May I speak to the Manager?

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



  1. Petra Bagust July 9, 2018 Reply

    Preach it sister. Bloody love it, got the hair cut! Px

    • Sandy Burgham July 9, 2018 Reply

      hehehe, good on ya xxx

  2. Judy Gilbert July 9, 2018 Reply

    Why would we want men’s attention or anyone’s attention for that matter. As an older woman, 65, I’m self assured enough to not even notice attention. Self worth comes from the inside, not out. It is a relief not to be a sex object, and at times to be anonymous. If you want service or attention, ask for it.

  3. Sandy Burgham July 9, 2018 Reply

    precisely xx

  4. Kerry Webber July 9, 2018 Reply

    Fabulous Sandy

    • Sandy Burgham July 11, 2018 Reply
  5. Rachel Stansfield July 11, 2018 Reply

    Thank you for writing about this – I have also experienced the ‘sting’ of invisibility – most notably while car shopping with my (male) partner – it turned out that despite me being the one with the desire and the dosh most car yards actually wanted to sell my (male) partner a new car. I have stuck with the old one for now but it led to some very interesting conversations between us, where we both learned something as well as some new expletives.
    Women’s visibility or invisibility is a fascinating subject – I am reading a great book by UK Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson called Equal Power,she cites the ‘Bechdel’ test for gender equality in films – to pass the test, at some point in the film there needs to be a conversation between two female characters about something other than a man, apparently only 6/10 film pass the test now – interestingly that in the 1960s about half passed. There is also something called a Sexy Lamp test – it checks whether the role of a woman could have been played by a decorative lamp. It is so ridiculous that I had to laugh and it is just so appalling that we need to do something about it.
    Thank you for calling it out.

  6. Sandy Burgham July 11, 2018 Reply
    • Sandy Burgham July 11, 2018 Reply

      Oh thanks for reminding me about the Bechdel test!

  7. Marcus Koh-Taylor July 14, 2018 Reply

    being ignored by hip sub 25’s in retail (esp hospo) is not exclusive to 50+ females. 50+ guys get filtered the same.

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