When I was young, one of my mother’s favorite television programs was I Love Lucy. In this sitcom, actress Lucille Ball played the role of a scheming housewife who often used tears to soften her husband when he confronted her ‘childish’ behaviors. Not surprisingly, my own mother behaved in similar ways.
I was a young child when Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique (1963), helped usher in a new era of possibility for women beyond the traditional roles that television and mass media had reinforced for decades.
A new women’s movement had taken root. Nonetheless, experiencing actual change often takes years.
When I applied for my first professional position after college, I searched the ‘want ads’ in our local newspaper. Jobs that required analytical skills and leadership were typically listed under ‘men’s jobs’. Lower paying positions that involved caring and supporting others were listed under ‘women’s jobs’.
Even when I was able to break into a more lucrative, ‘male’ dominated position in the insurance industry, I was constantly reminded that I was violating a cultural norm.
As a senior marketing consultant to some large corporations, I was once told by a male CEO, “Sorry, sweetie, but I don’t do business with women.”
Fortunately, women started speaking up and speaking out about societal role expectations. Women started to push back by applying for professional positions that had once been reserved for men.
Other women insisted on participating in marathons and other sports than had once been considered taboo for the ‘weaker’ sex. Gradually, women started assuming corporate and political leadership positions.
Eventually, the media started reflecting these changes with stronger female characters who were smart, capable and respected.
Last December, I watched the latest Star Wars episode, The Last Jedi, and it featured a strong female character. Most of my mother’s female role models are now living in a galaxy far, far away.
As women, most all of us have dealt with gendered stereotypes. In spite of assumptions others might have had, we persisted and started shifting the narrative about who we were and what we were capable of doing.
As Baby Boomer women, we are now facing the likelihood that others will try to stereotype us because we are aging. Reportedly, 65% of Boomers have faced age-related discrimination.
Teaching young (and not so young) adults at a community college, I’ve overhead my share of ageist comments about how we can’t use technology, how we shouldn’t be driving after 60, or we are no longer relevant.
Like some of you, I’ve also seen too many older women on television portrayed in stereotypical ways such as the nurturing grandmother type or the bitter old woman character.
The way we may be viewed at times by society is far from how many of us see ourselves or our potential. Joseph Coughlin, author of The Longevity Economy, reported that older people want to feel empowered and participate in society.
Our generation is recreating what it means to grow older. And women in particular are in a powerful position to help create positive views of aging. With women already influencing up to 85% of consumer purchases, Coughlin argues that we have a lot of power that businesses need to start recognizing.
In an era when we can provide instant feedback on products and services, we are in a good position to let businesses know that our view of aging is likely much different than some of the assumptions people have about us.
For example, if a sales clerk refers to me as “sweetie” but does not address younger customers in the same patronizing manner, I do have a choice. I can tell the sales clerk how I wish to be addressed.
Or if appropriate, I might complete an anonymous customer feedback survey. If I still do not feel I am treated with the same dignity and respect that other customers receive, I can choose to take my business elsewhere.
In addition to purchasing power, we have discovered how to use social media in a way that might surprise a lot of younger people who assume we are technically incompetent. Baby Boomer women are now using social media to redefine aging according to our own rules.
When Margaret Manning created Sixty and Me, she used social media to start a community that provides opportunities for all of us to reconsider how we want to experience being 60 and beyond.
We come together on this site to share our experiences, our insights and opportunities to live our best lives as women in a new era that we are defining.
In his article, “The Future Is Female & Instagram Grandma Has Her Game On,” Joseph Coughlin discusses a group of women in their 80s who have redefined themselves by mastering social media.
These “Instagram Grandmas” have millions of young, millennial followers. Coughlin says that “Women are the lifestyle leaders inventing the new old age.”
Any of us can use social media to help shift the narrative about aging as women. If you need some useful tips on how to use different social media, check out Grandparents Academy.
Individually, our next chapter could extend 20, 30, or more years. As women, we have experience changing perceptions and pushing expectations. We are the ones who can help redefine aging for ourselves and for future generations.
How are you choosing to defy cultural norms about aging? Are there some ways you are choosing to help rewrite the narrative about what it means to age as a woman? What do you want future generations to know about new possibilities for aging? Let’s have a discussion and explore our options.
Tags Getting Older