Posts Tagged ‘ageism’

I’m angry today, the kind of angry that makes me want to throw on a placard and demonstrate on the busiest street corner I can find. What would the placard say? “I’m over 55, but I’m not dead yet! HIRE ME!”

The month started off so well: an article in the Globe and Mail, a ton of positive feedback, including personal emails, and a guest interview on a CBC news programme where I talked about the difficulties of being out of work. Messages filled my mailbox. People complimented me on my honesty, said I handled myself professionally, wished me well. But a job offer? Not even one – unless you count a couple of people singing the praises of multi-level marketing companies.

I even joined LinkedIn. It wasn’t actually my own idea, but something thrown out at me as more of a taunt during an argument with someone. It was like “Why haven’t YOU tried LinkedIn?” The implication was that I wasn’t trying hard enough to find a job, so I joined, wrote up a profile, included my work experience and links to this blog in case writing opportunities were out there, and joined a few groups. Then I sat and waited, and I realized why I’d never joined before. The problem is that while I’m able to “link” to a few people, I am virtually unable to ask for a reference from anyone there because the people I’m linked to are friends or casual acquaintances, not people who’ve worked with me. What are they going to say about me, other than personal things? Some have never even read my work. They can only guess at my capabilities.

In the meantime, I’ve continued to apply for jobs at all ends of the spectrum. One person who responded to my article suggested I don’t apply for anything “beneath me,” because of the sheer number of applicants for less qualified positions. I understand her point, but it hasn’t stopped me because I can’t pass anything up. I’ve also applied for lots of work that I’d be perfect for, but so far, I seem to be the only one believing that.

And here’s the thing. No matter what anyone says, the longer I go without a job, the more I know that this IS about age. If I’d been twenty or twenty-five, I would have been hired long ago for some of those lesser-paying jobs. If I’d been under forty-five, I’d have at least been called in for interviews for some of the better jobs. I know it as well as I know that underneath this dark brown hair hide grey roots.

So I’m frustrated and furious.

They say that no group is valued less in western society than older women, and more and more, I’m beginning to believe it. We’re past our prime and for many, past our usefulness. We can no longer bear children and our figures aren’t perfect. We go through menopause and have “unsightly” hot flashes in public. If we are emotional, society thinks we are “losing it.” If we are strong, they say we’re “cranky old bitches.” Unless we want to volunteer and run ourselves into the ground (we’re always welcomed when the work’s for free), we are often ignored, even by our male counterparts.

There’s no industry where ageism against women is more evident than in movies and television. Actors are allowed to age but their love interests rarely are. And when we do see an ‘older” actress on the screen, the portrayal is sometimes ridiculous. Case in point: Erica Kane, from All My Children.

I’m a follower of soaps, and recently I’ve found myself more and more insulted and irritated by the way this character is being written. “Erica” is a fashion icon/television star/author/businesswoman/philanthropist, with ten marriages under her 20-inch belt, children in their thirties and a few grandchildren to boot, yet she’s seen as ageless, a tiny slip of a “girl” caught in a permanent time warp. The part has been played for over nearly forty years by Susan Lucci, now sixty-three years of age. Lately, she is batting her eyelashes and tossing her long hair over her shoulder, then finally falling into bed with Ryan, the early 30’s ex-lover of her daughter, the father of Erica’s grandson. Lost yet?

I’m 58, just a few years younger than Erica, and I find the current storyline extremely offensive. In fact, the lack of reality regarding Erica, the way she sees herself and how others view her, is turning me off the show entirely, and that’s after over thirty years as a faithful watcher!

Do the writers forget that people actually GROW in character as they age? Despite the fact that they’ve allowed Erica to develop some better qualities over the years, she is still coming across as a “sweet young thing.”. Her mannerisms are coy, flirtatious and affected. She is a caricature.

