Wisdom, maturity, sophistication.
Sage wisps of grey accompany men as the ever impending weather of age, however, mature traits like this don’t negatively affect their status the same way they would with women. The long practice of valuing beauty only in youth has led to older women being ignored for their crows feet or aching joints in society. When they are talked about for their appearance, the constant phrase pops up, “she was so pretty 30 years ago!,” like it’s a surprise that aging women could have ever been beautiful. Now, she’s characterized as crotchety, fragile and useless.
Inequality towards aging women is not only a social issue, but a financial one as well. Lots of wives outlive their husbands, impart due to the common idea to marry up and older, and because the female lifespan frequently is just longer. However, lengthier life results in more time for diseases to manifest themselves, making women more prone to chronic illnesses like dementia in later years. Seniors grew up times where women didn’t have access to the same opportunities and education as today’s youth, and practicality reigned king. Days consisting of taking care of children, cooking that new recipe from some women’s magazine and cleaning the living room so her husband would have a comfortable place to come home to was what a girl was expected to do, the ideal domestic goddess being her role model. Little did she know that she would one day have to provide for herself after her husband’s passing, and the high school diploma she got in 1963 has little value in the modern job market. Her options are now limited to cashier and caregiver, both inadequate in accommodating her medical expenses on top of basic necessities. Dependency that has been attributed to women since the moment of birth grows in the eyes of bystanders, as older women are an increasing burden to their families because of the lack of opportunities present to support themselves. It’s no wonder that some “old hag” grumbily mutters under her breath checking out someone’s groceries when she pulls a double shift at Walmart.
The alternative image of “cougar” is no better than its shrew counterpart. Though they are portrayed as powerful and dominate, women dubbed cougars are ultimately a goal for young men to obtain. In the instance of divorce or simply aging without a partner, older men are veered towards getting a “trophy wives”, consisting of young, fit, perky objects to rise the status of their husbands. While this is seen as a social norm, there is a retaliation to a woman in a relationship with a younger man. There has to be a reason as to why she would ever think to seek a budding partner, the main one being desperation to cling to her retreating elastic skin and able physique. The only way a boy could be interested in her is due to her fortune and domineering personality, not the ridiculous assumption of her knowledge or character.
Similar to all groups that face oppression, stereotypes like cranky and pessimistic or power hungry and vain contribute to the unfavored image of aging women. Challenging long exercised judgments is tough if they’re viewed the usual in society, but shedding a new and more accurate light is a start in the right direction. Older women should be sought for council and valued for their experiences rather than presumed to be behind the times and senile. A great portrayal of this flawed label is the episode “Old People” of Aziz Ansari’s new show on Netflix, Master of None. Another way to combat the inequalities in ageism and sexism is to give women the opportunity in later years to further their education and get jobs that could better their living situations instead of continuing their assertion into low wage positions, or the looming over response to put them in a home. Better yet, allow them adequate health care to assess their needs and put an end the bias in insurance towards women especially in older age. The list to put stereotypes to bed and raise equality can go on and on, but it is ultimately society’s decision to be bystanders or spread awareness and change.