For Women in the Second Half of Life
Same age, same hair photographed seconds apart; just a different camera angle. Would the first be treated differently than the second?
Me with daughter Vanessa in DC. I'm the same age in both photos, same hair, different lighting outdoors; both Donnas are considered way over the hill when it comes to the workplace.
No Country for Old Women
I enjoyed watching the series Longmire on Netflix up until its last season, then It went sideways. Throughout the first six seasons, they paired Sheriff Longmire with various beautiful, capable women closer to his mid-fifties age, but then the show followed most TV series’ pattern of not romantically tying down the lead character with one woman or ratings would plummet. I think it’s the writing that actually causes the plummet. Why have we allowed ourselves to be trained to only be interested in the breathless chase with plenty of conflict thrown in, but when the couple finally makes a commitment to each other, viewers’ interest wanes? Based on marriage track records, we need to see more examples of how couples stay together beyond the chase and how they keep their love alive. Most of life happens after the commitment, but many series and movies end at that point. Sorry, I chased a rabbit there.
What I was getting to was in the last season [SPOILER ALERT], Longmire hooked up (I intensely dislike this term that makes people's relationships sound like dogs in heat) with his deputy who was about the same age as his daughter. It never looked or felt right to me— like your father dating one of your girlfriends. Previous shows kept hinting at it since the deputy had a crush on him, but I thought surely the writers could see that the characters had no chemistry other than a father-figure who felt protective of his subordinate. Longmire was closer in age to his secretary, but they portrayed her as a grandmotherly figure in a minor role. The show decided the series would end with the sheriff bedding his young deputy, which seemed so awkward and out of character for him. I assumed the writers were male to end the series that way, but I didn’t confirm that. I just wish I’d skipped that last season.
Older movies were notorious for pairing up much older lead male actors with very young women, and this trained viewers to accept that as the norm. For example, if the reverse were the case in that a much older woman had a relationship with a younger man, viewers would probably cringe and think that was creepy. I remember feeling that way— even pitying Barbara Stanwyck’s character in The Thorn Birds when she was in love with Richard Chamberlain’s character, a priest 27 years her junior. But he was in love with Rachel Ward’s character, who was 23 years his junior, and viewers, including myself, accepted that even though he was a priest. It was such a sad series all the way around.
In the movie The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character is seduced by an older woman played by Anne Bancroft. The story, which was scandalous at the time, implied she was old enough to be Hoffman’s character’s mother (she was actually his girlfriend-to-be's mother, if I remember correctly). But in real life, Bancroft was only 6 years older than Hoffman! (2) Viewers were shocked, but again, we were trained to not bat an eye when a man courts a woman decades younger than himself.
In the Bond movie Spectre, Daniel Craig was asked how it felt for James Bond to chase an older woman, Monica Bellucci, who was only 4 years his senior. Craig said Bond was simply pursuing a woman around his own age for once (2). Kudos to Craig for pointing that out.
In theory, I have no problem with adults of any consenting age having relationships in real life or fictional, but I do have an issue with the double standard that exists between men and women and age. In practice, though, I imagine many of us would have difficulty overcoming that double standard after a lifetime of being taught and shown otherwise.
For decades on most news shows, male anchors grew older and firmly cemented in their positions while female anchors kept getting younger and worked with an eject button attached to their seats. Major kudos to PBS for keeping their female news anchor Judy Woodruff, who turned 73 this year. Another outstanding journalist is Christiane Amanpour, who turned 62 this year.
Bringing it closer to home, when I started looking for work in schools and libraries in the Austin area 16 years ago at 50 years of age, it caught me by surprise when it seemed that my age sabotaged me before the interview even started, and I didn’t get many interviews in the first place. I felt like some of the interviewers were simply going through the motions of asking me questions when their minds were elsewhere. It seemed as though they’d already decided I was a “no” before we even started. At that time in my life I had already stopped dyeing my hair, but those few interviews unnerved me enough to dye my hair once more because I felt like my age was working against me.
My last job before retirement was an online researcher and writer for an educational search engine, and I was hired unseen. The virtual working environment was more conducive to judging me solely by my work rather than my age and appearance. That was nice, but that standard should apply to any working environment.
Corporations are replacing older, more experienced workers with trained, inexperienced entry-level workers. Youth is equated with energy, beauty, tech-savviness, enthusiasm, and corporations’ favorite reason: less pay. This is called “juniorization” (4). In recent years, IBM terminated around 20,000 American employees over 40 (6), so there was no loyalty for experienced employees who had worked for the company for years. Before that, IBM also moved thousands of jobs to South American companies and told the U.S. employees they were letting go or transferring to lower paying positions that they had to train the new hires by phone and often with language issues in order to receive their severance pay. This happened to my brother Joe, who is about as sharp as they come, but IBM wasn’t willing to keep him in that position. IBM lost a huge contract with a company Joe previously maintained because the new hires weren’t able to do the same quality of work. This scenario has been repeated over and over again with corporations across the country.
Almost a third of U.S. households are headed by a 55-year-old person or older with no retirement savings or pension (10) and the SSA says 49% of the workers in private industry have no private pension coverage (9). When the average monthly SS benefit for retired workers is only $1,514 (9), that means these people will have to keep working to cover their living expenses. And that’s only if they’re healthy enough in their senior years. So this isn’t a country for old men either in instances like these. But it’s worse for women because they, on average, earn less than men. Age discrimination, which is against the law but happens regularly, will make it next to impossible to get jobs out of the minimum wage range for people well into the second half of life.
Second Wind considers the age of forty as the beginning of the second half of life for women; for men, it's 38. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids discrimination against people age 40 or older. But unfortunately, there is a very small window of opportunity to file a charge of age discrimination, and you’re out of luck if you miss it. And when companies require the employees they are firing to sign a contract to not sue or they won’t get the severance package, the law has no teeth to change the unethical practices companies are getting away with when it comes to age discrimination.
What can we do about age discrimination in the workplace?
Start by writing your elected officials and make your voice heard.
Report the corporations that are doing this to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and you can do it anonymously until you determine if you have enough evidence to file a suit.
Speak by withholding your money to companies that have reputations of age discrimination.
As for cultural age discrimination, post your opinion of movies or TV shows, websites, magazines, books, etc. that feed the double standard. Un-recommend certain shows and say why. We need to wake this sleeping giant of close to 100 million people over forty that can have more of an impact than they realize.
Donna Van Cleve
10 Double Standards That Exist for Women in the US. https://www.insider.com/women-double-standards-sexism-2018-10
17 Times Films Had Ridiculous Age Gaps Between Their Cast. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/films-age-gaps-cast-keanu-reeves-woody-allen-angelina-jolie-a9223191.html
Age Discrimination. https://www.eeoc.gov/age-discrimination
Companies in Their Cost Cutting Are Discriminating Against Older Workers. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/08/03/companies-in-their-cost-cutting-are-discriminating-against-older-workers/?sh=172d24924436
How to Contact Your Elected Officials. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
IBM Age Discrimination Lawsuit Sheds Light on a Harrowing Employment Trend. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2018/09/18/the-ibm-age-discrimination-lawsuit-will-shed-light-on-this-harrowing-trend/?sh=1148d44f5ce1
Leading Men Age, But Their Love Interests Don’t. https://www.vulture.com/2013/04/leading-men-age-but-their-love-interests-dont.html
Real Life Examples of Age Discrimination. https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/6-real-life-examples-of-age-discrimination/
Social Security Fact Sheet. https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/basicfact-alt.pdf
Workplace Age Discrimination Still Flourishes in America. https://www.aarp.org/work/working-at-50-plus/info-2019/age-discrimination-in-america.html