by Sandy Burgham
I noted with some interest a new research report out of the UK, and picked up by media in NZ, that women start to feel invisible as they age. Really? My friend in her mid-50s has indeed complained for some time that she increasingly notices people not noticing her, particularly in cafes and retail outlets, where staff prefer to serve younger women, as if she’s a blind spot in their field of vision. “Surely, you notice it, particularly with younger, male staff?” she asked. No, I said, worrying that it was those high self-esteem issues playing up again. It was not until I was blanked recently by a sales assistant at an upmarket furniture store that I felt her pain.
Admittedly there were some other variables. The assistant was perfectly groomed, and it was midday Sunday, and I was in my activewear (not Eastern Suburbs-go-to Lululemon, more your schlepping-around/dog-walking-gear). But here’s the thing — there was no-one else in that area of the capacious store. And she was a 30-something female, so it’s not just young guys who may have selective sales vision.
After forcing her to talk to me and almost begging her to sell me the furniture I wanted to buy, I got a little tired of the whole performance. I marched out of the store and texted a friend to not only tell her of my ordeal, but to instruct her not to shop at that particular store.
Hell hath no fury like a mid-life woman scorned. One thing about being a woman over 50, is that, bolstered by our “can I speak to the manager” haircuts, we have no trouble voting with our wallets, or complaining to management about shitty service, or sending food back to the kitchen, and generally taking our business elsewhere, despite our children cringing beside us at the “scene” we’re making. “OMG stop it, no-one cares,” they cry, as I give staff helpful tips on how to retain custom.
One friend, a successful and influential business owner, has gone sour on Air New Zealand on the basis that the minor celebrity in the latest safety commercial insists on pronouncing “Antarctica” as “Ant-ardica”. Maybe these very peculiarities in our particular set of high standards is why no-one wants to do business with us!
This is a pity, since female labourforce participation in the 45- plus bracket keeps getting stronger, while male participation is leveling off. In the USA, some observers have dubbed females over 50 “prime time women”, since once the kids’ college bills are paid, they spend 2.5 times what the average person spends, and are primary buyers of computers, cars, banking and financial services. In fact, every fifth adult in the US is a female over 50, and they control a net worth of $19 trillion. I’d expect the overall trend to be very similar here, as we have an ageing population.
So back to that British research report on women’s “invisibility” that global media so eagerly shared. As I started to read it, I assumed it would be about the hidden purchasing power, or perhaps the gender pay gap in the workforce, or the lack of women in leadership roles.
Instead, it was a tragic exposé on the two-thirds of a sample of 2000 women who feel they no longer “turn heads” when they walk into a room, and find there is a drop in the amount of “unsolicited attention” from men.
Oh puhleeze – this is the research that counts as news? Who are these sad women? Those surveyed began to notice a waning in male attention once they reached their 40s, with the decline becoming more noticeable at 45. The poor things were apparently “filtering or deciding not to post images on social media because they are self-conscious of how they look”. I almost gagged.
So who commissioned this sad set of insights? Oh look, it was a male “advanced Facial Cosmetic and Plastic Surgeon”. While the good doc does profess that men have similar issues with ageing (dissolve to balding male with medallion and sports car), “they seem happier to let nature take its course”. That’s probably because the media bias tips towards more reporting on women’s insecurities.
Tell a woman she is invisible and she will start feeling it. But tell her she is increasingly important to your business, the economy and society as a whole as she matures, and everyone wins.
In the meantime, get to the back of the queue — we are coming through.
— Sandy Burgham
This article first appeared in The Hobson Magazine July 2018