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A forthcoming book says Covid is an opportunity for midlife women to shake off their invisibility, confront ageism and sexism and imagine a better world.
“Women aged between 45 and 70 are both young and old; we have a life well lived and have half a life to create. We are past our childbearing years with a quarter of a century of work years ahead. But we don’t exist. We’re skipped over,” write Jane Evans and Carol Russell at the start of their forthcoming book, Invisible to Invaluable: Unleashing the Power of Midlife Women, published by Piatkus at the end of May.
The book is a call to tackle that invisibility and turn it on its head, to create an uninvisibility project. The book is a celebration of women’s lives and stories; their strengths and challenges and it derives from a digital initiative that Evans started, The Uninvisibility Project, which began as a question she posted on Twitter, asking if there were any women over 50 employed full time to create adverts by London agencies. Women started telling their stories as a result, although many couldn’t because they had signed gagging orders.
The project broadened to other industries, but had trouble raising funds and then Covid happened and Evans and Russell feel that now is the right time to build a momentum for change.
Both women start by telling their own stories. Evans talks of her struggles trying to get job in advertising in midlife after years of experience and success. She recounts how she applied for around 180 jobs and have five interviews in an industry that, she says, fetishises youth and technology. She says the average age of employees in advertising is 33.9 and older women are overlooked which doesn’t make any business sense since they have massive purchase power. Her experiences of ageism led to Evans starting own agency, but things didn’t improve and she found herself on benefits and suffering a mental breakdown which she says was due to the way she was treated by an industry which, like so many, is not built for women.
“We’re a generation abused by the patriarchy because they ‘let us in’ [well, us white girls anyway], but made absolutely no concessions to accommodate us” she writes. “We were allowed on the pitch, but no-one told us the rules. We had to make it up as we went along, all while playing on the slanted side with the sun in our eyes.”
Russell talks about her experiences of racism at school in the UK whihc led to her finishing her education in Jamaica. She describes her return to the UK and her struggles to find work in acting where the only tv roles available to Black men at the time were ‘the accused on the Bill’ and to Black women ‘mother of the accused on the Bill’. So she turned to writing and had some success, but then the trend for Black authors and the writing jobs dried up in the 2000s, with the only interest being in stereotypes such as scripts about gangs.
So she set up own company and did her own research to prove there was an audience. That started a movement, she says, and led to the setting-up of the Raised Voices project to address the lack of midlife Black women in the arts. Then Black Lives Matter happened. Russell says the challenge to systemic racism that followed that is just the beginning and that pressure for change needs to be continuous.
The book talks about the women rulers of ancient times, such as the Queen of Sheba. It recounts the history of how we got to where we are now and says today’s generation of midlife women have lived through their share of struggles for equality, laying the path for the younger women who have followed them. It includes the stories of other midlife women, from Cindy Gallup to Anita Roddick and it makes a strong case for women to work together, in a cross generational way to ensure that they are all able to flourish. It talks about the links between midlife women and their daughters. “We are the shoulders on which they stand,” the authors write.
The book also touches on the importance of human skills in a world of automation, which it says midlife women have in spades. It describes the freedom and confidence that having passed through the menopause brings and of how women in their midlife have everything that businesses are looking for as well as critical mass to bring change if they can get past ageism, sexism and exploitation in the form of expectations that they exist solely to provide free care in their later years.
The book calls for women to work together and amplify each other, to start their own businesses, perhaps in age tech, to fight the gender pay gap by asking for the salary they deserve and to be confident in their own skins without the need for cosmetic enhancements if they don’t want them.
It suggests that women create their own ways of investing in and employing each other and says that if women can run a family, they can surely run a business. And it says they should imagine a better world and never doubt their own power as either employees, business owners or consumers.
The book ends with a mention of a new initiative that the women have started, Visible Start, which aims to train midlife women in digital media. But it is the call to seize Covid as an opportunity to move past ageism and sexism rather than a return to the 1950s [“NOT. ON. OUR. WATCH”] that resonates most.
*To pre-order the book, price £14.99 for the paperback, click here.