“I cannot believe we still have to protest this shit.” That’s one of the banners I saw at the Women’s March back in 2017 and it’s stayed with me. We like to think we’ve come a long way since our mothers’ day. We look back at the society they lived in, and we see the disparity. We know that’s not us. We look younger than they did at the same age, wear younger clothes, behave in a younger way, and – perhaps even more important for us as women – we’ve had the opportunity for professional careers many in our mothers’ generation were denied. That is progress – even if it’s a little slow. But there’s still a long road ahead.
That’s particularly evident in the workplace. For many women, when we’ve finally established our capabilities, proved our worth and achieved a level of recognition in the world of work, all against a backdrop of inequality and sexism, we reach midlife and discover a new problem ahead of us: the battle against ageism.
That’s why, as part of our PRO AGE movement, we’ve launched an online exhibition, Beauty That Comes With Age. We want you to be part of it. We need your help to stamp out ageism and reframe the narrative around middle age. Let’s make ageism old news.
We don’t need to look far to see ageism at work. Charlize Theron tells the tale of being seen by the makers of Wonder Woman, only to discover that they were looking at her for the part of Gal Gadot’s mother (though, at 41, she was only nine years her senior). Amanda Redman spoke out only last week about the ageist approach that British TV takes towards older women. She’s 63, and feels her industry fails to represent her age group on screen – ridiculous when you consider that 52% of the TV audience is female. And Julia Sawalha has revealed that, at 51, she would not be recast as the voice of Ginger in the sequel to Chicken Run – a decision taken by the producers who felt her voice now sounds ‘too old’. They hadn’t even heard it. What’s going on here?
The Equality Act exists to prevent any discrimination on the basis of personal characteristics, and this includes age – yet research by the Office for National Statistics recently found that the redundancy rate for workers in their 50s is more than double the rate for those in their 40s. That’s no coincidence. It’s clear that ageism is alive and well.
Of course, ageism can affect men and women alike, across all areas of society. Yet it’s a statistical fact that as men reach midlife – late 40s to 50s – they are rewarded with promotions to executive roles, places on corporate boards, senior partnerships and increased salaries, while women are overlooked for promotion, still fighting for equal pay and often sidelined to accommodate a younger, less expensive generation climbing the employment ladder.
Of course, there will always be female exceptions to the rule in any industry, and we are becoming more adept at developing midlife secondary careers in an entrepreneurial capacity when the path we have chosen lets us down. What else can we do? But I have no doubt that ageism in the workplace for women is perpetuated by men.
At Studio10, when it comes to ageism, our mantra will always be that things have to change. We need to make ageism old news – though to do that, we have to be visible. In a recent study, only 1% of TV viewers could name 15 female actors over 40. Why? Because they never see them on screen.