The ugly face of ageism


Let it hang: We think were never too old to try new tricks, but society seems to tell us otherwise.

Age discrimination grows as the years slip by.

It seems to me that no matter what age we are, we’re never at the right age to do everything we want to do. For example, when I was 16 and too young to have a driver’s licence, I asked my father if I could take his car for a slow drive down a quiet country lane near our house.

“No, you’re much too young,” he said, somewhat adamantly.

“But you can sit next to me, and I’ll drive ever so slowly. I just want to know what it feels like.”

“Not only are you too young, it’s also dangerous and illegal,” he said, building a case against my request.

“But hardly anyone goes down that lane.”

“All you need is one maniac coming in the opposite direction and then ...”

According to my parents, every road in every town was chock-full of maniacs. Maniacs that only people old enough to drive could deal with.

A few years later, when I wanted to go on a cycling holiday around France with a girlfriend, my parents applied the same sort of logic when they refused to let me go.

“It’s too dangerous for two young women to be cycling alone in a foreign country,” explained my mother. “There are a lot of French maniacs on the roads over there.”

“How do you know that?” I asked. “You’ve never been to France before.”

“I remember something on the news about a cyclist being murdered by a motorist in the French countryside.”

“So you’re saying that when I’m much older that sort of thing won’t happen to me?”

“No, but you will be able to make more mature decisions if you ever get into a pickle.”

After cancelling my plans, I began sulking and moping around the house.

“You are too old for this sort of childish behaviour,” chided my father.

At that stage, I was old enough to get married, have a baby, join the army and fight for my country, but I wasn’t to be trusted with a bicycle overseas. I’m sure my mother had similar stories about murdering maniacs in every country in the world.

When I became a mother myself, and my daughter announced that she was going to France and that her main mode of transport would be a bicycle, I didn’t dare tell her about the murdering maniacs lurking around every corner.

As a sensible child of the Internet age, and someone who probably consults Google more often than she consults her own mother, she’s more street smart than I was at her age.

Round about the same time as my daughter left, I began getting the message that I was too old to dress a certain way. I was expected to wear the uniform my generation has deemed fit for a middle-aged woman.

If I depart from this dress code, people might start whispering about me behind my back, describing me as mutton dressed up as lamb. They make it sound as if it’s as bad as doing something criminal, like selling your body to the highest bidder.

Then more recently, when I was telling a girlfriend about my lack of success finding a full-time job, she said, “If you’re unemployed at our age, you might as well be on the scrapheap. You’ll lose out all the time to younger job seekers.”

“Scrapheap? How can I be on the scrapheap when I still have so much to offer? I may be in my fifties but what does a younger person have that I don’t have?”

“Well, for a start, youth.”

“What about the years of experience and maturity that I can bring to any position? Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Nope. That’s not going to cut it. Especially when most of the people doing the hiring are probably much younger than you are. They don’t want to hire someone like their mother.”

And my friend should know a thing or two about trying to find a job. She’s highly qualified and experienced in her field, but she’s been unemployed for two years now.

To date, I have submitted more than 30 job applications to various companies and recruitment agencies, and not one of them have responded.

To help gain some sort of advantage, I’ve been visiting a number of websites that give advice to job seekers my age.

One such pearl of wisdom states that before I attend an interview, I should hang out in the car park of the company concerned. That way, I’ll get a good idea of the organisation’s dress code and the sort of people who work there.

But what if the hiring manager remembers seeing me in the car park a few days before my interview, and has already warned security about the maniac lurking by his company car? I can surely kiss that job goodbye.

Besides, I think I’m a bit too old to be sneaking around.

Get more Mary Schneider on Facebook or write to her at star2@thestar.com.my.

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The ugly face of ageism

   

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