Empowered Women Empower Women: Ageism as a Feminist Issue // Katie Hannah Fisher
This election has brought the divide between “older” and “younger” women to my attention. For the first time in United States history, there is a real chance a woman could be elected president. I don’t think women, or anyone for that matter, should vote for a person based solely on their genitalia. The fact that many women don’t support Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate does not surprise me or upset me. However, I am surprised by the way this election has highlighted this divide. Of course, I have heard the phrase “ageism is a feminist issue” but have honestly never really understood it until now.
Currently, all of my clients are all over the age of 70. I lead a women’s group for elders every week. These experiences have shown me how pervasive ageism really is. This election has come up a lot throughout our time together. Hearing the elders I work with or whom I am close to outside of work talk about the election and hearing my peers talk about the election are two very different experiences, but the issues being discussed are almost identical. In my experience, older women understand what it means to be a young woman- the struggles we face, the way we are viewed by the world-all of it. A lot has changed in the last 30 plus years, but there is also a lot that hasn’t. Young women can’t really understand what it means to be an elder. We haven’t lived that life yet. Ageism is real and it’s pervasive. This is not a type of oppression I have yet faced. If things don’t change and change fast I will understand the struggles of the elders who have come before me. Sadly, as it stands, this is not an experience I wish to share.
This divide has been forming for a long time. It has become a systemic problem that needs to be addressed. The feminist movement of the 60’s was, in large part, a young woman’s game. We live in a youth-obsessed culture, which only perpetuates these issues. The fight for reproductive rights has long been at the forefront of the feminist agenda. This has been thought of as an issue only young women worry about. There seems to be some false general understanding that women who are no longer fertile no longer care about reproductive rights. Yet, older men who never have the ability to birth a child play a huge part in creating policies regarding reproductive rights for women. There also seems to me a societal misconception that older women grow more conservative with age because men tend to. This is simply not true. Men tend to grow more conservative because they gain power and privilege as they age. The same is not true for women. As Gloria Steinem points out, “women get more radical because they lose power as they age.”
I finally understand why ageism is a feminist issue. It’s because men grow more powerful with age while women become more oppressed, patronized, and othered. This is something all women are facing, and won’t go away on its own. The same systemic sexism that makes it harder for us young women to be taken seriously ONLY. GETS. WORSE.
When I bring up feminist issues in class or point out what to me are very clear gender biases in our field, I sometimes feel met with exasperation. Fortunately, I am surrounded by a group of strong, intelligent women who I will be growing more radical with as the years pass. We can’t tear each other down. I don’t care who you vote for for president. I do care about aiming to change the way we talk about it. There is no need for this to be another “damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation” for women. You’re not less of a feminist if you vote for a man, and you’re not biased if you vote for a woman. It is going to take cohesion to continue to climb this stupid ladder because, as Madeleine Albright bluntly puts it, “It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”