Ageism

This blog post came to me as I was reading an article about life for women in their 70s. I am not there yet but I have several acquaintances who have recently turned 70 or are fast approaching it, as well as having younger friends. Oddly enough I do not have many friends my exact age. Once again as has happened many times over my adult life, when I read something about a particular life stage for women, I am like “I just cannot relate”, or “this isn’t me”. Once again I am made to feel like I don’t fit in. Alas this is the story of my life, however I came to terms with this many years ago now so I embrace the fact that I don’t ‘fit in’…I mean fit in relative to what?

I feel I don’t fit in essentially ANYWHERE. I am completely fine with this since this makes me who I am. I rarely fit into common categories. Let’s start with a simple fact that I do not have children and have never wanted children (I did at one time when I was a teenager and simply spouted a mantra fed to me from the outside world: I will get married and have 2 kids, a girl and a boy. I assume I spouted this when asked to consider one’s future for some school assignment but this was just what was to be expected. There was no critical thought process that brought me to this plan – it was just what ‘everyone’ did.) Even out of the minority of women who do not have children, about 20-25%, only a minority of them actually did not want to have children; the majority wanted kids but couldn’t for various reasons from biological to being uncoupled. I was like “where are the women like ME!!!???”

Another example always comes to mind. I remember reading decades ago Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. So often the writing was speaking to women who had followed a traditional path of (maybe education), marriage, children, empty nest, (divorce), grandchildren. There was an implicitness to this as well as it being explicit. Fortunately there was enough other stuff in the book that I still found it useful albeit not as much as I had hoped.

It does seem that I stumble across these for many what would be considered wisdom writings (I do appreciate someone trying to pass along some life lessons or interpretation of what is going on in one’s life in a larger picture context, or just trying to find the good & purpose in a challenging time of life). Alas, almost every time, the words do not speak to me as they do not mirror my experience.

I am not yet 70 nor am I in my 60s so perhaps I am jumping the gun a bit as they say. But from past experience I think my reaction to what I am reading is accurate so as I work through this mid-life career/existential crisis, I am left feeling alone, wanting to connect with similar women since I’m sure they do actually exist.

Last year when I turned 55, I was like wow now I am able to qualify for some ‘senior’ discounts – cool. Like not paying taxes at some stores, or a 10% discount on Tuesdays again at some stores.

There is also qualifying for living in 55+ retirement communities. A big no thanks on that one. Why is it that folks want to live with other folks who are their age? I get it on one hand, e.g. perhaps you don’t want children running around a neighbourhood keeping you up when you want to take your afternoon siesta. But I know from experience I like having connections with folks of different ages and as I get older that means more and more younger folks. Diversity is good. A true healthy community has a range of ages and family configurations imho.

The most important aspect of turning 55 is that you can now start drawing from your own retirement savings plans. I must first state that I am so very grateful that I even have such plans as the majority to not. Of course the so-called experts advise against this, and with good reason since if you start drawing before the usual 65, you will have less $ the longer you live. Alas when jobs/income just aren’t available, and despite best efforts to reduce one’s living expenses (and to find work), one will turn to savings to offset the reduced income. I have had to make withdrawals annually from my savings, retirement and other, from the time I left academia in 2014. Usually these funds were earmarked for enhancements to our property in order to make it even more self-sufficient, so e.g. ‘major’ capital expenditures. I put major in quotes since as an individual family, such expenditures are measly compared to corporate capital expenses.

Aside: the process of withdrawing from locked in retirement savings plans was interesting and unexpected. …Did you know there is a provincial position of ombudsperson of retirement savings – can’t remember exact title? I actually had to fill out a form that would then be sent to this person for their approval, as I was taking out funds earlier than I should. I’m sure said person has had much more work these years as seniors struggle to not live a life of poverty, perhaps having lost a chunk of their life savings in the 2008 crash or their pension being taken away from them or never having been able to accumulate some retirement savings in the first place. I was shocked since heck this is my $ and I should be able to do as I please with it. On the other hand I understood why such a person would exist since the vast majority of folks are terrible with money. I am not one of these people. I have always been good with $.

BTW I have no qualms of telling my age – I am proud of it actually. I don’t feel that age but then how could we possibly know what a certain age feels like when we have never experienced it. I don’t look that age according to everyone I meet – they are always in disbelief, but mainly because I find it totally ridiculous that older women have not stated their age ‘in public’ for generations. I understand it in a way – heck this world treats women like shit in so many ways with the focus on the body instead of the intellect or ability. However as everyone who knows me would understand, I don’t stand for shit like that. I am plainly ‘Fuck that shit!”.

