Youth is Wasted on the Young: The Intersection of Ageism and Sexism // Talia Schulder
Photo source: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/03/17/call-better-services-culturally-diverse-aged
Everyone grows older, but the process of aging for women in particular can be exceedingly stressful. As a young woman who is surrounded by aging women, I often wonder why friends will speak of their constant fears of wrinkles, or, why older women will always make compliments to each other, such as “you look so young,” or, “you haven’t aged a bit.” Why is there such a large obsession, especially for women, with fighting against time? Firstly, I looked towards the endless advertisements that surround me. While watching television or the internet, I was guaranteed, almost hourly, to find an advertisement selling a product that will keep women looking just as they did when they were in their twenties. From a young age, women will see these advertisements and assume that the goal as they age is to appear as though nothing is actually occurring. These advertisements also almost always use white cisgender women models, creating a popular culture that not only tells women they must buy any product that they can to stay young and “beautiful,” but also one which perpetuates the racism and transphobia inherent in mainstream beauty standards.
Public discourse on the aging of women is often biological, continuing the characterization of women as biological and medical objects (Rosotsky & Travis 2000). Menopause, though rarely mentioned in much of popular media, is often the mode through which people speak of the aging women’s body. Representation is mostly negative, which has actually been proven to lead to greater physical distress for the women that endure it (“Menopause Around the World” 2014). Western and American cultural stance on menopause disregards the positive outlook that indigenous, south Asian, and many other cultures have surrounding this hormonal shift, excluding other cultural views from the conversation (“Menopause Around the World” 2014). I never understood the western ideal of youth, it often leads to the perspective of life’s processes as a decline rather than the more logical positive incline that many other cultures hold dear. This focus on youthfulness also creates a culture in which elderly are not welcome and are often seen as “ruining the fun.” The emphasis on menopause in particular also ultimately excludes many transgender women who may not endure menopause, showing that the discourse surrounding the aging of women must shift away from the purely negative and physical.
If we are to focus on the physical aging of women it should be to improve healthcare access to all women. My grandmother is so grateful to have doctors who care about her wellbeing and are always available when an emergency occurs. However, our family is aware of the privilege we have in the medical team that supports her. Hispanic and black women are shown to have significantly less access to healthcare than non-Hispanic white women (Kosiak, Sang, & Correa-De-Araujo 2006). The gender and racial wage gap also plays a large part in retirement funds and savings, with women overall at a large disparity to men, but women of color (“Racial Gender Wage Gap” 2016) and transgender women/of color (“The Gay and Transgender Wage Gap” 2012) at a much more significant monetary disadvantage. The less income a woman has accumulated over her lifespan, the less she has to spend during retirement (“The Lifelong Effects” 2016). This means she could not afford making many changes to her home to stay actively mobile and may not be able to afford very vital aspects of medical care.
I realized recently that although growing older may always have particular struggles both psychologically and physically, the culture that surrounds us is largely responsible for the stressfully negative view that is associated with aging. These gender and racial disparities are only a result of racism, transphobia, and sexism that exists in our culture and require immediate large policy and cultural shifts to work towards improvement. I only hope that these improvements can be made as soon as possible so the next generation of women need not dread what’s to come. I hope that a positive outlook for the elderly can help our conversation starters shift away from, “you look great!” to something along the lines of, “you're a powerful woman, just as you were decades ago.”
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