Because nobody wants me
I turned fifty this year. I am the same person I was when I was 20, 30, or 40 years old. I have the same personality, the same dreams, the same aspirations. People say of me that I have a young mind, that I am mentally agile, spontaneous, open-minded, and highly adaptable. I recognize this in the enriching relationships that I have with people whether they be 80 years old, 6 years old, or 18 years old.
I take a lot of pride in being a person that can talk to, get along with, and learn from people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. I am and will always be young at heart — even when I am 100 years old. But given the ageist microaggressions that have been thrown my way in recent months, I realize that in the minds of many young people, now that I am 50, I am simply just too old, unrelatable, and as a result: irrelevant.
It’s sort of strange, as a black woman, I have fought to be relevant all my life. At 40, I finally thought I had achieved this, but now, 10 years later, I am thrown back again into the pot of irrelevance because of my age.
According to Bonnie Marcus in a recent article in Forbes: “In our youth-tilted culture, professional women over 50 face gendered ageism every day”. According to a 2018 AARP report, 64 percent of women say they’ve been the target of or witnessed age discrimination.
The way things are going, I wonder if there’s a chance that I’ll ever get out of that “past the expiry date” label. I must admit that the simple prospect of getting stuck there forever is quite frightening because I still have so much to give, I still have so much life to live, and so much to achieve. I refuse to get put into a straight jacket of irrelevance — at least not just yet.
The way that modern-day western societies discard older people is problematic and if you think about it, quite counterproductive. Older people have a wealth of skills and experience that can strongly benefit society overall. Why not use them? Why not put them to good use?
I always think that societies that don’t allow women to work miss out on 50% of their labor workforce. This then translates into 50% less productivity subtracted from their national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) potential. I would say the same thing about not utilizing the older workforce — aren’t countries losing 20–25% of productivity or even more.
There is a growing elderly population in western countries, so much so that in Switzerland, where I live, the government is actively looking for solutions to fund pensions within the next 10 years. There will be fewer people in the workforce to fund an increasing number of pensioners. That dilemma lies ahead of many countries, but if we accept that people can be productive way past the age of 50, 60, 70, and even 80, and dismantle ageism altogether, we might be able to fund pensions in the future.
As a black woman, I have heard my fair share of microaggressions and I have built internal mechanisms to process them and get over them. Ageism microaggressions are however quite new to me, and I’m just beginning to realize just how hurtful those can be too. Some examples of what I’ve heard:
“As soon as you pass 50, it’s more challenging to learn new things”. I think it’s dangerous to consider this a blanket rule. The ability to learn new things isn’t directly correlated to age, it is more related to one’s personal drive, mindset, and ambition.
“Well, older people cost companies so much more”. We might cost more, but we also have skills and qualifications that can make companies successful. Why is one made to feel like a financial burden — why is one made to feel that companies are doing you a favor by keeping you or hiring you?
“We need fresh blood. Out with the old, in with the new”. Why does there need to be a binary equation in this? Why does it either have to be young or old people? Isn’t the best ecosystem a combination of young and old, binary and non-binary, and diverse minorities? Why tend toward homogeneity when you can get heterogeneity and be more profitable?
So as I embark on this new decade in my life, I realize that I am not the shiny new object that everybody wants — as a black woman, I probably never was. It does make me feel a certain way to know that there are fewer and fewer opportunities that will come my way. It sort of feels strange since I know that I still have so much to give.
And so, because I can’t sit here and consider my life over, I am now on a mission to make my own opportunities. Social justice is important to me, so chances are I’ll take a more active role in driving gender and racial diversity.
And now that I’m 50, in what some may consider my old age, I’m pretty sure that I’ll add working to dismantle ageism to the list too. But whatever it is I end up doing, know that I will make myself relevant, and always remain young at heart.
Thank you for reading my perspective.
Source: Forbes Magazine, Do Professional Women Over 50 Have An Expiration Date? How Gendered Ageism Sabotages Women’s Careers, Bonnie Marcus, January 4, 202