As part of our #BREAKFREE from ageism week, Anna Mansell looks at why getting older really is a good thing
As I hurtle toward my 40s at a rate fast draining my face of elasticity, I realise I’ve never felt better. Yes, my breasts are closer to my knees than they used to be; yes my pelvic floor is under pressure when I sneeze more than twice in quick succession, but what of it? I am a woman reaching my prime, hear me roar.
So why is it, then, that research tells us more women than men face prejudice in relation to ageism? Who wants to take the power I’m newly cultivating, and why? If ageism is about discrimination based on a person’s age, yet I feel the strongest I’ve ever been. What is it that tips the balance and will I be affected?
I’m lucky, I don’t have that much experience of discrimination. I am white, I am middle-class; aside from being a woman, I come from a place of privilege. The job I do helps too. Being a woman, a wife, a mother; none of these things make a difference. Breastfeeding at the board table was not just welcome, but positively encouraged. Nobody questioned the speed at which I returned to work, or my lack of availability for weekend cover. Nobody has ever accused me of being on my period when having a bad day, nor have I been propositioned in the workplace. I’ve never been ‘past my best.’
But I’m also a paper pusher.
I work for dance and theatre companies. I’m not required to look young on stage, or be available to perform 6 nights out of 7 regardless of dependents. My ‘leading man’ is invariably a company manager, a producer, a chief executive; roles that are not gender, nor age specific. My place of privilege extends to the role I do, but not all of my colleagues are so fortunate.
We live in a world in which youth is revered. We change our faces to look younger. We lie about our date of birth. We dye our hair. Young is fresh and vibrant where old is stale and grey.
But surely old is wisdom and tales? It’s life and experience. It’s patience and calm and thought. I can learn much from my children and their peers, I’ve no doubt; but I think I can probably still learn more from my elders. Those who’ve lived and breathed significant political change, those who’ve seen live music that empowered the world, those who’ve campaigned for the rights of minorities, those who’ve watched as the age of the internet expands our minds as quickly as it contributes to closure. Those for whom life has been truly lived, and for whom anecdotes are the tip of great iceberg stories.
Are they old? It depends on your point of view. If you ask my children, they’d say I’m ancient yet I know for a fact that my 72-year-old, 6 nights a week, Argentinian tango-ing father is fitter than me, my husband and children combined. Is he old? Not to me. I know he doesn’t feel it. Is my mother? On the days her hands are too sore to make the art she once did with ease, I suspect she might say yes. On the days she’s giggling at a cartoon on the sofa with her husband, no; absolutely not. Are any of them surplus to life? You just trying telling them that! Then run.
So, although the world tells me that ageism is coming to get me, and I understand that’s the case for so many - fewer jobs for ageing women than men, less care or time for those suffering illness as a result of age, blindness to wisdom from so many - I have to have faith that my will to fight against it will win out. How can any of us, yet to experience it, possibly know what it means? How it feels? How we might respond?
We can do nothing more than teach our children the value of respect. Of being able to learn from those we might feel compelled to judge. To believe ourselves, in our value and worth, so that should we find our power rocked, we can fight back with confidence and steel.
There are brilliant, inspiring women up and down the country, in and out of my industry, around the world and down the street, all of whom inspire me to ignore the idea that I’ll soon become surplus. I have aspirations, things I want to do and now I have the confidence to chase them. I feel good in myself, in my skin. I’m at peace with my demons, I forgive myself my many faults. When someone wants to put me down, I feel sorry for them. At the moment, I have the strength to fight for my power. To retain as much control as any of us ever have over our lives, our destiny.
My age does not now, nor will it ever, define who I am. No more than any other individual aspect of my whole self. I am, just as we all are, made up of many things. Those who think otherwise expose more than they freely give.
Will my defiance work? I don't know. Come back in 20 years.
Follow me @annamansell
Find out more about our #BREAKFREE campaign here.