic in the world. This cognitive bias discriminates against millions of women based on their looks. What are we going to do about this injustice?
We fight for the rights of African-Americans, Muslims, disabled people, but what about the deep pervasive cultural bias against aging women?
Biased cultural perceptions historically served humanity. Thousands of years ago, when people lived in tribes, severe judgments or “mind bugs” might have been needed to protect between life or death. But today, as women age and become the masses of our populations, these mind bugs no longer serve. Especially not for older women. Especially those that are widowed, isolated, and feeling the brunt of this throwaway phenomena.
We walk around with “mind bugs” silently looping in our gray matter—prejudices we inherit from how we were raised or that we take on from our culture and media. But if we blindly accept these unhelpful and even dangerous mind bugs, we become victims of a society and corporate America that is blanketing our perceptions with goals of beauty and youth only to maximize profits and power, not with maximizing our humanity.
We can “choose” not to be victims. It takes awareness, intention, and action.
When we discriminate against a huge portion of our human family, our country becomes ill. The health of the family of mankind affects each of us. To put older women down, to judge, to make them less than, makes us all suffer. It keeps our culture superficial. It keeps each of us less connected. As we wound older women we walk around with wounds in our own souls.
Mature women are rich in resources—wisdom, patience, and compassion. They are fertile, not reproductively, but historically, in the stories of their lineage. They are mirrors of so much to be seen, if we don’t look away.
We harm them when we isolate them. When we harm them, we harm ourselves.
Cultural mind bugs must stop. Seeing older women as “less than” must stop and it starts with YOU. With each of us.
Maturing women themselves must not buy into being “less than,” for being old. It isn’t easy to buck societal perceptions. Change takes tools. But the bigger your tool bag, the more the job gets done.
How to love older women more than hate them:
- Awareness. How aware are you of female ageism?
- Intention. Have intention to watch your own “monkey mind” for mind bugs against those who are older, especially females.
- Action. Reach out, interact, and speak with more focus and kindness to your female elders. Let them feel your respect. Open doors, smile, say hello, start a conversation, reach out, interact and start the energy moving. Small wins, small actions matter.
- Hire more women as a study of 1000 firms showed that when women got jobs at the top, the gender bias below lessened.
Don’t avert your eyes, hoping they won’t see you. Share a smile. Acknowledge their presence. This is a small act with large consequences. Allow your mind, mind bugs, and heart to expand. You came from a mom. You might be a mom. Or a man raised by a mom. Or a man married to a woman.
We’re all connected.
Take action to stop bias in yourself or others.
We are all living and swarming as one family on this third ball from the Sun.
Let’s tend all members of this human household with proactive respect.
P.S., Dr. Lindsey wouldn’t have been able to write a blog like this or do a podcast like she did (see the link below) on this topic if she were in her 20’s. It takes time to marinate marvelous flavors.
The study, found in OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder’s new book Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), purports to show that while women on the site remain primarily attracted to men their own age well through their 40s, men stay attracted to 20-year-old women for, well, pretty much their entire lives. As Rudder himself puts it: “From the time you’re 22, you’ll be less hot than a 20-year-old, based on this data. So that’s just a thing.”
Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, Identity – What Our Online Lives Tell Us About Our Offline Selves, $10, Amazon, OkCupid study that explains why men now find you physically repulsive. Handy!
Hillary Clinton Says Misogyny Played A Part In Her Loss. She’s Right. Huffpost. POLITICS 05/02/2017
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Distancing as a Gendered Barrier: Understanding Women Scientists’ Gender Practices. Gender & Society. October 3, 2011 Research Article https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243211422717
American Economic Review, 2000, v90(4,Sep), 715-741 Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact Of ‘Blind’ Auditions On Female Musicians,
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Exploring Bias in Math Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Ability by Genderand Race/Ethnicity. March 2, 2012. Gender & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243211434614
Gender Work in a Feminized Profession: The Case of Veterinary Medicine. Jan 28 2010. Gender & Society https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243209355978
From Fizzle to Sizzle!” Televised Sports News and the Production of Gender-Bland Sexism. Gender & Society September 13, 2017 https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243217726056
Ageing Research Reviews Volume 12, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 50-57. Added value of elder abuse definitions: A review Author links open overlay panelYuliyaMysyuka Rudi G.J.WestendorpabJolandaLindenberga https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2012.04.001
Girls Run the World?: Caught between Sexism and Postfeminism in School. January 28, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243212473199