11 November 2011 by Linda Kelsey

Ageism: Stand Up And Be Counted!

If you’re looking for a job (or romance), admitting your age can be risky. But, says Linda Kelsey, we can face down disrespect if we all tell the truth

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Photo: © Patrik Giardino/Corbis

When I first heard that an anonymous actress was suing Amazon, which owns IMDb (the Internet Movie Database), for more than $1 million dollars for publishing her age on the site, my initial response was cynical.

Given that most actors are resting, most of the time, this sounded like a good excuse for earning big bucks without having to get out of bed. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to see her point.

Although in the visual media it is more likely to be women than men who suffer from discrimination, it is not so in the rest of the workplace

Hollywood actresses have been complaining for decades about roles drying up as you age, especially if you’re a woman. And as two US actors’ unions have said, an actor’s actual age is irrelevant to casting; what matters is the age range that an actor can portray. They have evidence that the moment your (older) age is known to casting personnel, your opportunities for work shrink.

Age discrimination is against the law, but we all know it goes on. Just turn on your television. From the brouhaha over Arlene Phillips being sacked from Strictly Come Dancing, the UK version of Dancing With the Stars, to the fuss over the firing of Countryfile star Miriam O’Reilly (who won her discrimination suit against the BBC), the issue is barely out of the news.

Although in the visual media it is more likely to be women than men who suffer from discrimination, it is not so in the rest of the workplace. I have one friend who works in computer systems analysis for a major bank and who, at 49, is about 20 years older than most of the team he leads. Before going to the interview for the job he went to the hairdresser to have his grey hair tinted, in the hope that he could pass for 42.

I have another friend, a writer of children’s books, who is in his sixties but looks closer to 50. He is convinced that, if his publishers knew his age, he would never get another deal to write for the youth market.

To lie or not to lie, that is the question. If homosexuals hadn’t dared to leave the closet and declare themselves “out and proud,” life for gay people today would be very different. We wouldn’t be witnessing one state after another embrace gay marriage, or the growing acceptance of gay couples adopting children.

Baby boomers —  and bloomers — perhaps belong to the first generation of modern times that has the chance to make a change in society’s attitudes. We are still out there in the workplace, still visible in many fields and still making our voices heard. But unless we collectively stand up to be counted, we will never make headway in the battle for age and respect to go hand in hand.

It is tougher for women than it is for men, especially when it comes to the mating game. I happened to meet my partner at a party, but before finding me, he had internet-dated women with an upper age limit of 48. I was 56 when I met him.

If you feel it will work against you, being honest about your age takes courage. But it may be the only way forward.

 


Linda is an author, editor and journalist who has written three novels: Fifty Is Not a Four-Letter Word, The Secret Lives of Sisters and most recently The Twenty-Year Itch. She is a former editor of Cosmopolitan and SHE magazines, and has twice been awarded Magazine Editor of the Year. Linda has been a columnist for the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, and continues to write for them regularly on a freelance basis. She contributes to a variety of magazines including Psychologies, Woman and Home and Good Housekeeping

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