Is ageism the new sexism?

“I’m not ageist but… how old are you?”

This is the type of comment that we have regularly experienced over the years and while it certainly has been grating at times our focus has been on gender equality so the frequently heard age references have rarely received a second thought. Combine this with our Asian backgrounds however and you can expect even more colourful remarks. Some even attempt to justify their comments with a misguided attempt at a compliment “Oh, you Asians have great genes and always look so much younger!” It’s been raised so many times it got us thinking – is ageism the new sexism?

Being asked “Oh my – you’re young aren’t you?!” can be flattering in a social setting, but in a workplace context, it’s not and often infers inexperience or questions your right to participate in the space. The challenge for us is to convince the room we are in fact the expert in our field and command the respect we rightfully deserve.

The 2011 census reported that the average Australian is a 37 year old female, which makes the constant questions surrounding our age even more surprising. Sure we get the odd comment about being a ‘chick’ but more often than not, it’s our age that people feel entitled to question.

Occasionally (depending on your mood) it can be funny. Like when you are a keynote speaker arriving at said event and someone helpfully directs you to the childcare conference next door because you couldn’t possibly be the leadership presenter they were expecting.

Or you enter a room for a high profile function, and staff insist on matching your name against their invitation list. Yet you notice no one else get the same treatment, walking past you and into the function at leisure.

But when a 10 year old girl is adamant that only ‘old men with beards’ can be a politician, it does make you wonder how in this day and age, this myth still exists. Alarmingly, why do the younger generation who arguably have been born into an era of equality still have these antiquated pre-conceived notions?

Perhaps we do not have enough role models to normalise our expectations of who fits certain roles. We know that more often than not, gender and ages still gravitate to certain sectors and jobs. There certainly doesn’t seem to be one simple answer.

So what can we do to combat this little spoken about form of ageism? Well aside from avoiding moisturiser or perhaps dragging a partner and couple of kids everywhere with us to demonstrate our maturity.

All women who have experienced this type of interrogation over their perceived age and implied lack of experience need to tackle this issue head on. When someone next queries your age and how you could possibly have enough experience to be doing what you are doing, ask them why your age is relevant. Better yet, ask them how old they are. Or perhaps suggest they may want your weight and dress size next? No? Well the questions are just as inappropriate.

Let’s share stories. We’re sure many of you have similar anecdotes that could make us laugh, cry and seethe with anger. Let’s not ignore the comments. Let’s turn them on their heads ala ‘Destroy the Joint’.

Most importantly let’s employ the best form of revenge – success. Let’s keep doing what we do. Be the best we can be. Show the world that people of all ages, women of all ages can do anything.

And it’s not all doom and gloom. For every person that scornfully queries your age, someone else not only marvels at it, they applaud you.

Original post: Women Agenda

Leave a Reply