More on Ageism: The Double Standard for Women Endures

Michelle Phillips: Beautiful Then & Now

I received a surprising amount of feedback from people of all ages on my recent post, Hire the Experienced: Observations on Advertising and Ageism.

Rebecca Chen, who I worked with when she was at Anheuser-Busch/InBev and is now VP Marketing of the social action non-profit Speakable PBC, wrote to me about an initiative she’s involved with called Coming of Agency, described as follows:

Our relationship with aging is complicated. Women are written off as no longer relevant when we are 40, yet not taken seriously as leaders until we are in our late 20s. In a world where over half of us born today will live to 100 years old, we need to change the narrative around aging.

Let’s create a more inclusive society for our future selves – where our aspirations are not bound to age.

Amen to that, and I encourage you to click on the link above and sign up for her newsletter.

Rebecca’s email reminded of me how much worse ageism is for women than men. This is certainly borne out in the statistics, but the Coming of Agency initiative reminded me of story after story of smart, highly skilled women with impressive track records who couldn’t even line up interviews after reaching the age of 50.

A conversation I overheard in a movie theater a year or two ago drives the point home. I was watching the documentary Echo in the Canyon with an audience consisting mostly of my like-minded Boomer cohort when Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas fame appeared on screen. Still gorgeous in her mid-70’s, my initial reaction was, “My, how she’s aged.”

The couple sitting next to me actually gasped. “Oh my God,” the woman said. “She looks awful.”

David Crosby: Looks terrible, but how good was “Wooden Ships!

But she didn’t look awful and a feeling of shame came over me. As enlightened and progressive as I think I am, there is still so much baked in prejudice residing in my unconscious mind.  It’s incredibly unfair to compare Phillips to her 25-year-old self. Do we do that with men? Not nearly to the same extent.

The film also featured the likes of David Crosby, Steven Stills and Neil Young, none of whom (especially Crosby) have aged particularly well. When these pale, bloated, balding and not particularly attractive men appeared on screen the audience reaction was, “Wow! It’s David Crosby! Cool!”

The men were remembered for their music. Phillips was objectified.

There’s nothing right and nothing fair about that. We all have a long way to go.

  • Sarah F
    Posted at 17:35h, 27 April Reply

    I was just looking at old photos of Michelle Phillips and came across her older-self photos. So many things crossed my mind as I went from viewing photo op sessions in the 60s – “this style is classic” to seeing her in curlers in her older years, with wrinkled ankle skin thinking, “this happens to all of us.”
    I agree the standards between men and women are not the same, and it appalls me that at times I give into acceptance of the divide. How I think of beauty needs some adjustment.

    While viewing the online photos, I couldn’t help but notice how she looks happy, even in candid shots – perhaps that’s a gift any of us would be lucky to receive, at any age.

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