I think I’ve found one “syndrome/complex” I don’t have! I’m not saying it’s not real; it is just one I have not (yet?) experienced – Invisible Woman Syndrome. I’ve written before about the Bag Lady Syndrome and the Imposter Complex. (Link here) I have experienced both – not that either has any truth to them, but experiential feelings are not always truth. Recently I’ve heard a number of (older, accomplished, amazing) women mention their “feeling invisible” and felt the need to delve deeper – rabbit hole time!
[This post is really woman focused, but I think men being aware of it can also be helpful to change the culture.]
On diving in to this topic, a number of articles/blog posts quickly popped up. Invisible Woman Syndrome is being ignored or overlooked in public and social settings, which leads to feeling invisible and irrelevant.
Unfortunate, this invisibility factor is real. It is based on the societal view of the role of a woman, which despite advances made by women is still deeply ingrained. If a woman is not seen as being either attractive or a filling the role of a mother (two acceptable roles for adult women), she has no value – she is invisible. So with the maturation of our physical features (loss of youthful beauty) and/or having an empty nest (loss of motherhood status), there is not any “value for a woman”.
Yes, I know, the Feminist Revolution. We were raised to believe a woman could be anything she wants; it was all about intelligence, capability, striving and accomplishment. We (as I was one) took full advantage of our ability to “be just like a man” – climbing the ladder, focusing on achievements, being a productive member of society.
So, how could we be feeling so bad about something so superficial as an aging appearance if you are an enlightened feminist?
Unfortunately, ours is still a culture which objectifies women. So, when a woman finds her youth faded, childbearing years behind her, maybe not working anymore and being respected as a “masculine contributor”, her social value is diminished and she becomes invisible.
Getting older means being ignored in a culture that continues to equate youth with value; as you age, you simply lose cultural currency. Our culture is rife with basic ageism – you are discriminated against in the workforce because age is seen as slower, less flexible, outdated with technology, irrelevant to today’s problems. Sales marketing and most entertainment programing still focus on younger people, despite the fact that many older people have discretionary money. The young (and beautiful?) just seem to get the attention from sales/service people! Being invisible is disconcerting, frustrating, even hurtful.
How deeply embedded is this concept of aging/youth and beauty? How many women are fighting their gray hair? Are trying to fight aging with surgical procedures? Still not proudly declaring their age? Or perpetrating aging jokes/memes? How about being thrilled when told they look younger than they are? Yes, I cringed at these examples, as I am guilty of a number of them myself!
But the articles go on that the best way to fight invisibility is to make yourself feel relevant (not try to regain youthful appearance). When you feel relevant, you have an inner beauty, a positive glow. The steps to make yourself feel relevant might not stop the being ignored, but it might as you’ll have more presence. There was also some advice for both men and women to “see older women”. Just like with practicing kindness, it is about working to shift the culture one experience at a time. These are small steps we can all take as individuals to make the culture shift – show the world how relevant older women are, see older women in the world around us, and eliminate the Invisible Woman Syndrome!
How to feel more relevant: be actively involved in life, have a positive and interesting lifestyle, be connected to interesting people, be involved in the now, and be confident in your identity (not tied to youthful beauty or motherhood or past career).
It was interesting to me that the recommended elements to feel relevant are similar to the recommended elements to living a satisfying life in retirement! Maybe that is why I’m not experiencing the Invisible Woman Syndrome myself? Or is it just coming in my future?
Have you felt invisible?
Picture Credit: Me at a local Cycad & Palm Arboretum this week.