Monday, 10 October 2016

Secrets and Lies - will new laws help women end discrimination?

Bullock admits to regularly lying about her age

The news this week that a US court has made it legal for Hollywood actresses to block their age from public access is both new – and as old as the hills.

Will it make any difference?

Women have lied about their age for generations.  Did Eve say: "Adam, before we go any further, I should tell you I’m actually 45"?  Sandra Bullock said "after a while you have forgotten how old you are because you have lied so many times".  TV talent shows clearly have some effect with Nicole Scherzinger (X-Factor), Paloma Faith (The Voice) and Anastacia (Strictly) all getting found out shaving years off their real age at the start of their careers.

Why? Presumably because they felt they couldn't admit to being their real age, and once they started, the deception is very hard to stop.   Ageing is tricky for women – and increasingly men - because it is inextricably linked with society’s perceptions of a loss of power and virility.

But is it the number that matters?  Or rather how you present yourself?    I can’t remember the last time that I read something saying women should consider themselves middle-aged at any age.  Far from it. This week UK Prime Minster Theresa May turned 60 declaring confidently that "60 is the new 40".

I touched on this issue in an early 2015 post. Since then it feels to me as
Daphne Self -  at 88 the world's oldest supermodel
though we've made strong progress, particularly in the historically youth-obsessed fashion world.  Models such as the stunning Daphne Self  stare out at us from giant billboards. Grey hair is now a positive fashion choice.  Catwalks have been featuring young models with dyed grey hair, celebrities have been throwing away the root touch-ups and going natural - and getting admiration and column inches.  Even Kate Moss and Rihanna have been experimenting.  It's early to tell whether we're giving up the blond ash highlights for good, but it's a positive trend.

And it's not just fashion. At 82 Mary Berry is in demand as never before.  Most recently she has been fought over as the crown jewel in the hotly contested decision to move the Bake Off to Channel 4.

So why did the Californian judge  pass this law? Why not simply continue to promote older role models?  I think it reflects how far we still have to go. We've made real headway, but at heart we're a society that seems incapable of avoiding age as a way of helping us to understand our place in the world.

I don't think this is just a female issue, although there's no doubt society is harsher on women ageing than on men. Fertility plays a role. Men go on being fertile for a long time and women don’t.  Take Sir Martin Sorrell. I saw him speak at a conference a couple of weeks ago. At 71, he's the UK's highest paid CEO and about to become a father for the fourth time. He's never looked better or more powerful.  No women could do that all at the same time. This was an invisible issue in the past, but now that more women are in top jobs we’re seeing the long standing attitudinal differences play out in discrimination. At least that’s what the Hollywood actresses felt.

I don't think it's realistic to pretend you can keep your age a secret anymore. Almost every day we  exchange our personal details for the digital platforms and convenience we love. We must  be happy that Facebook knows more about us than some of our close friends or we wouldn't keep using it. We live in a world where anyone with a few minutes can find out this stuff.

If I think about my age at all, I'm hopeful.  I was born in 1964 (so now you don't even have to look that up) and I have an excellent peer group. Michelle Obama, Diana Krall, and Fiona Bruce - all '64 babies like me.  And like me they can't do anything about it.  We can't go back and say "I'd like to be born in 1967 please - or 1975".  It's just a thing, and probably the least interesting thing about us. It's our destiny and along with these fabulous women I'm taking on my fifties with gusto.