Excuse me: do you happen to know who decides when we are “too old” to do something?
I was reading articles about middle-aged Madonna, being “too old” to make pop music and it occurred to me that if I had listened to that ageist nonsense, I’d have never had a career as a jewellery designer.
Witty Fiona Sturges in the Guardian expressed my outrage over the unvarnished sexism aimed at Madonna, and by extension, all Baby Boomers and GenXers who refuse to be invisible: “In the minds of her most vicious detractors… she would be better off binning the fishnets, putting on a nice cardie and waiting for death.”
I thought of all the male pop musicians who were before my time, and yet still seem to make it to the stage. No one comments on Mick Jagger’s age, 75, unless it’s to give him a fist-bump for having another child. His hard-partying bandmate Keith Richards, also 75, has long been celebrated for rocking-on another year. What’s the old joke about nuclear war? The only things that will survive are cockroaches and Keith Richards.
They are saluted, as they should be, for their long careers and their big influence on our culture.
WHEN DID “GRANDMA” BECOME AN INSULT?
So why is it that Madonna, a mere 60, is being dismissed as “grandma”? And while we’re on the subject, when did “grandma” become an insult?
In short: when, exactly, did it become a sin for a woman to be creative, while aging?
I was never a particular Madonna fan (my tastes run to R&B) but I think the Material Girl has earned a right to the spotlight. If she still has something to say, why wouldn’t we be inclined to listen?
Well, we all know the reason.
GOT LEMONS? MAKE LEMONADE!
That’s the reason I became a jewellery designer, by the way: ageism in fashion. There wasn’t much out there for adult women who wanted to look like grown-ups, not frumps. It was either stiff, boring “fine jewellery” that reminded me of 1950s matrons. Or fast-fashion glass and plastic, aimed at teenagers. I was on the hunt for a statement necklace that would do much the same job in my wardrobe that a power tie does for a man’s suit.
Where was the stylish jewellery for grown-ups who were looking to elevate a basic capsule wardrobe, featuring a lot of T-shirts and jeans, I wondered? Frustrated, I started making necklaces for myself. And, well, you know the rest.
On the bright side, that sexism-in-fashion has led to a lot of designers like me running small businesses producing long-lasting clothes and accessories for women who want to avoid the fast-fashion junk.
But make no mistake, my foray into jewellery design began as a private solution to a growing public problem: women-of-a-certain-age are belittled or ignored in the market square, while their male counterparts are considered to be in the prime of life.
It’s particularly annoying when the discriminatory drivel is printed in a place like the New York Times where Madonna’s new album, Madame X, earned a shade-casting profile, “Madonna at Sixty.” It focuses on her age and her looks and dismisses her in an off-handed way you can’t imagine them applying to any man who had achieved half as much.
And then, as they alienate women, they wonder why advertisers don’t flock to their doors?
WHO CARES WHAT THE BEST CUSTOMERS THINK?
Toronto marketing consultant Joanne Thomas Yaccato could explain their little advertising problem to them. In 2003, she wrote a book called The 80% Minority: Reaching the Real World of Women Consumers, in which she discussed how the business world’s bone-headed insistence on ignoring and insulting women undermines their own businesses.
You see, women make most of the buying decisions. They buy about 80 per cent of all the things there are to buy (which explains the book’s ironic title). And any product, including a newspaper that sneers at women, might just find itself having some troubles in the sales department.
Not that the Times was the only paper to slag Madonna for having the nerve to be creative, while aging. But somehow it’s worse in a newspaper that often brags about its own importance to democracy.
I was particularly baffled that the writer, a woman, went on and on about how surprising it was that Madonna was beautiful. Why? She was always beautiful. And she’s healthy, wealthy and fit. So why wouldn’t she still be beautiful?
Oh. Wait. Could it be that the writer thinks “aging” and “ugly” are synonyms?
SINCE WHEN DOES AGING = UGLY?
I’m not going to speculate on why she thinks such sexist thoughts. I don’t have to. The Times told us why in a 2017 article about the declining fortunes of women at the paper, which is dominated by men who claim the majority of the most senior and influential jobs.
But with the age-bashing I wonder if they think Millennials (who shun their paper) will suddenly race to subscribe if they find articles dissing artists from the Baby Boom and GenX?
In short: what are they thinking? Well, my guess is they’re not thinking at all. So why should I continue reading their paper?
PROUD TO BE #CREATIVEWHILEAGING
But I may write them to pass on a little tip I picked-up in all those business workshops I’ve done. While insulting women may look like a swell sales strategy when they’re sitting in their boys’ club meetings, they may want to consider the numbers. Together, Baby Boomers (the largest generation ever, born 1946-1964) and Gen-Xers (1965-1983) are a huge market. And we’ve lived long enough to have a little cash.
So here’s my question for the purveyors of misogyny: Do you really want to be alienating millions of women with your lousy products and ignorant, insulting journalism?
In the meantime, I need to get back to being #creativewhileaging before someone informs me that I, too, am done. I figure that if someone as accomplished as Madonna is not safe from that kind of ageist attack then no woman over 50 is.
If you feel an urge to respond, you can find me at info(at)annecarsondesign.com
Perhaps that ageist criticism of Madonna rankled so much because I have been hard at work preparing for the LeslieJane fashion show on Saturday, June 15, which includes my jewellery. I was just thinking about how lucky I was to have found work I love to do, although I found it relatively late in life. (Designing jewellery is my third career).
You can learn more about the West Vancouver shop that has become an institution, here. And reserve tickets.
LeslieJane’s Fashion on the Pier
Saturday June 15, 3 p.m.
Ambleside Pier, at the foot of 14th St.
RSVP for free tickets
They’ve been in business for more than 40 years and I have a theory as to why they’ve lasted so long. They provide superb customer service in every sense of that phrase. They carry high quality garments by a range of designers, many of whom are women-of-a-certain-age. And their shop is a welcoming spot for women of any age.
I’m thrilled to be part of their annual fashion show for the first time. Not least because no one there would ever think to ask how I have the nerve to be #creativewhileaging