Covid’s Unspoken “Ism”
By Robin Albin & Daria Myers, Co-Founders / Everlusting
In addition to the dire health consequences, Covid-19 has accelerated a series of societal “isms” — racism, sexism, activism and classism. To name a few. And when the CDC warned that the risk factors of Covid 19 were significantly higher and deadlier for anyone over age 60, society unwittingly resurrected one more “ism”.
Ageism. By clumping the 60+ demographic into a monoculture, the pandemic has indeed shed a light on age bias.
We are not disputing medical cautions. The pandemic most certainly poses a very significant acute threat to those infected — especially older adults. We should definitely follow the advice and guidance of the doctors and the scientists. And, of course, beyond the health risks, the pandemic has totally upended every aspect of our lives and lifestyles — personally, socially and economically.
But the Coronavirus has also brought to the forefront some attitudes long hiding beneath the surface. Eden Dotan, Senior Business Designer at Designit, wrote in Medium: “In the same way the pandemic has accelerated trends like digital transformation or remote learning, it has brought to life a once subtler form of prejudice. The coronavirus hasn’t created ageism, it has better exposed it.”
This ism is experienced by many, but uniquely by women as young as 55. “Both genders experience ageism, but for women, ageism is always mixed with and strengthened by sexism,” writes GeroFuturist™, Author, Speaker and Entrepreneur Karen Sands, MCC,BCC. Amen.
Pre-Covid-19 and for the past decade or so, we’ve personally witnessed fantastic women aged 55-plus making major strides in shaking off the stigmas, stereotypes and negative symbols of aging — those portraying them as feeble victims with fear-based messages like “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”. Instead, this powerful demographic was strutting its vigor, vitality and value.
Female Boomers were living a vibrant new moniker as “Perennials”, and just beginning to flex their unstoppable badass selves, financial clout and marketing might. According to GirlPower Marketing, Boomers controlled three-fourths of the country’s financial wealth. Their impact was swelling with the force of a tsunami.
In the beauty sector (one area of our expertise), we’ve slowly seen the inclusion of older women such as Maye Musk, Melva Spina and Pia Gronning in advertising and brand communications.
We applauded the gutsy stand taken by Allure magazine, of banning the word “anti-aging” from its publication in an effort to reverse the negative implications of getting older.
We’d also seen countless startups across multiple categories including fitness, food, tech, travel and of course beauty address and invest in this gigantic, but underserved audience in more relevant ways. De-stigmatizing brands such as Pause Well-Aging, Better Not Younger, State of and 19/99 have emerged, acknowledging issues once off-the-table and taboo.
Pre-Covid, Boomer women were viewing their new life stage as exciting rather than as a life-limiting barrier. Women of our generation were radically reinventing our roles, powering full speed ahead into our next chapters, giving back, becoming encorepreneurs starting new businesses, returning to college, exploring new opportunities and traveling the world. “We have finally gained agency, authenticity, the power of our abilities and opinions,” writes Corinne S, Former Social Worker turned Author and Artist, Northern Maine.
Not perfect by a long shot but definitely moving in the right direction.
That was the reality — just a mere 8 months ago. But now, by clumping everyone over age 60 into one vulnerable monoculture, the Coronavirus threatens to shut the door on all this progress. A vibrant 60-year old is automatically portrayed as geriatric just moments away from physical and mental decline. The rhetoric of disposability once again rearing its ugly head. Covid-inspired ageism reached a new level with the hashtag #BoomerRemover, thereby conflating older with elderly. “Until Covid, I rarely thought of myself as old, at least not in the diminished sense of the word,” one woman told us.
Over the last few months, we listened with great empathy as friends were furloughed, fired or forced into retirement. Remarkable women with tremendous talent and steeper salaries were dismissed. Of course, this cohort isn’t the only one affected by the tanking economy. It has taken a staggering toll on millions of Americans across all generations, industries and income levels. But the ramifications for women 55-plus presents another cruel reality of the pandemic. Many of these women fear their jobs will be lost forever.
As with everything Covid-related, it’s too soon to predict what the short - and long-term ramifications on the Boomer generation — especially women — will be.
Will Boomer women once again be ignored, marginalized and invisible to corporate America?
Will Boomer women once again be portrayed as weak and vulnerable as a result of Covid, refueling the “anti-aging” movement in the beauty and wellness narrative?
Or will we once again recalibrate and reimagine ourselves with an enthusiastic sense of a “What’s Next?” optimism once the crisis is over?
According to the latest stats and an October 17, 2020 Washington Post Article, the average woman in America is likely to live to between 81–89 with many more well into their 90s. The female advantage has to do in part with biology. We have stronger immune systems thanks to a double helping of X chromosomes. We are stronger and tend to stay healthier longer. And today, we are wiser and more imaginative than ever before. And with some 30+ years more in our lifespans, we still have lots to give and lots to live. We are not retiring — we are re-firing.
“We can’t change people’s thinking. But we can change ours, and show them how it is done. Nobody can clump us into the aged and infirm category without our permission,” Corinne reminds us.
In Karen Sands’ 2012 book, Visionaries Have Wrinkles, “Our age is not a weakness but a strength. We now have the experience, the wisdom and the focus on what really matters…We need to live our true potential, to reimagine our lives and to change the world in unimaginable ways. We are the authors of a new story about an age-friendly future.”
And there is evidence — although not quite enough — that ageism is not good for the economy and society. It robs businesses of priceless mentorship, intellectual capital and diversity of thought they may need on the other side of this pandemic.
Whether we go gently into that good night as Keats said — or burn and rage against the dying light — is up to us. Don’t count us out. We ain’t done yet. We are #Everlusting™.