Wiped from public view

By Jane Fynes-Clinton
The Courier-Mail
February 17, 2010
Click here to view original

THERE is a conspiracy of silence around it in the sisterhood. In the box of secrets alongside the revelation that childbirth can be a terrifying near-death experience and that working mums feel endlessly conflicted, it is not truly discussed at a meaningful level.

There comes a time in life when women begin to disappear.

Women reach a ”certain age” and voila! They become invisible. People walk by without seeing, talk without looking, the tasks performed are no longer noticed.

I don’t mean we women are not loved by our families and friends, or that lip service is not paid to our extraordinary ability to do 20 things simultaneously at least moderately well.

I don’t mean we lack self-esteem or that our most important relationships fall into crisis.

I just mean that we fade from view; we go inexplicably smudgy around the edges sometime after the age of 40 and come back into view in our retirement years, when we fit a new societal role.

Some of it is physical and representations of women on TV don’t help. Dynamic, beautiful Channel 7 newsreader Kay McGrath spoke last Sunday of the pressure on her to continue to look young. At the ripe old age of 53, she is forced to invest time and energy in looking mature but perky. She is a journalist and newsreader, for heaven’s sake, and a top-drawer one at that. It is a sad symptom of skewed societal priorities that we should be party to such superficial and unrealistic pressure.

We have Cougar Town showing us what a 40-something woman could be, all wide-eyed, sexed-up and unnaturally pretty. Even The Good Wife, whose central character is a betrayed 40-something woman with kids, features a person who is high-powered, lauded, well-coiffed. It is hooey.

Most of us are not those women. We don’t go through every day immaculately groomed; our every decision is not admired by colleagues or partners. Most of us are not interested in being Miss Cougar 2010 entry requirements that you must be aged over 35 and presumably as sexy as a 20-year-old, and at least look like you have ambitions to be promiscuous. We just do not have time, energy or interest.

The statistics show we have full dance cards. Most of us have a permanent partner, children, a job, a home, a role and passions that run deep. We have had these things for a while.
We have ordinary lives. We work hard, worry a bit, are tired most of the time, and because of these things, we are aware that we are greying or creasing or sagging. We are real people wearing the consequences of having really lived. Sometimes we are OK with that and sometimes we hate it.

We pressure ourselves to keep working on our physical, psychological and spiritual parts. We are constantly buffing and stretching, pinching and redefining. What a tragedy that goes largely unnoticed.

Author of Sex in Public: Women, Outdoor Advertising and Public Policy, psychologist Lauren Rosewarne, found that fewer than 4 per cent of women on advertising billboards were portrayed as being over 30 and none were in their late 60s.

She said the lack of these women on display even the unbearably pretty or enhanced ones conveyed the message that they had no value or place in society.

There seems little doubt such popular culture and public display decisions have contributed to our invisibility.

British psychotherapist Susie Orbach said research showed that women were more capable, more energetic and confident as they got older. She is right. Women over 40 are used to their lives, their work-life juggling act, their bodies. They have sorted out the kind of woman they are. They celebrate their femininity in their own way.

But Orbach says that culturally, society turns its eyes away, as if to spare itself the sight of women over a ”certain age”. I had my hair done last week. It was a rare event for me to have the whole caboodle wash, colour, cut, blow-dry, straighten. My wallet was lighter but so was my demeanour when I walked out.

But no one noticed: not the people I interact with in the course of my work, not the people I bumped into in the street or the shops, not my children. Ouch.

It seems it is my turn. When I was not looking, some time after I turned 40, the invisibility cloak was thrown my way. Chalk up another mark in the sisterhood book.