A press release turned up in my inbox the other morning, loudly gasping that as soon as we reach the age of 50 “women become invisible to the opposite sex”.
Christ, I thought, more baloney, more balderdash to sprinkle over the great big tripe-and-onion pie of first-world problems. Could it be true, I asked myself, this staggering revelation, this gritty nugget of information, equalled only in importance by the shocking news that there’s a ladder in your 15-denier tights and Mrs McGrory forgot to put her bin out. Women in their 50s becoming invisible? Surely not!
I hovered over the delete button, but as I myself am cantering towards my 52nd birthday (quite often in a pair of far-from-invisible cerise runners that probably were never intended to be worn with pale pink Irish legs) and am therefore one of those unfortunates who are in imminent danger of evaporating into a midlife mist, I decided to tuck my scepticism into the pocket of my bed jacket and read on.
Ignored by men
The email, which disseminated data "commissioned by a herbal remedies company", went on to say that "a survey of 2,000 women revealed that, once they reach just over 50, women feel they get ignored by men and don't get the level of attention they had before".
Er, yeah? And your problem is what exactly? Had I been charged with the Herculean task of writing that particular press release, I would have taken an entirely different tack:
“Fantastic news! A survey has revealed that if you’re 50-plus and female, it’s all over. At last, it’s finished. Never again will you have to endure some fool you’ve never met before assuming that as you’re sitting in a bar alone with your book, or on a park bench with your thoughts, or in a dark cinema with just your favourite shoes for company, you’re only waiting for him, that prince among men, to finish his pint and adjust his crotch before taking him up on his handsome, unasked for, offer to shag him blind.”
And no, of course not all men operate with the predatory instincts of a cross-eyed wolverine, and yes, I admit I’ve been privy to conversations where women bemoan a perceived lessening of their allure. “These days, when I’m trying to order, I get ignored by barmen,” a friend told me recently, with unnecessary chagrin. Well, go to a different bar then, I replied, or skim a beermat at him. Don’t whisper your anguish to me, as if an accumulation of crow’s feet somehow excuses other people’s bad manners or lack of professionalism.
A lack of self-esteem
The survey claimed that nearly half of the 2,000 women questioned felt underconfident, citing greying hair, the need to wear glasses and a general feeling that their appearance was deteriorating as the reasons for their lack of self-esteem.
Sadly, and maddeningly, it also concluded that some middle-aged women feel intimidated by the presence of more youthful females at social events, with six out of 10 respondents believing that the world is geared towards younger women.
But maybe these quinquagenarians are already forgetting what it’s like to be young, what it’s like to be viewed and assessed through a prism of desirability at an age when you are more vulnerable and less able to deal with unwanted attention.
The good ship lollipop has sailed. We grow up, we go grey, we flirt with myopia, we forget where we’ve parked.
So bloody what?
I don’t believe the conclusions of this survey are a true reflection of our lives, regardless of the accuracy of the statistics.
I was at the funeral of an old family friend recently, a woman who died suddenly and peacefully after an enormously positive and influential life well-lived. Just months before she died, one mourner told the congregation, she was in a rural market in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, perched on her walker, when a local man appeared from among the crowd and proposed marriage to her. Her refusal, in keeping with her personality, was humorous but polite.
Maybe that Moroccan man sensed in her what we might all be lucky enough to recognise in ourselves: grace, self-acceptance, an ease that goes beyond the colour of our roots, the lines on our faces or the flexibility of our optic nerves.
Maybe invisibility is the key to freedom.