The career advantages I have had BECAUSE I'm a woman
Ageism is not the new sexism, it's the old one!
When I was 26 I was offered a rather big media job with a correspondingly big salary and all the trimmings.
I turned it down.
It wasn’t for me.
At the time it rather puzzled me why they would offer this job to someone who was 26. But I was aware enough to see that one of the reasons they offered me the job was precisely because I was a young woman.
I was the “fresh face”.
And opportunities do come your way when you are.
Sometimes when I get interviewed about my books I get asked about the sexism I have faced in my career.
I tell my stories:
About the Nobel prize winner in economics that I was interviewing who took one look at me and then asked: “So, who wrote your questions?”.
About the TV producer I worked with who used to refer to “the moment” in the interviews I did. What she meant was “the moment” when the male hotshot I was talking to realised that I wasn’t stupid. My producer swears she could literally see it coming on camera. Often she would just sit and wait for it.
All of this stuff is real. But there’s another side to it too.
Because I have certainly also had ADVANTAGES from being a woman in my industry.
Or let me rephrase that:
I have had advantages because I have been a YOUNG WOMAN.
(And obviously because I’m white as well. But that’s a topic for another day).
In recent years there has been a lot of talk about ageism against women in Hollywood. And for good reasons. If we never see women over 50 as main characters in the shows and films we watch that’s a problem.
But there’s the other side to it as well: that young women actually seem to have an edge over young men in Hollywood. An analysis by the economists Robert Fleck and Andrew Hanssen of more than 50 000 films showed that among 20-year-old actors, women got 80 percent of the leading roles. By age 30 that was down to 40 percent, and past age 40 men claim 80 percent of the leading roles.
So yes middle-aged men are more visible on film. But young women are more visible than young men!
All of this brings me to an interview with Jennifer Lopez that I read this morning. Naturally I was reading it to find out the latest about her and Ben. Instead I was struck by JLo using economic terminology. She said about her own success:
“It’s all about being the scarce asset.”
Then she continued:
“What we’ve been sold as artists is you’re a dime a dozen. The next girl will come along and there’s somebody that will be younger than you and better than you, and that’s not the truth. It’s like you’re disposable, and especially as women.”
We often talk about ageism AND sexism hitting women at the same time when they reach midlife. We see headlines like: “ageism is now a bigger problem for women than sexism”.
And there are numbers to back this claim up.
But the truth is that ageism against women IS sexism. Just like Jennifer Lopez says, it’s based on the idea that women are “disposable”. And why are women more disposable than?
Because our value is more tied to our youth.
Ageism is not “the new sexism”.
It’s the old one!