Gendered Ageism: Another form of patriarchy?

Gendered Ageism: Another form of patriarchy?

A 35-year-old man is a “young CEO” but a 30-year-old woman is past her prime. There have been countless times we have heard this rhetoric. Maybe not together but we have heard them in different contexts. 50-something-year-old actors are getting cast as the romantic lead of movies against women less than half their age.  And then we have women in their late 30s portraying the role of mother to men who are older than her in real life. If you’re looking for a term to make sense of this double standard, we will help you. It is called gendered ageism. 

What is Ageism?

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To put it very simply, ageism is the prejudice against those who are growing old. As young people, we might feel like it doesn’t exist, but ageism exists in subtle forms all around us. For example take any organisation around you, especially the young startups of today. They always have a bias for hiring young folks and usually do not look to hire folks beyond a certain age group. Ageism is very visible in the professional world, where there is not only bias or prejudices against hiring older folks but also the notion that they aren’t capable enough to keep up with the fast-changing scenarios of today’s time In fact, the sastest growing labor pool is older workers, and they Are Reporting a Rise in Age Discrimination. Ageism is the most common type of discrimination in Europe. More than 44% of respondents interviewed in Europe and 64% of those interviewed in the United Kingdom reported being concerned about age discrimination.

Why Ageism?

Well, there are several reasons why ageism exists. Society’s emphasis on what is defined as ‘lookism’, which is the importance of a youthful and attractive appearance. We as a society are currently obsessed with how things look and what impression we are casting. Hence for a company to connect with the younger audience, it wants to exude a young and cool vibe which often puts older folks at a disadvantage. And secondly, there is the perception that older folks can not keep up with the demands of today's time. We are in the midst of a technological revolution right now, where every day there is a new technology that comes up. And hence the consensus is that older people will not be able to keep up with the changing technology. 

What is gendered ageism?

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Gendered ageism is the intersectionality of age and gender bias. In other words, gendered ageism is a phrase used to describe how older women are doubly disadvantaged because of both their age and gender. Gendered ageism affects women mostly in the professional world.

We just discussed how lookism, the pressure to look young is one of the prime reasons why older folks are discriminated against. Lookism affects women much more than they affect men. It puts women under a microscope as they show visible signs of ageing. Because of ‘lookism’, women face ageism earlier than their male counterparts. The bias erodes women’s self-esteem and confidence, but the effects of gendered ageism on professional women go beyond the pressure they may feel to look young. This form of bias affects their job security and financial future as they are perceived in the workplace as being less valuable, less competent, and irrelevant as they age.

Several surveys have revealed that gendered ageism is very much a reality and a significant portion of women have experienced that. Women have felt that they could not get a job or interview because of their age. Other common experiences that reflected the prevalence of gendered ageism are “feeling opinions were ignored”, “seeing younger colleagues get attention” and “not being invited to key meetings”.  Gendered ageism exists everywhere in whichever sector you look at, you will see the existence of gendered ageism and the worst part is, there is not much resolution to it also. There are hardly any bodies or organisations that fight for this and companies and their Human Resource Departments hardly pay any heed to such complaints. The result is a large part of the women's labor pool is getting sidelined once they cross the age of 50. The high rate of inflation makes early retirement a dream, and the ability to get jobs or move up higher in the organisation results in financial constraints on many women. 

Fighting Gendered Ageism

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Fighting gendered ageism requires fighting both ageism and sexism. The first thing is to realise that with age comes experience which is crucial to the success of any organisation.  A survey reported that employers on average believe that older individuals have better communication and technical skills than younger employees. By hiring and retaining older employees in the workforce, companies could protect their institutional knowledge. The experience of older individuals could complement the strengths of younger employees by supporting better decision-making and increased productivity and innovation. By including older individuals, organizations enable mutual training between older and younger generations—for example, they might exchange institutional knowledge for newer aptitudes such as digital skills. Further, having older individuals in the workforce is associated with cost savings for the company and society. Retaining older employees saves companies the cost of hiring new talent. 

The other layer is to fight sexism. It is a shame that even in the professional arena, women are judged more on their looks than their professional abilities. Women employees need to be valued on the same parameters as men. Physical attributes should have no bearing on a woman’s career, unless her career itself demands that. 

Secondly, the notion of women having a shelf-life is very prevalent in specific industries, especially the entertainment industry where it is thought that women just have a short career span within a certain age bracket. This notion is deeply rooted in misogyny. Even in the corporate sectors, many think that older women would be more engaged in domestic duties and hence will not be able to focus much on their professional world. However, this again has its root in patriarchy, because patriarchal structures force women to take up more domestic duties, while men are mostly exempted from it. 

Fighting gendered ageism is not easy, owing to the various nuances that go into it, but relooking at how we look at age and gender might be the starting point.

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