I was on a book promotional site recently, cheerfully filling out the required information, when I got to a section that stopped me cold: they wanted to know my birthday. Not just the day and month, but even the year. And this was not something you had the option to keep private, as Facebook and other social media sites allow; they were going to post this information, big, bold and all “happy birthday to you,” as a requisite feature of your page.
My first thought was: What, are we in third grade? Do we get cupcakes? Are we sent coupons? My second thought was (and I realize that “first thought” was more than one): Really? In this day and age of rampant ageism and privacy invasion you’re going to require writers to share their birthdays on a public page?
It was an odd request all around, given that age has no relevance to the mission statement of the site, but, for whatever reasons (demographic research? marketing focus? nosy?), it was required and so I opted out. Beyond the reality that there are so many other similar sites of which to avail oneself, the more salient issue is that when even job applications are legally prohibited from asking age in the effort to preempt age discrimination, why would a book site make that clumsy request a requirement?
That I’m compelled to discuss this is actually kind of sad. Because, in a perfect world, we, particularly we women, would proudly state our age without a thought beyond its being an indication of our wisdom, our knowledge, our accrued years of experience. We would “come out,” so to speak, as vibrant, vital examples of whatever age we are, successfully debunking archaic, antiquated models of the same. In a perfect world, we would judge people – again, particularly women – based not on their youthfulness, weight, beauty, body shape, number of selfies, sexual allure, or the size of their upper or lower halves, but by the value of their work, their creativity, their contribution to society, their general excellence as members of the human race. In a perfect world we wouldn’t give one good f**k how old someone is.
We don’t live in a perfect world.
In the world in which we do live, people lose jobs, are refused opportunities, are downsized, or led firmly out the door of many a business simply because they’ve “aged out,” regardless of skill set or ability to do the job well. Professionals in any number of fields are dismissed or ignored, find they’re getting fewer auditions, even fewer jobs; perceived as “dated” simply because they’ve lived beyond the “desirable demographic,” rather than because their talent has diminished (in fact, talent typically deepens with age). Resumes are tossed because the human resources department can ascertain age-range from someone’s work experience and, well, too old is just not good for the company’s brand image.
Incorrect and clichéd presumptions are made about what learning skills a more mature person can handle and develop, the most prevalent being that those older than “fill in the blank” won’t/can’t keep up with changing technology. And women in positions of power are regularly denigrated, insulted, and attacked simply for moving out of their youthful, sexually attractive prime and into their more mature, matron years.
In a perfect world, this sort of age intolerance, discrimination, and bigotry would be unthinkable. Elders would be revered, as they once were, viewed as powerful sages to whom younger generations would look for guidance, wisdom, experience, and perspective. But in our very imperfect world, in our age-obsessed, terrified, fixated, panicked, confused world, ageism is so knee-jerk as to be the norm.
Which is ridiculous, particularly for those of ages considered “too old” who are there out climbing mountains, traveling the world, inventing innovative products, competing in marathons, negotiating peace treaties, writing bestsellers, and breaking barriers of every kind in every field. Humans live much longer than they used to; the smart people widen their perspective of “perceived value” to include those of any age offering skills, smarts, savvy, wisdom, and creativity of value to the culture, age be damned!
Until then… well, that brings us back to that book promotion site and my birthday.
It’s not vanity, it’s not shame; it’s about perception that can impact one’s ability to move forward unencumbered by stereotypes and limitations. Ideally, given what everyone in this day and age knows about the pervasiveness of age discrimination, the question shouldn’t be asked. It’s irrelevant. Or should be. And if it is relevant to whomever is asking, one can only question why. But regardless of who’s asking or their reason, you don’t have to give it to them.
Or if you have to, or choose to, pick a number that fits your soul, not the years of your body. Then again, if you are so moved to make a political stand for cultural disobedience, tell them your damn age and let the chips fall where they may. If you lose jobs, opportunities, or shots at career advancement because that number is used against you, write a bestseller about it…. and then run – without a damn walker – all the way to the bank!
But whatever the choice, how about we all just avail ourselves of work and art we like, vote for people we trust; hire those who seem best fit for the job, and judge anything we come upon based solely on merit, not the age of the person who created, invented, shared, or inspired it?
Because, really, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” seems apt not only for the book, but for the person who wrote it.
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.