I am a 58 year old woman, and while I was warned in years past by female friends senior to me that the world views older women much differently than young ones, I did not realize until recently how overlooked older women truly are. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the world (of men) doesn’t really see or acknowledge older women at all.
I had noticed as I moved through middle age that I was beginning to be marginalized; getting progressively less attention when I spoke or stood in line or was out in public in any way. It wasn’t a precipitous or overly obviously change, just a slow diminishment of acknowledgement and influence over time. It had always been the case that I was talked down to and infantilized by men in traditionally male habitats such as hardware stores and garages, a situation I never appreciated but at least my concerns were noted and dealt with albeit in a condescending manner. Even this scrap of recognition has dwindled over the past ten years however, and now it’s as if I’m a non-person.
Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago I gave blood, and while my local clinic is usually really fast and efficient, on this particular day it was an hour and fifteen minutes before I could leave the place. The TV was tuned to CBC Newsworld which was airing live coverage of the U.S. Senate impeachment trial the entire time I was there.
When I was finished donating and sitting at the treat table, opening the bag of Oreos I consider my due after such a selfless act, I noticed a man across from me. He looked to be in his late 60’s or so, and although he was facing me, he had his head turned to watch the TV. I made a comment as to my bafflement that our national broadcaster was airing hours of proceedings which had nothing to do with Canada, and the man half turned his head toward me and made a noise which sounded like agreement.
A few moments later the clinic volunteer brought over my orange juice and sat next to me. He had heard my comment and launched into the conversation, saying he was working hard on making his face as neutral as possible when considering American politics as he and his wife were shortly heading down for a month in Florida and it was best to stay out of any discussions on that subject. And this prompted the other gentleman to turn around.
We then launched into a three-way discussion about Trump which segued into talk of Ontario politics which led us to something else. In other words, it was your standard conversation. Except… the man across from me did not look at me once as we were speaking. He was so intent on not acknowledging me that he looked at the man beside me even when responding to a comment I had made! At one point I actually leaned further into his field of vision, hoping to ignite the part of his brain responsible for mediating conversations, reminding it of how civil, face-to-face discourse is supposed to unfold. But that didn’t help either.
A friend of mine who’s about my age says that this is how her boss treats her all the time. He refuses to acknowledge her if they pass in the hall, and will not make eye contact with her in meetings, looking at others even when what he is saying concerns only her. And given the power dynamic, what can she do about it? She could say something to him or someone superior to him, but that would almost certainly lead to resentment on his part which could very well make her situation worse. So she just has to put up with feeling like a non-person every time she deals with him.
I, on the other hand, could have done something about the way that man treated me without fear of repercussions. I was truly upset when I left the clinic that day, but there were two sides to the argument raging in my head concerning what to do about it. On the one hand, I owed it to my gender to make this man aware of how incredibly rude and sexist he was being by not acknowledging me. After all, how can the feminist cause move forward if we don’t speak truth to power? On the other hand this was a fairly old guy, and chances that anything I said would change his way of being with women were slim to none, so why bother?
In the end I made a quiet exit and later stewed and bitched about this incident to friends instead. And isn’t that exactly how almost all females would handle that situation? That is exactly how we are taught to handle things. Be understanding, be conciliatory and, above all else, don’t upset or embarrass the man in the room! I admit I gave in to my conditioning on that occasion, but I have vowed to myself that it will not happen again. I may be disappearing, but I’m not going down without a fight!