How old are you?
And do you tell people?
Time was, a woman simply wasn’t expected to admit to her age. Admit. An interesting choice of word – we also admit to mistakes and we admit to being wrong. Are we expected to feel guilty for getting older every year?
It was like that for a very long time – when Elizabeth Bennet was asked her age by Lady Catherine de Burgh, Jane Austen has her say, ‘With two younger sisters out in society you can hardly expect me to own it’. And she was only in her early 20s!! So, for at least 200 years (Pride and Prejudice was written in 1797) women haven’t talked about their age.
My mother had never told anyone – I only found it out myself when I was 16, and that was by accident. She simply allowed people to believe she was the same age as my father – in fact, she’s 6 years older. It’s only now, approaching 90, that she feels able to admit her age (there’s that word again).
And for many years I did the same. I didn’t lie about it, I just simply didn’t mention it. It was what I thought I was supposed to do. But when I was 45 a younger friend made a very interesting point. She said that if older women don’t say how old they are, younger women will get a false view of what a woman at any given age is capable of. For example – if you’re in your 50s but only admit to being in your 40s, then go off and do a parachute jump, or cycle across America, people will think ‘there’s a woman in her 40s doing something amazing’. In fact they should be thinking ‘there’s a woman in her 50s doing something amazing’. It skews our expectations. We get a false idea of what older women are up to.
So – I’m up front about my age. If someone asks I will tell them. I included my age in my first ever post to this blog – 58 and counting (needs updating!!). I’m told I don’t look my age – but I take that with a pinch of salt, because we’ve already established that women haven’t admitted to their age for a couple of hundred years at least, so how does anyone have any idea of what a (now) 59 year old woman looks like??
These days age is a protected characteristic – like gender, disability, race and sexuality, you can’t be discriminated against on account of your age. I think that’s helped – I can tell you my age because I know that, legally, doing so won’t be detrimental to me.
We’re much more up front about our ages these days (and many other things). I pretty much know the age of all the women I work with. It falls into the long list of things we never used to talk about, but which we now feel able to talk about. I mentioned a couple of others in Wee Need to Talk and A Change for the Better.
I think it’s a good thing. It means we have a more realistic idea of the ‘norm’ for any given age. It also means we don’t have to pretend we’re something we’re not. It’s more honest. And when an older woman does something amazing, we know she’s an older woman – which raises our expectations of what older women can do.
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