Ageism, bias against an individual due to their age, disproportionately affects women. Although it goes both ways – ageism occurs against both the young and the old – it tends to occur more towards older adults.
As women we set ourselves up poorly when we buy into stereotypes that assert women are less valuable as they age. Where we spend our assets shows our priorities: women spend significantly more money and time on cosmetic treatments, plastic surgery, and grooming than men. This affects us on multiple levels:
- It propagates the notion that a woman’s value lies in her looks and sexuality, particularly to other women, both younger, the same age, and older than us.
- It funds an industry that capitalizes on a poor self-perception of one’s looks and siphons away capital that is more wisely used saving towards our future. American women on average live longer than American men, requiring retirement savings for a longer period of time.
- It fuels competition based on age differences between women, in addition to competition on many other levels that society already pressures women to feel due to appearance, weight, fertility, and more.
- It persuades women to spend significant time, a commodity more valuable than money, on our outward appearance.
Our value lies inherently in our knowledge, talents, skills, and experience. Spending more time using these assets instead will propel women into leadership levels that will bring equity for women in medicine and beyond. It will also lead to valuing older women. Abandon the notion that women are less valuable as we age due to a perceived decline in our appearance or sexuality. We need to merit our futures, and women in general, differently — beginning in our youth. Actively decide to shift perspective and subsequently change culture in the following ways:
- Women increase in value as they age due to increasing experience, as everyone does (not just men).
- As hard as we may try not to, we evaluate or judge other humans. We naturally do this to determine if we need to protect ourselves from harm. We can assess each other as women by our actions and where we spend our time and money, rather than judging based on appearances.
- We can invest in increasing our knowledge, collecting valuable experiences, and sharing our learned lessons.
Women physicians are in a prime position to combat ageism against all older adults, men and women alike. We do not realize the fruits of our labor until later than most. We value ourselves for our diligence and resilience, as do others. Setting this example in a clear light for others is part of our mission. Don’t let others displaying ageist tendencies affect you; allowing others’ opinions of your age affect you is the first step in making ageism a bias. Instead, look forward to your life after your medical career with the same enthusiasm you had towards being an attending. Direct effort to planning for your life as an older adult with the same appetite and meticulousness with which you planned your current career. Your attitude change will result in improved research for older adults in healthcare, a positive outlook towards life after medicine, and more. We are living long enough today that retirement is not an end – it is simply a transition to a new phase in life, one we are not taught to plan for outside of financial savings. Respect the experience and grit older adults bring to the table and see what they are doing at age 70 or 85. Many are living active lives. Plan for your life to be more exciting at age 70 than it is today – it is possible.
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