A Manifesto for Invisible Women: Numbers too big to ignore

I am woman hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore

If you’re old enough to remember those words, you’ll get this. And you should read it even if you’re not.

Whether you fear it, lie about it or celebrate it, the number 50 seems way too big to ignore. Yet, ironically the opposite is true.

50 is about when women start to disappear.

It ranges from a small inner voice—-feeling you are losing social status or sex appeal or a sense of what’s possible—-that grows into the reality of our demographic on a large scale. Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak is imaginary, but the Invisible Woman is not.  It’s reality.

Despite some outliers— Susan Sarandon will always be sexy; Barbara Walters will always be Barbara Walters—most women of a certain age are MIA.
Our society’s interest in aging is focused on how to fight it. And that’s not reality—when products designed to prevent wrinkles use models who don’t have any yet.

Though our numbers are growing faster than we can count—we don’t count.   In the eyes of image makers and marketers—and more importantly, in their minds—when we reach a certain age, we’re toast—burnt toast.

This is spelled out in a recent piece in the NY Post which inspired me to write this.  The gist of the piece is that we don’t matter—despite our mass in numbers, with the financial muscle to match. Just one example is the television industry, where ratings determine everything: our demographic is not only discounted; it doesn’t even EXIST.  Here’s an excerpt:

Once TV viewers reach age 55: they are no longer counted as viewers…. “They ….turn invisible,” says Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC Universal.

Alpha boomers (55 to 64 years old) are the fastest-growing demographic in the nation. They make up half the population and spend more money on goods and services — nearly $2 trillion — than any other age group. They buy more technology and gadgets — 40% of the market — than any other demo. They drive elections, accounting for the biggest voting blocs in both 2008 and 2010. Alpha boomers have the second-highest median household income… They own the most second homes in the nation…..They own more iPads and smartphones than any other demo and record and watch more programming on their DVRs than anyone else.

Alpha boomers are almost completely ignored by advertisers.

Though their children and grandchildren are prime targets of marketers, grandparents influence and PAY many of the bills, including up to half of all private school tuitions.

Marketers have known where the wealth is for a very long time, says Jim Fishman, senior vice president/group publisher of AARP. They’ve just decided not to target them.
Adds Judann Pollack (no relation), executive editor of the trade publication Ad Age: “….there’s a stigma to getting older.”

No kidding.

Sure, getting older isn’t cool, and often isn’t pretty. Yet aging is a natural part of life. The people ignoring us now will reach 50, too–if they’re lucky.

And the invisibility cloak certainly doesn’t fit the women I know in later life—who don’t approach aging as their mothers did—with a sense of resignation, retirement, a sense of slowing down. I see the opposite—a sense of possibility, of potential, of power—women over 50 taking on new challenges, new businesses, new chapters in their lives. They’re writing books, forming communities, inspiring others, battling the idea that it’s time to fade into the woodwork.  Clearly this concept of invisibility strikes a chord.

One look at the statistics predicting life expectancy is reason enough for us to look ahead, not back.

Yet, as the Post article makes clear, there’s no evidence that anything is changing.   Unlike cultures that revere elders and benefit from their wisdom, our youth-obsessed society is determined to push us out of the mainstream.

What can we do—other than whine? Or wine?

We can’t change the fact of aging— but we can change the face of aging.  We can change the way people think about it. It’s a choice —and it starts with us.
Because whether your approach is to tighten your skin or loosen your belt, age is all about attitude.

We can use the major asset we have as a group—the wisdom of age—and turn it into collective wisdom. We can use our numbers– and apply the wisdom of age to change the age we live in.

Personally, I’m not ready to fade into the sunset. So I ignore the fact that I’m being ignored. If we don’t plan to spend our senior years in a rocking chair, we can rock the rules– even when they tell us our skirts are too short and our hair is too long.

Maybe we can’t change the big picture as individuals, but we can create pictures for the people around us—in the way we lead our lives. Lead by example. Be a mentor. Be a model. Support other women who are doing that. If you don’t buy the message you’re sent, don’t buy the product—and tell the company why. Better yet, create your own message. If you don’t want to be put in a box, think outside it.

