“The Lady disappears” but she must not

My 81-year-old mother was running a few errands and I was driving her around Calgary. We first went to her bank to deposit a check. Wanting to make sure she didn’t slip on the well-polished floor, I gently held her arm as she walked towards the cashier. She greeted the cashier hello and said she had a check to deposit. The cashier looked just above my mother’s head and asked me, “What account does she want to put it in?” I was a bit shocked and confused. So I blurted out, “It’s his check and his accounts.” Ask him.”

Then I took my mom for her annual appointment with a cardiologist. After examining her, he asked me how her current medications had worked for her. I said, “I don’t know. Let’s ask him. After all, my mother was sitting right there.

Women are treated unfairly by society and in many industries. Sexism is a well-documented phenomenon. However, as they age, they also encounter ageism – they become invisible.

Scene 1: Gender bias

We have known for some time about gender bias in many areas of society, including health, finance and the media.

Women’s health issues are often underestimated by health professionals. Heart disease, autoimmune disease, and severe menstrual pain are routinely considered anxiety, depression, or just normal, causing women to suffer in silence. A study of nearly 30 million people found that women were “less likely to receive the drug treatment and follow-up recommended by clinical guidelines”.

In general, women use financial services less. They have fewer bank accounts, make fewer deposits and have less life insurance. Loan officers tend to be biased against female applicants, which makes women less likely to get a loan and, when they do get a loan, receive lower amounts; interestingly, women are less likely to default on their loans.

Examples of sexism abound not just in real life, but in real life. In the highest-grossing films of 2018, only 35% of speaking characters were women.

Scene 2: Gender bias + age bias

Now, in addition to a gender bias, add an age bias. A global study across 18 countries and multiple dimensions found that while aging is no picnic for either gender, older women are at a singular disadvantage.

As women live longer than men, they have more interactions with the health system. Unfortunately, the interactions aren’t all they should be. Ageism combined with sexism hampers the diagnosis and treatment of older women. The title of another study says it all: “Seen but not heard: Older women’s experiences in hospital”. He found that hospital care for older women was sorely lacking, particularly in the areas of bathing, mobility, nutrition and, unsurprisingly, communication.

In financial services, older women face both gender bias and general financial ageism. They face discrimination and exclusion because there are fewer physical bank branches and more online banking services. They also have fewer and more expensive insurance options.

For women in film and news, even 35 is considered old. A study of the highest-grossing films from the 1940s to the 1980s found that older women were not only underrepresented (only 19% of characters over 35 were women), but also more negatively represented (few attractive, hostile and unintelligent). Another study analyzed the highest-grossing films of 2019 in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States to find that among characters aged over 50, only around 25% were women and that there were no female roles in a single film. . The 2015 Global Media Monitoring Project studied the news arena to find “an inverse relationship between gender, age and visibility such that as a woman’s age increases, her visibility in timeliness is decreasing: barely 20% of all sources/subjects that were perceived to be over 50 were women.

They are even ignored by the academic and research community. We don’t collect enough data on older women, or even on women over 50. And in an age of data-driven policy-making, that means they’re starved of services. We don’t do enough clinical trials on older women. And that means the proper dosages for them or the possible side effects on them are not known. We don’t have a precise understanding of how common illnesses affect women or how best to treat them. As an article in The Lancet puts it: “Most adults over 85 are women with unique health and social needs, but they are an invisible majority.” We know that women live longer than men, but as a global meta-analysis reveals, they “live more years of their lives with functional limitations” and they “score significantly lower than most indicators of subjective well-being and mental health”.

Scene 3: Fade to Gray

Essentially, older women are invisible. They are neither presented, nor recognized, nor studied, nor listened to. And as a result, they suffer from inequalities of service – whether in health, finance or other industries. Among the elderly, women suffer more from exclusion from material resources and civic participation.

It is not just the average older woman who is discriminated against. High profile older women are also discriminated against. Mary Ann Sieghart’s Essential Book The authority deficit is brimming with examples of high-ranking female leaders repeatedly underestimated. In one, she recounts how the then Pope walked past Mary McAleese, the President of the Republic of Ireland, to first shake her husband’s hand (p.2). In another, she recounts how, at a reception at the White House, US President George Bush told Joseph Mulcahy that he was doing a great job at Xerox when in fact it was his wife Anne Mulcahy who was CEO of Xerox and stood right next to him (p.69). The book mentions Christine Lagarde, then president of the International Monetary Fund, explaining how when female board members start talking, people stop paying attention (p.66). Dame Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University and well-known television historian, has to kindly berate people for her chance to speak (p.65). Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State, encouraged women to interrupt more in order to have their say (p.64).

Due to the tech revolution and working from home during COVID, we’ve learned not to judge people by their clothes. The young man or girl wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a hoodie might just be the entrepreneur of a startup worth millions – so you better recognize them, respect them and give them a good service. And yet, we continue to judge people according to their sex and their age. If you are a woman and you are old, you are doubly discriminated against, underestimated and invisible.

By being ignored, older women lose what is rightfully theirs: to be seen, recognized and respected, heard, taken into consideration and fully benefit from the resources and services that are their due. We must listen to them out of compassion, out of concern for their physical and social well-being, and out of concern for their rights.

By ignoring older women, we lose what they have to offer: their vast experience, deep knowledge, non-judgmental perspective, unconditional empathy and insightful wisdom. We must listen to them selfishly for our own growth and well-being.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 film, The lady disappears, the “lady” who disappears is Miss Froy, an elderly woman who is an open governess and music teacher. But she is more than that; she is also a spy for the British Foreign Office. Fortunately, at the end of the film, she reappears. A happy precedent.

Eldest of five children, my mother lost her father very young. She got married, immigrated away from her native country to Canada, raised two children, held a full-time job where she was admired for her intellect and ethics, managed an immaculate home full of friends, sang classical music on stage, contributed to a community where she was known for her open heart, and for the past seven years treated her husband for cancer. Every older woman has her own story, her own trials, her own accomplishments. After all, they lived one life.

Back home, my mother prepares dinner, eats, does the dishes and takes her medicine. Then she sits down to relax and do some sudoku. She finishes one in 3 minutes – and I finish the same one in 5 minutes. “Don’t worry,” she said, smiling softly. “You’ll get better with time.”

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

About Hubert Lee

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