I turned a certain age this month. I am told I do not look that age. Apparently, I have good genes. My parents lived well into their 90s and always looked younger than they were. Some of it is that I color my hair, which I have no intention of stopping. And some is because estrogen is a marvelous substance that keeps the body looking younger.
I suppose I am also aided by the fact that I do not act like an older person. I mountain bike, road bike, or run six days a week. Recently, I was on the fifth floor of a hotel for a week and took the steps to my room all day every day. I like to stay on the move. I have always been a Renaissance person, and my mind is constantly working on the next thing. I just finished my memoir, pastor a church, counsel clients, and speak all over the world on gender equity. I have no plans to slow down anytime soon.
Still, I turned a certain age this month, and I do not like it. I said to everyone at church, “I turn fifty next Sunday, so come to the service and celebrate with me.” One kind man thought I was serious when I said I turn fifty. When I told him that was not the case, he said, “Well, you certainly don’t look sixty.” I just left it at that.
Men gain prestige as they age, though even they eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. One of my male mentors said, “When I turned sixty, I found out it was the new fifty. When I turned seventy, I found out it was the new sixty. But when I turned eighty, I found out eighty is just eighty.” Still, two men in the later half of their seventies squared off in the 2020 Presidential campaign. We make room for older men in the world. Older women – not so much.
I am on a flight to Maui as I am typing this post. I am fortunate to have an upgrade, but it is unfortunately one of my least favorite airplanes, an Airbus 321neo. It’s a “next generation” narrow body jet that is being purchased by airlines to use on long over water routes. I asked a flight attendant, “How do you like the neo?” He answered, “Yes, we have meal service.” I said, “No, I’m asking about the airplane – the Airbus 321neo. How do you like it on a route this long?” He said, “It’s good,” and walked away. Cathy was flying with me and said, “Yep, that’s how it goes.” I couldn’t possibly have any real knowledge about airliners.
As the flight attendant was preparing meal service, he saw on his paper that I am an Executive Platinum member, which means I fly over 100k miles a year, and have well over two million miles with American Airlines. He came back and made quite a point of saying, “We value your loyalty to us.” Then he actually answered my question, “No, I don’t like the neo, it’s underpowered and too small for a trip like this.” But he had to see my status before he took me seriously.
I do not want people to know my age because I do not want to be taken less seriously than I am already taken. Being an older woman is not an affliction. It is a privilege. And the wisdom older cisgender women bring with them is a national treasure. They know about privilege, systemic injustice, equality, and the sanctity of life that the rest of us only read about. There is a reason that wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures is referred to in the feminine gender.
I have an alpha personality. That means I am confident, action-oriented, and have high expectations of myself and others. I process information quickly and am obsessed with return on investment. How can I be more efficient to accomplish more good work? Those are not specifically gendered attributes, but how they are received is gender specific. A man with an alpha personality is praised. A woman with an alpha personality is “that woman.” Behind her back, a single word is used to describe her. An older woman with an alpha personality is in deep trouble. She will be put out to pasture as fast as those in power can figure out how to do it without a lawsuit. Hilary Clinton never had a chance. A woman is not allowed to be ambitious and strong.
I do not tell people my age because I want to be taken seriously. It really is that simple. I want to be heard. I want my knowledge, history and wisdom to be brought to the table. I want my words and actions to matter. I want to make a difference in the world. When I spoke as a guy, people listened. When I speak as a woman, people say, “That’s nice.” Nice is not what I am going for. Change is what I am going for.
So yes, I had a big birthday, but I’m not being put out to pasture. I’m going to Hawaii with my family to celebrate. I will celebrate before I get back to work. I have a lot I want to get done in the world. And if everybody knows my age, it’s just gonna get in the way of doing it.
And so it goes.