by Valerie Naidoo
To me, the concept of womanology is the essence of having and knowing that goes far beyond the realms of biology. It represents the pyramid of power that a woman holds while encapsulating a certain measure of softness. Women can easily shift roles from being entrepreneurs with a business degree to stylish icons and then to fulltime mums, hosting dinner parties. Mother Nature has defined women as maternal gatekeepers blessed with force fields of power and beauty, but youth is the one aspect that no amount of education, money or surgery can bring back to any woman.
New age womanology has given rise to a culture and sets a platform for an obsession with drinking from the fountain of youth and sees many women upgrading to trends of ‘staying young’. The pressure to remain youthful has become the way of life. Gratefully with thanks to designers, beauticians, plastic surgeons, yoga, alternate medicine and healthy diets the new forty is now thirty-three. Some fifty year old women have faces and figures that look like they belong on a catwalk in Paris or New York and have confidently explored a relationship with their bodies and images. In spite of this the age and beauty bias remains a bone of contention and still dominates modern mindsets and attitudes.
The age and beauty bias is common across all industries. For example, in filmdom Hollywood beautiful actresses are not allowed to age. A topic very much hot on the heels is that Hollywood is mathematically averse to aging actresses; some movies have seen women in their mid-thirties playing roles of mothers to daughters in their 20s. Aging women get fewer roles than younger actresses (they tend to become invisible with age) and talent and experience as an actor seems to be overlooked; hence actresses giving in to the pressures of the surgical knife and botox treatments.
Women worry more about looking young than being slim. They feel that once they reach a certain age it will become difficult for them to get ahead professionally. Older women find it tougher to get ahead in their careers and dealing with the passing years than men. Aging women in the office is not seen as attractive and women over forty often stress about a few strands of grey hair, on the other hand men with grey hair are seen as distinguished. According to a national poll in 2000 in the U.S. adults found that nearly 90 percent of people think women are under more pressure to look younger than men. Even though the life expectancy of women exceeds that of men by seven years, women are expected to retire at the same age of men.
Younger female workers are more readily hired and often advance more quickly in the workplace than older women. Attractiveness is unfortunately associated with youth and the female gender is at mercy’s end to look youthful and physically appealing. Many women tend to feel discriminated for both gender and age across most industries.A study by Joanna Lahey (2006) found that age bias can be an issue even when over-qualification is not a concern. She found employers are less likely to request interviews from women over the age of 50 than those between the ages of 35 and 50 with the same amount of experience and skill. There are far too many stereotypes and pressures surrounding age and beauty that govern women both in society and the workplace.
My own research found that a few employment roles prioritised physical appearance and beauty over skill, experience and talent. Decisions in the workplace are sometimes based on a woman’s dress sense, physical appearance and age. A female will get a job based on how visibly appealing she is and not on her capabilities of getting the job done. Hence, a woman can only accelerate on the corporate ladder as far as the bosses in her company want her to. Overweight women are sometimes discriminated against when it comes to certain job roles even though they might prove to be more resourceful than someone slim. I feel that women face too much of pressure to climb the corporate ladder.
The antiquated norm that older women are less appealing to date and marry is still alive and well, and boldly thrives across many cultures. Older women are labeled as having less market value and are unfortunately looked down upon and discriminated against even by their own communities. Single older women are often ostracized and made to feel that there is something wrong with them only because they’ve made the conscious decision not to marry at an early age.
High altitude careers discriminate against women and their age with many left racing against the fertility clock. Many women either sacrifice having children during prime child bearing years or risk damaging the structure of their families in order to rise up the corporate ladder. The income gap between men and women is due mainly to the penalties women incur when they interrupt their careers to start families. Women labour under the impression that they can have it all but I have realized that we cannot have it all at the same time. There are waves during which success in different areas happen and it seems sacrifice needs to be made in one area in order for another area to progress.
I feel that the age and beauty bias should not deter women from progressing up the corporate ladder, exploring entrepreneurship and growing in their personal lives. Biases don’t appear out of thin air; they can diminish and even disappear over time. I applaud those who seek to reinvent and improve on their self-images while rejuvenating their minds and striving to push passed barriers.
There is no correlation between physical beauty and integrity. By finding the anchors that wield authentic and empowering behaviour in the personal and professional domain while limiting mental, emotional and physical bankruptcy, the female gender can help in the progression of eradicating such barriers.
If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say? Share it with us in the comments section below.
A British/South African whose experience as an expat comes after spending time in the United Kingdom (in London), India and the UAE. Today she lives in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. Valerie spends much of her time empowering women. Her professional background includes Human Capital and Social integration. Valerie is a Career Coach, Head of International Recruitment, Humanitarian, Founder of WomenaireSociety and on the executive board at non-profit organisation: Centurion Hope Foundation where she uses her influence to form strong affiliations within the African Diaspora and initiated the Foreign Ambassadorship Program. To date she has written two books: “Under Attack Expat- UAE” and “From the Ballroom to the Boardroom” (contributions provided by Astute Radio Founder, Sepi Roshan).
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