I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore.
If you're old enough to remember those words, you will get this. And you should read it even if you're not.
Whether you fear it, lie about it or celebrate it, the number 50 seems way too big to ignore. Yet, ironically, the opposite is true.
50 is about when women start to disappear.
It ranges from a small inner voice-feeling you are losing social status or sex appeal or a sense of what's possible-that grows into the reality of our demographic on a large scale. Harry Potter's invisibility cloak is imaginary, but the Invisible Woman's is not. It's reality.
Despite some exceptions-Susan Sarandon will always be sexy; Barbara Walters will always be Barbara Walters-most women of a certain age are MIA. Our society's interest in aging is focused on how to fight it. And that's not reality-when ads for products designed to prevent wrinkles use models who don't have any yet.
Though our numbers are growing faster than we can count, we don't count for anything. In the eyes of image makers and marketers-and more important, in their minds-when we reach a certain age, we're toast, burnt toast.
This is spelled out in a recent piece in the NY Post, which inspired me to write this post.
The gist of the piece is that we don't matter-despite our mass in numbers, with the financial muscle to match. Just one example is the television industry, where ratings determine everything: Our demographic is not only discounted; it doesn't even EXIST. Here's an excerpt:
Once TV viewers reach age 55, they are no longer counted as viewers..."They...turn invisible," says Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC Universal.
Alpha boomers are almost completely ignored by advertisers.
And that's just plain stupid: Alpha boomers (55 to 64 years old) are the fastest-growing demographic in the nation. They make up half the population and spend more money on goods and services-nearly $2 trillion -than any other age group. They buy more technology and gadgets-40% of the market-than any other demo. They drive elections, accounting for the biggest voting blocs in both 2008 and 2010. Alpha boomers have the second-highest median household income. They own the most second homes in the nation. They own more iPads and smartphones than any other demo and record and watch more programming on their DVRs than anyone else.
Though their children and grandchildren are targets of marketers, grandparents influence and pay many of the bills, including up to half of all private school tuitions.
"Marketers have known where the wealth is for a very long time," says Jim Fishman, senior vice president/group publisher of AARP. "They've just decided not to target them.
Says Judann Pollack (no relation), executive editor of the trade publication Ad Age: "...there's a stigma to getting older."
Sure, getting older isn't cool, and often isn't pretty. Yet aging is a natural part of life. The people ignoring us now will reach 50, too-if they're lucky.
And the invisibility cloak certainly doesn't fit the women I know in later life, who don't approach aging as their mothers did-with a sense of resignation, retirement, a sense of slowing down. I see the opposite-a sense of possibility, of potential, of power-women over 50 taking on new challenges, new businesses, new chapters in their lives. They're writing books, forming communities, inspiring others, battling the idea that it's time to fade into the woodwork, not only metaphorically. One look at the statistics predicting life expectancy is reason enough for us to look ahead, not back.
Yet, as the Post article makes clear, there's no evidence that anything is changing in the world around us. Unlike cultures that revere elders and benefit from their wisdom, our youth-obsessed society is determined to push us out of the mainstream.
What can we do-other than whine? Or wine?
We can't change the fact of aging-but we can change the face of aging. We can change the way people think about it. It's a choice ---and it starts with us. Because whether your approach is to tighten your skin or loosen your belt, age is all about attitude.
We can use the major asset we have as a group, in addition to numbers---the wisdom of age---and turn it into collective wisdom. We can use our numbers--and apply the wisdom of age to change the age we live in.
Personally, I'm not ready to fade into the sunset. So I ignore the fact that I'm being ignored. If we don't plan to spend our senior years in a rocking chair, we can rock the rules--even when they tell us our skirts are too short and our hair is too long.
Maybe we can't change the big picture as individuals, but we can create pictures for the people around us---in the way we lead our lives. Lead by example. Be a mentor. Be a model. Support other women who are doing that. If you don't buy the message you're sent, don't buy the product-and tell the company why. Better yet, create your own message. If you don't want to be put in a box, think outside it.
Why stop at re-shaping bodies and faces, when our generation of women already has the experience of re-shaping the age we live in. As the first generation of women in history to come to maturity with independent spirits, reshaping the image of "age" is just a continuation of what we started. We changed the landscape for women by entering places that were previously closed to us: colleges, professions, boardrooms, politics. After opening so many closed doors, who says we can't open closed minds?
We can make the numbers work for us, not against us-starting with the number 50-one woman at a time. As long as we count ourselves in and count on each other. Join us! Talk about your experiences. Tell us what you'd like to do to increase our visibility.
I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore.
It might be corny, but it's worth remembering the lines that come after that one:
I know too much to go back an' pretend
'cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again.
Darryle Pollack has experience opening closed doors-as breast cancer survivor, a pioneer in television news, and a member of the first Yale graduating class to include women. A freelance writer and mosaic artist, she calls her blog I never signed up for this...in honor of all the times she's said those words.
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