The viewers know she is in her sixties. Let her dress a bit more appropriately. Stop shooting her through a soft-focus lens. Don’t insult the viewers’ intelligence. Address the logical concerns that an older woman should be having. Have her worry about the younger women around Ryan. Have her look in the mirror and be concerned about her age. Bring in a storyline where she considers plastic surgery. Viewers know she’s had plenty. Have her talk about her grey roots. Show her having a bloody hot flash. Oh gosh, forget that. She’s long through menopause. Give her osteoporosis!

Why not make her REAL, make her HUMAN? I can’t be the only one who’s offended by the way this is going.

Nothing is as black and white as some employers see it, or as the writers on AMC write it. Women over 50 don’t whither up and die, but neither do they have to act like they did at eighteen to compete. We should be free to be ourselves, confident of our worth and believing that somewhere, someone still recognizes our value.

In the meantime, I need a job.

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People talk about the difficulties of youth – their struggle to not only find themselves, but settle on goals and work towards them. Once done, they think there is nothing but smooth sailing ahead, particularly if a few darling little children have already rounded out and enriched their lives.

Don’t be embarrassed by your naivete. I felt exactly the same way at your age. Life was full of promise. Because we’d had some heartbreak in our first few years of marriage, I firmly believed our share was spent, that life could only get better from that point on. It was self-delusion in its grandest form and it predicted a perfect future.

I’m here to be a wet blanket, someone to tell you what you don’t want to hear – at least I didn’t want to at your age. The truth is this. You can set goals and plan and do all the right things, but if you grow too comfortable and rest on your laurels, your nice little life can all be pulled out from under you in the blink of an eye. In the worst of cases, your health or that of a loved one can fail. Sometimes, it’s one or two bad decisions on your part; sometimes it’s the people who decide you’re not “right,” and work to make a case against you. Often it’s the young up-and-coming executive who decide to protect his ass over yours. Yes, some people lie or choose to forget the truth, even people you thought were your friends, because when push comes to shove, the future of their career is usually more important than yours anyday, dear friend.

Hence, this poem written a few years back about a similar person who single-handledly started the 8-ball ruling that triggered the end of my husband’s corporate career.


He is really nothing special,
down deep feels it too, you know,
so he’s learned to play the charmer,
see how far the game can go.

His shoes are always shiny,
his suit pants nicely pressed,
his golf score breaks a ninety,
his very life seems blessed.

He flatters all the ladies,
he “yes, sirs” all he can,
finds a way to flee the radar
when the feces hit the fan.

He knows to smile when needed,
seems modest with his blush,
feigns innocence to save his hide,
maintains his Midas touch.

He’s young and climbing upward,
he’s old and scared to fall,
friend or not, you can’t trust him,
when his back’s against the wall

A year in employment limbo, a downsized positon where he was set up to fail, and finally, the pink slip. Six years later and we’re still feeling the effects, both monetarily anad psychologically, of that one momentous loss.

When you’re young, you can start out on a path where it seems you are invincible. Employers convince you that you have a brilliant future ahead of you as long as you “stick with the programme, and toe the line.” It’s a horrible thing to suddenly realize that you’ve planned poorly; that you’ve underestimated everyone else’s ambition and overestimated their loyalty to you. You’ve suddenly missed the boat; that in the game of musical chairs, you’re one of the people left standing. What’s even worse is knowing you’re 58 or 59, and your chances of regaining what you’ve lost are unlikely.

The one good thing we have gained, though, is that we’re much more realistic now. We’ve been through hell in the past six years and proven we are tough enough to endure just about anything. It’s a difficult transition, not knowing what comes next. We just have to rely on ourselves to make something happen, because it’s more and more obvious every day that no former colleague is going to turn this situation around and make it right for us. In fact, former colleagues seem to avoid us, perhaps victims of survivor guilt. For one or two people, it’s possibly even justified.

Everyone thinks it’s hard for young people who are just starting out in the work force, but at least they have years ahead, to win through trial and error. We have no time to waste, no time to completely fix what’s wrong.

I just keep telling myself “if it is to be, it’s up to me.” If we all say that, something good has to happen, don’t you think?

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