In some of my sociology courses, usually at the lower levels so intro/1st year, if it was included in the text, I would do a segment on ageism – discrimination based on age. I was always so surprised that the focus was solely on the elderly. I would get my students in pairs do this activity where each person in the pair would take turns putting on glasses that had been smeared with some substance to create blurryness, gloves to impede touch, crumpled up tissue in the ears to impede sound, and legs tied together with a scarf or rope to impede movement. The pair would then walk around campus for about 10 minutes, near the classroom, in order to get the full effect of what it would be like when your body starts to fail you. What is it like to navigate a public washroom, stairs, opening/closing doors, simply walking inside & outside, etc… It was always a great debrief with of course a lot of laughter but also a big wake up to what life might be like for any folks with physical disabilities let alone seniors.

I fully understood and appreciated that seniors are discriminated against, however nowhere in the word ageism does it imply a particular age category. So I would always refer to the age discrimination that youth would be subject to as well, e.g. being followed in stores or not mature enough to do x (e.g. they can join military but can’t vote?). Thus ageism was not necessarily age specific, rather found at different ends of the life spectrum.

In the article that gave rise to this blog post, in order to exemplify what I am talking about I quote:

“We (women) can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often. We don’t need to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have needs.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/12/opinion/sunday/women-older-happiness.html?fbclid=IwAR0cgPlP-vVBbwFnnlLkSiR_dsL-t13eFnDzDro7XEeurwcWGMzVGuRR4JA. I have to ask why were you not honest and authentic to begin with? Why must women people please others? Why would any woman not believe they have their own needs that need to be met? I just cannot relate. Of course since I have not had kids I do not have such perspectives, ones which can clearly be detrimental to one’s psyche, so of course I don’t know what life is like as a mother. However I do know sociologically what are the societal expectations placed on women to be the perfect selfless mothers.

I know that my age is only a piece of why I am finding it (VERY) challenging to find (meaningful) work. There are more significant factors over which I have little to no control. For example, the collapse of the neoliberalism economic model of our time and the effects of this on the economies of small places on the planet. In a nutshell I don’t take it as a reflection of who I am that I am unable to find work that would be of the caliber fitting my credentials – such work just doesn’t exist where I live – nor that would accord with my principles. My background doesn’t suit the bulk of type of work that is available these days: healthcare, computer technology, sales & marketing, financial industry, criminal justice/social services. If you consider rural areas where I live there is even less opportunity, the bulk being seasonal work of some retail enterprise usually.

I recently went through a job hunting experience when one of the few jobs going in the small rural community of which I live outside became available due to a retirement (the person was in the job for over 3 decades with little actual education background for said position as it wasn’t needed back then). In our village for year round businesses, we have a gas station with convenience store and restaurant, post office, beer/booze store, pharmacy, furniture store, and library. The post office would be the only decent paying job since it is unionized (possibly also the liquor store since I believe it is also a union shop). I applied as I completely fulfilled the job requirements and qualifications. However I had 3 strikes against me: I was not a local, only having lived in the community for 15 years not 15 generations; I was an older woman; and I was over qualified. Despite this, I thought I should have a very good chance. Well I guess not since I never even got an interview. I had assumed that the library was a public institution receiving government funding so I thought it too was a unionized shop. In any event, job was posted, people applied including yours truly, and the library #2 person got the job – as should be the case if it was a union shop where seniority rules apply. I was completely fine with this person getting the job. There never should have been a job posting. For me the hiring was not transparent as a result of the process, not necessarily the individuals involved. However I’m sure there are others who are not so fine. There is the question of whether this person is a local even if they don’t live in the community. What factors were emphasized over others?

Well this is all mute since the job had been filled, and so my job hunting continues. Here’s hoping I find something this year. With every year I age with no employment that draws on my experience, the more difficult it becomes for me to find something that fits my background. Since I left academia, I have had three types of disparate employment as I searched for the next meaningful profession. I know this has given me a breadth of experience, all valuable and worthwhile, and I have absolutely no regrets. However some employers will not see it that way, e.g. she is changing occupations frequently – what’s up with that? Why hasn’t she stuck with one? Her background is essentially one of academia – why isn’t she still working there – what was/is her problem?

Okay I will stop this negative train of thought. I am truly grateful that I had the privilege to be able to even try these different types of work. We are living in very challenging economic times. I know what I am experiencing has little to do with me, rather there are forces playing out that are impacting everyone, some more than others. I am one of the fortunate ones since I have my needs met – food, shelter and clothing, and some of my wants as well.

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