A female friend of mine recently told me about a podcast she’s listening to called ‘The Invisible Women’s Society’. It’s a comedy audio drama about three women in their 50s and the challenges they face. It’s written by Australian author, Nikki Gemmell, who penned the best seller ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’. My friend loves this podcast, telling me it perfectly encapsulates how she feels about herself as she ages. She told me that now she’s in her fifities she’s becoming ‘invisible’. I still wasn’t quite sure what she meant so I decided to do some investigating. I found a video online on the Seven website in which Nikki Gemmell talks about ‘The Invisible Women’s Society’ and I want to share with you exactly what she said:
“For a lot of us women I think we enter the invisible women’s society late 40s, early 50s, menopausal – we go to a bar, we’re trying to get served, no one is serving us, they are serving the bloke behind us, we talk up in business meetings, but no one is listening to us, and we’ve got really good ideas. Actually we’re roaring, we feel confident, together, we feel we have decades of accumulated wisdom behind us, we have learnt the power of no finally, of saying ‘no, I don’t want to be everyone’s lackey, everyone’s dogs body. I don’t want to be the pleaser any more. I want to say it like it is.’ So we feel strong and we feel powerful but no one is listening to us.”
Do you feel like you have become invisible as you aged? I’ve asked other women if they can identify with these sentiments and they had sadly told me yes. Society values youth and beauty and so as you age you become less valuable and less noticeable to society, even though you are wise, intelligent and totally together. Nikki Gemmell says it’s not just men who ‘devalue’ older women – it’s everybody. Even teenaged children see their mothers as irrelevant as they age and our former deputy prime minister says she struggled to be taken seriously in cabinet as an older woman. Nikki Gemmell commented on that during her interview with Seven.
“Julie Bishop mentioned this situation after she left cabinet. She said she would go into cabinet, she would have some amazing idea, she would raise it in cabinet, it would be completely ignored and five minutes later a bloke in cabinet would say ‘why don’t we try this’ and Julie would say ‘but I just said that’ and this is Julie Bishop, our deputy prime minister. I think what Julie said chimed with so many women as we stand in the bar, as we are ignored by our kids, treated as doormats by our kids, whatever it is, it just felt intensely familiar and such a relief that someone with her profile would articulate this.”
Unfortunately the more middle-aged women I asked about being invisible, the more horror stories I heard. One woman told me about working on a team for 12 months and winning awards, breaking records for her company and receiving no recognition. In fact she watched two younger women in their 30s without her qualifications being promoted to manager, while her achievements remained unnoticed. What did she do? She quit and decided to spend more time at home with her family. Her boss was totally shocked when she resigned – didn’t see it coming. “I really was totally invisible,” my friend says, “despite constantly achieving”. What a tragedy that this woman ran out of options? What a waste of talent!
Nikki Gemmell believes the phenomenon of the ‘invisible woman’ is worse in Australia than in other countries, because society fails to acknowledge that wisdom comes with age. She says that men have also told her that since growing old, they are no longer taken seriously.
“Men have been saying to me, but that’s me too. I am in my 50s or 60s and I go to a pub or a bar and no one sees me and that was a real eye-opener for me. And I think also in a work context Australia is very ageist. When we are older and trying to get work, it’s really hard to be noticed in this country.”
I asked my friend who quit her job after being by-passed from promotion if she planned to stay at home forever. “Gosh, no,” she gushed. “I am going to have a break then I’ll apply for new jobs. The odds may be against me, but I refuse to be beaten. It may take some time, but I’ll find another fabulous job and hopefully I’ll get a new boss smart enough to see my talents.” I have to admire this woman’s fighting spirit.
I kept researching ‘invisible women’ and found another gutsy woman who refuses to be ignored. Stand-up comedian Mandy Nolan. She recently wrote this for Mama Mia.
“Turning 50 surprised me – people weren’t looking at me anymore. In the movie of life I was out of focus. How can I be the fattest I’ve ever been but no one can see me? Last week I was ignored by a waitress in a bar to serve the man behind me. Yesterday someone nabbed my car space even though I had my indicator on. At home every morning I wrestle a mountain of unfolded washing and my kids just breeze past and pull out their socks and jocks. I am 51. I have never been smarter, more experienced, more at the top of my game. Then why am I being overlooked? I will not go peacefully. I will not go with dignity. I will not wear beige – the colour designed to erase us. Nope, no way. It’s time to get dangerous. It’s time to be embarrassing. To be inappropriate. Completely, freely, fully myself.”
This is how Mandy has decided not to be invisible. Here's how:
- I got rid of my sensible clothes. I’ve been wearing short shorts. Tiny denim skirts with boots. I proudly show off my 51-year-old legs.
- I wear my hair longer than before, and blonder.
- I laugh louder.
- I stay up later.
- Last year I went to a music festival and pushed my way to the front. I was mobbed by intoxicated kids screaming ecstatically –”Stifler’s Mum's in the mosh”. I danced like a maniac.
- Instead of making decisions that are good for ‘the family or the kids’, I am making decisions about what I want. If I don’t feel like cooking dinner, then I don’t cook it. It’s amazing how visible you become when a meal doesn’t turn up.
- I’m looking at a new car. With two doors. A bright coupe, not a bland boxy seven-seater Mum van. And when I drive I might not always let you in, and when you’ve got your indicator on Sir, I’m going to take your park.
- I will not be invisible. I love being 51!”
Do you think you are treated differently since turning 40 or 50? If you said yes, then how are you going to change that? What are you going to do to address that injustice? I say don’t go quietly. Few of us are as loud or brave as comedian Mandy Nolan, but no one should tolerate being treated unfairly. We all need to find the courage to say to the world, “Respect me!”
If you don’t do this, you risk becoming … invisible.
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.