Even Very Visible Women Can Be Invisible
By Erica and Karen
Invisible. Not a word that we thought would ever apply to us. But then we reached a certain age, and retired. And suddenly, that's what we were. Where just days before we had been very much players in the world, now we could not even be seen.
We have since discovered that it's not a feeling unique to us. It is a pretty common way to describe how many of us feel when folks assume that we should be ignored. Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) play it out when they ask whether they are "invisible" as they wave their arms and shout to get the attention of a sales clerk. Linda, the lead character in an eponymous play by Penelope Skinner, describes invisibility in the voice of a 55 year old marketing executive confronting the implications of getting older:
“So I started off thinking about the research feedback which always comes in when we do age-related stuff from women in the over-fifties category about how when women get to fifty or somewhere around that age bracket they start to feel invisible. Over and over again in groups we hear the same thing. ‘I feel like life is happening all around me. I used to be the protagonist of my life and now suddenly I’m starting to feel irrelevant.’ This can be connected to women’s sexuality, so ‘Men walk past me in the street and don’t look twice anymore’ or ‘I go past a building and nobody whistles.’
“Even in the workplace. Women start to experience people talking over them. As thought what they are saying is actually less important, because they have reached a certain age. They also find themselves under-represented in media--books, films, on television. And in advertising. The simple truth is that as a woman in the fifty-plus age group you rarely get marketed to. Products you might want to buy--and an anti-ageing cream is a good standard example--are marketed to you using models in their thirties--reminding you not of who you could be but of who you were twenty years ago. On the few occasions you do see a woman of your actual age group in an advertisement she’s either Helen Mirren (the only older woman still allowed to exist) or--she’s selling you meals on wheels. She’s telling you not to worry because someone’s made a pad to keep your pants dry if you find you start to pee involuntarily. She doesn’t represent your real life. Your actual concerns. You know I don’t mind telling you all that I am fifty-five years old and I’m not thinking about how big my coffin needs to be. Not just yet!"
We, too, refuse to disappear, to be invisible. We changed the way working women were seen in the workplace. Now we want to change the way society, and the media, see us after we leave the workplace. As we still are. Not "done" but vibrant and engaged. Visible and valuable. The same people we were before we retired.