One of the Rare Occasions I'll Call Myself a Victim
September 29, 2004

So riddle me this: why is it not okay to ask an older woman her age, but younger women must supply their age to the masses on a consistent basis? In light of a recent event in my life, I feel it necessary to address a most troubling double-standard.

I have never quite been able to wrap my mind around the whole "I'm too embarrassed, uncomfortable or insecure to tell you my age" mentality. I mean, sure, I'm young so perhaps that will change in the future, but I have always grown up in a family full of black women who had no problem telling you how old they were, what year they were born in, and would even go as far as to name off the current events that took place in that year as proof of the fact that they were they age they claimed to be. Furthermore, age was not only comfortable voiced in my family, it was flaunted and used as a weapon to the likes of, "Well I'm "X" years-old and I've lived a little longer than you so shut your smart, 'know-it-all' mouth, you little precocious girl you!" Perhaps that was just my family.

It is increasingly evident that human beings--Americans more particularly--don't like the aging process. Maybe it's the idea of impending death and most peoples' ambiguous non-reality of an afterlife, or fear of the unknown, but with the more widespread use of Botox, collagen shots, plastic surgery, tummy tucks, and face lifts, women especially, have sought out a means of remaining "forever young".

Today, the search for the fountain of youth presses onward with the new trends in health consciousness, wellness, "spirituality" and lifestyle changes. I am certain this is a good direction, but it won't be without a few capitalistic ventures. If CNN told the country that eating pigs feet would automatically reduce wrinkles, we would immediately have a pig-slaughtering epidemic on our hands.

In attempts to keep up with "Hollywood" and the so-called images of how a certain age should look, women will go to great lengths to either hide, defy, or ignore their age. Quite simply, I don't get it. Well, I do, but I reject it.

I probably get asked my age at least five times a week. I would like to think there are a couple of reasons for this. One being, I probably sound older than I look, and the cognitive dissonance of clearly articulated thoughts and words coming from the mouth of someone who when donning blue jeans can easily pass for "sixteen", is a bit much for many to handle. Two being, I both look and actually am too young to have the job I do and thus people in the workplace feel they have the moral responsibility to point this out in front of everyone at business meetings. Three being, quite simply, young people don't have feelings and thus we are exempt from being treated like everyone else.

My first inclination of this reality is to get irritated and persnickety because for every person who simply asks out of burning curiosity, there is someone else who asks so they can treat me accordingly. Unfortunately for me, my general "I don't care what you think" attitude can't really co-exist with the socially-driven responsibility to be irritated I feel I must have. I mean, can you ever imagine sitting in a presentation and asking the middle-aged woman presenter, "Oh by the way, how old are you?" I think not. And what exactly is "middle-aged" anyway? Different things to different people.

Our society doesn't usually view seniority as a good thing. Well, except in academia and broadcast journalism, in which case, the more decrepit and crusty-looking you are, the better. A few years ago, an associate of mine turned the big 50 and when her birthday rolled around, she requested that we not announce her age to others. That was of course, her choice, but what's not to be proud of about making it half a century? Everyone doesn't have to gloat like Oprah, but at least represent for your decade! Instead, many would that no one know their age and do their best to conceal it.

Tangentially, there is a lot more that can be said cause/effect wise on our increased treatment of seniors like second-class citizens. We are the throw away generation. Once we don't feel we have a use for something, we dispose of it (or put it in a convalescent home). Other countries and cultures I've encountered seem to do a much better job of revering and respecting those who are senior in age. In doing so, they encourage others to embrace all that comes with wisdom and aging. Not so in America, and television doesn't help this, but that's another topic.

Honestly, I don't mind being asked my age because I am proud and will continue to be proud of the years I've been blessed with thus far. There are times when it works against me, but if anything, supplying my age gives me an opportunity to re-define stereotypes for those who'd like to put me on their monolithic timeline. Still, I can't help but wonder A) Why Americans are so hung-up on age? and B) Why there is an age double standard for young people.

Posted by Ambra at September 29, 2004 12:34 PM in Culture
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And of course, you just had to throw in 'persnickety' somewhere. :(

Anyway, most recently I've been the victim of age discrimination. Obviously, when you're above a certain age milestone it makes you correct in any debate versus someone who has not yet reached it (and that milestone has a funny way of increasing as time passes).

I give up with speaking to old people ('old' being defined as anyone older than me).

In parts of Russia where men were supposed to live to 120 or so on diets of yogurt and such, it was found that when your dad died, you routinely adopted his birthdate so as to -- avoid the draft!!

Well, I'm almost ten years older than you, and I don't mind telling my age a bit. I recently turned 32. When I think about how far I've come in ten years, it makes me really excited about the next ten. I can't wait. And I do think being a Christian helps as well. Every day I live just brings me one step closer to heaven.

Well, as I've said before, I'm old, having hit 41 recently. I realized that makes me old enough to be your mom, which totally put me in this frame of mind where I was wondering if my own daughter (soon to be 6) would be as articulate and persnickety as you are when she reaches the grand age of 23: the prognosis is quite good. So that made me happy.

Sorry for the digression: Judith Martin (Miss Manners) gave the quintessential advice for dealing with intrusive and inappropriate questions. The all-purpose reply was originally suggested as the answer for obnoxious questions like "Why aren't you married yet?" or "When are you going to have kids?" Here it is: How soon do you need to know? I'll have to get back to you on that.

Obviously this needs a little tweaking to deal with "How old are you?" I don't dream in a million years that you would take this road, but it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, and you could theoretically argue that you were trying to work in a hostile environment whenever that question is thrown at you. A simple reply, "Now why would you be harassing me about something like that? It hardly seems worth the effort," might be enough to shut up a moron without the sense to know s/he shouldn't be asking the question.

That seems a bit harsh. I like the idea of lobbing the question back at the questioner, though. How about, "Old enough to know better than to ask personal questions in a professional setting..." Or, "I assure you, my driver's license was legally issued." How about, "I'm so excited, I get to vote this year!" (hee) I'm particularly partial to, "Excuse me, did you just ask me my age?" with some shock, and then when they say yes, you say, "I thought so. How inappropriate. Now, let's get back to the work at hand," and leave it at that. It's perfectly acceptable to ignore such questions.

From the looks of it, you will probably be dealing with this issue for a good long time. It's not the worst problem to have. ;) Good luck with keeping your patience!

"How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are."

A little wisdom from Leroy(Satchel) Paige.

Happy Birthday all year long, Ambra.

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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