Why stop at re-shaping bodies and faces, when we already have the experience of re-shaping the age we live in?   As the first generation of women in history to come to maturity with independent spirits, re-shaping the image of “age” is just a continuation of what we started. We changed the landscape for women—-by entering places that were previously closed to us— colleges, professions, boardrooms, politics.  After opening so many closed doors, who says we can’t open closed minds?

We can make the numbers work for us, not against us—starting with the number 50—one woman at a time. As long as we count ourselves in and count on each other.

I am woman hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore

It might be corny, but it’s worth remembering the lines that come after that one:

I know too much to go back and pretend
’cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.

This post was selected as a BlogHer Voice of the Year;  I read it onstage at BlogHer’11.  To see the video, click here.

Also posted on the Huffington PostThird Age and Yahoo Shine.

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Comments

  1. Wow Darryle
    Your articles never fail to inspire me. If your daily post doesn’t bring tears to my eyes, like yesterday, then you would otherwise see me walking in large circles with a strike board in my hands! You are wonderful writer who always seems to touch a part of my life. When I turned 50, I felt such relief as if finally free. I became a business owner at age 53 and most of the time it makes me feel like a toddler learning how to walk. And you must know that most of my clients are women much older than me; I count my first senior citizen customer a 104 year old woman who walked into the store under her own power…what to make of all this?
    The marketing agents don’t have to consider our demographic because they can count on us to behave properly…unless we don’t!

    • Gayle, so appreciative for such sweet, thoughtful words. Thank you for sharing what’s possible and wonderful later in life–and being a woman who sets an example in your own life. I’m convinced stories like yours encourage others and change minds—one by one. Meanwhile I’m trying to decide if I’d rather leave you in tears or marching around with a protest sign.

  2. It seems the failure of marketers to recognize the power of our aging female demographic is less a “slight” and more a sign of the stupidity prevalent in commercial media that will surely herald their own demise. The same thing happened with the music industry. When it lost touch with the music loving population, the music loving population found another way to get their music, essentially ending record companies as we knew them. The same is happening with television. Our “widening middle” population is learning how to program commercial free only what we want to see. So look out image makers, by the time our 50 + demographic hits its stride when we’re (ahem) really old, we won’t be able to see or hear anyway…….

    • People who have commented on this post on other sites suggest they don’t market to use because we’re older and wiser and know better. I’d like to believe you’re right that the audience is smarter than the media. Really I care less about products being marketed to me and more about the fact that most people don’t realize many of us first come into our own after 50 when the kids are gone, ready to take on new challenges–with so much to offer. Maybe we should all use advancing age to our advantage and act as if we can’t hear—the word “no.”

  3. I watched your youtube video three times in a row.
    I choke up at the end every time. Happy tears.

    I love your art.
    What it means and how it looks.

    Ciao bella,
    E xx

  4. Darryle: I can honestly say that in all the time I have been reading your blog (probably 3-4 years), I have literally enjoyed each and every post. But…….this post is among the very best written, most illuminating and inspirational one I have read. As a man who has been married to a woman whom I delight in seeing “roar” for the last 31 years, I thank you.

    P.S. I am so proud to say that I have known you for the last 40+ years and am so happy that, through your blog, others have seen what a beautiful person you are as well.

  5. First time here -I am inspired will come back often…Thanks

  6. Someone posted a link to this over at vibrant nation. You might want to join in the conversation.

    http://community.vibrantnation.com/conversations/161290-its-about-time/#replied-161349

  7. Rick in Miami says:

    While this article in the Wall Street Journal isn’t woman-specific, it does hint at marketers’ awareness of our age demographic. Plus, if you ever watch the national news, you see that the drug manufacturers know when their customers are watching TV.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704013604576104394209062996.html

  8. Thanks for posting the link. A similar piece was on the front page of the NYTimes Sunday Business section.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/business/06aging.html?pagewanted=all

    Gotta say my timing—or theirs—was impeccable.
    Also kind of embarrassing to admit as a former newscaster, I rarely watch the nightly news shows anymore. But I manage to catch plenty of ads for drugs anyway.

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