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Feel Invisible? You're Not.

Feel Invisible? You're Not.

by Karen and Erica

Invisible.

We heard from many many women, after we and they retired, that they felt invisible. This feeling was expressed in many ways, not always polite. We felt invisible too—in the sense that no-one seemed to see us as we walked down the street, or into a bar, or as we tried to pay for something expensive.

After we thought about it for a while we concluded that the invisibility we were all feeling arose from two facts. First, we are more than forty years old, and second, we no longer have jobs. A professional woman who retires is double whammied. No longer a sex object, and no longer an economic actor. People’s eyes just stop working—a widespread inability to see what is in front of you that is not limited to the US. Or to men.

Invisibility associated with age appears to be a consequence of the social reality that a woman’s value is related closely to her sexual attractiveness, and that in turn is linked to her age. It can’t really be that men lose interest in older women because they don’t procreate—most of the time when people have sex they don’t actually want to procreate. Seems more likely that men have been sold a bill of goods—the suggestion that only young women are attractive. They are attractive. But so are women who are older. This is not a zero sum game.

Invisibility associated with employment is different. It results when everyone over the age of 21 is defined by her or his job. Without a job, no matter your age or sex, you are irrelevant (unless you are raising children, in which case you are relevant but unimportant) and therefore invisible. A retired person is by definition without the job she or he had for a long time, so she or he is invisible. Odd, since such people might be expected to be most visible, as they actually know what they are doing and could impart that knowledge to those who don’t.

Even though this apparent invisibility is absurd, a number of articles suggest we should accept that we are in a new phase of life where being seen should be unimportant. Why on earth would we do that? We are not going to drop out and give up. On the contrary, we are leaders, and we are leading into the future.

We are still sexy, too—because leaders are sexy. We loved a recent Financial Times article that lauded Killing Eve and the rise of the older screen queen. It is becoming obvious that the societal focus on youth is not hardwired. Just socially convenient. At least it was convenient centuries ago. As soon as people see what we have to offer, it will be socially convenient to treat us as the resources we are.

We are also critical economic actors, precisely because we had jobs. As a cohort we have amassed wealth, and we know we can’t take it with us. We want to spend it on things that make us happy. Before we die.

The future is female, as the author of The Longevity Economy and director of the MIT Age Lab has observed. That female future starts with us. We will not be unseen much longer. People who regard us as old and gray and irrelevant simply have their eyes closed. We are not invisible—they are blinkered.

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