Hear me roar

Rachel Ward courtesy of ABCDriving home last night from the Trinity Beach book club meeting I was listening to Tony Delroy on the ABC’s Night Life. His guest was Rachel Ward, chatting about her recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled ‘I Am Strong. I Am Invisible.’ Also along for the conversation was researcher Mark Crindle.

The gist of Ms Ward’s article is that women over fifty, in Australia particularly, have become less visible. They are the spending power house of the baby boomer generation and yet images of women over fifty aren’t often found in the media spotlight. These women (and I’m only a  couple of birthdays away from joining them) have three times the net worth of their Gen Y counterparts and they, not the male baby boomers, are big spenders.

So in a consumer society like Australia why aren’t they given more status? In America there are high profile women in the public eye – Diane Sawyer, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Jane Fonda – the style setters. In Australia Julia Gilliard, Quentin Bryce and Ita Buttrose spring to mind, but none have the influence of the Americans. Is it simply that we Australians love our beaches and our sport so worship youth and good health above wisdom and experience? Seems a little too simplistic for me… While I don’t have an easy answer as to why it occurs I do believe there’s something we can do about it.

Late last year there was spirited debate about the merits of women writers and the perception that more male writers win Australian writing awards and so garner the flow on benefits. The Stella Prize has been set up to address this perceived bias and is being launched during the Sydney Writers Festival.

Elizabeth Lheude’s answer to the dilemma was to initiate The Australian Women Writers Challenge to widen the awareness of the number of Australian women writing great books – and that’s taken on a life of its own thanks to the power of the blogsphere.

I argued at the time that women had the power to change that status themselves by choosing where they spend their money and the statics quoted last night add more weight. Individually we middle aged women may not be able to influence the small number of middle aged white males who choose the images we see in the media, but collectively? They need us and our discretionary spending more than we need them and their glossy advertorials.

We women will live to a greater age than the males of our generation, we’ll spend longer and we’ll be the matriarchs of families influencing the next generation, and the generation after that. Make our spending power count. We don’t have to go quietly once we hit fifty – I (and my credit card) have no intention of disappearing with a whimper.

Even as a teenager I loved that Helen Reddy song.

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9 thoughts on “Hear me roar

  1. Brilliant! I’d never thought of that, but with my Mum falling into that exact category, 56 year-old baby boomer with a decent disposable income, it now seems obvious that there’s a missing chunk in the market place.

  2. Amanda, I’d never heard of Mark before but he made a lot of sense. Have to say I’ve always been a Rachel and Bryan fan 🙂

    Glad you approve!

  3. Great post Helene… Mark McCrindle is fabulous – I went to a talk hosted by him about 9 years ago when he had just written a white paper on gen Y… he is one of the most dynamic social researchers in Australia – and if anyone can highlight women, and their strength and the gifts that age brings it is both he and Rachel (I have loved her from ‘Fortress’ days and she and Bryan Brown have always been forerunners in ‘making it count’ – great post!!!!!! Wish I’d hear it! AND what you say is right, the power of us to change the perception/make the choices is exactly that – up to us!

  4. Great post, Helene. Just wondering, though, to whom do we want to be visible? Personally, I don’t mind so much about advertising, but getting squished in the lift and knocked aside on city streets is a pain.
    Personally, I really hate the incredulousness with which stories about women who are attractive after 40 generate, as if they’re an exception!

  5. Sandy, I’ve noticed that when I get into a lift more often than not I get squished into the back corner by the bustling men (and younger women) who seem to look right through me. It amuses me now and I spend the twenty seconds I’m locked in a small space imagining what they do for a living.

    I’ve also found lovely young men in supermarkets are much more likely to help me get something off the top shelf (since I’m so vertically challenged…) which I figure is because I look like their mum 🙂

  6. Lol, perhaps Cathy, but my female first officer and I were discussing this on a two day trip. We are still greeted with disbelief on occasion when passengers realise they have an all girl crew. The vast majority are very supportive, but there are still enough occasions when they aren’t to make us grumble.

    I do think being older helped my most of the way through my aviation career because I was taken more seriously. (I also had wonderful male mentors who steered me through the pitfalls of being in an industry like this.)

    And yes, there are some notable exceptions of older woman on the public stage who command respect – Judy Dench will always be one of my favourite actresses alongside Meryl Streep – but in Australia there seems to be fewer than there should be… I hope Rachel Ward continues to nudge the public consciousness. And meanwhile we can continue to support our older peers!!

  7. Solidarity, Sister! As one of the 50+ I can attest to being invisible to most of the younger generation. Having said that, I have to admit that my youngest fan is 5. (And he’s the cutest little daredevil)

    It seems to be the old ‘judging a book by its cover’ syndrome. People who know us, know the wealth of experience and knowledge we’ve accumulated over the past few decades. Others just see a (in my case) slightly chubby (read voluptuous) older woman whose flame red hair is fading into greyish brown.

    And you know the sad thing? Sometimes even people of our own generation seem to find us invisible. Perhaps another thing advertising has to account for. Unless you’re young and beautiful, you’re nothing. Ah well, sorry guys, we know better. 🙂

  8. Actually, Helene, with the gains we’ve made, Heln Reddy could probably re write that song.
    “I am Man, hear me squeak,
    I’m too terrified to speak”

    I do think that at 57 I am less “visible’ than at 27.

    Otoh in some ways being older can work to our advantage. In the medical profession an older nurse is seen as being more expoerienced and that reassurin g an authoratative than a younger nurse. After all, or images of doctors and nurses were formed by Dr Kildare’s wise old mentor, Dr Joe Kiley, Kindly white haired Marcus Welby, MD, Gruff auld Dr Cameron, even gruff cbut kindly Colonel Sherman Potter!

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