I started going grey when I was 15 and coloured my hair as soon as I was able to. When I turned 43, I decided to let go of the hair dye. That was about a year ago. You might be wondering why I’m sharing my hair colour’s story here, right?
Well, the thing is I posted a selfie on Facebook the other day and Ana (not her real name), a fellow teacher, sent me a message to tell me she loved my hair and would love to do the same with hers. So, of course, I encouraged her to do it and started telling her how wonderful it felt. She told me she would love to be able to do that, but pointed out that I was really privileged to be able to do so without having to face any backlash. Her reply went on like this: “I’ve been an English teacher for over 17 years and I have worked at the same language institute for a long time.
Everything was going just fine, but when I turned 60 I started to notice some changes in their behaviour towards myself. I am not being considered for CPD opportunities anymore and the number of groups they offer me has started to decline. I spoke to the coordinator about it, just to hear it was only my impression and that they valued my experience a lot. He also told me that because of a recent change in some adopted coursebooks they prefered to assign the groups using the new material to teachers who were more familiar with apps and online games because it would be easier for them to use these new add-ons.
I felt downright humiliated. They never said ‘younger teachers’, but it was easy to read between the lines. I love using apps and I use them all the time. I made a point in telling so to my coordinator who just seemed surprised to hear it and told me he’d keep that in mind. However, a new semester has just started and even fewer groups were assigned to me, none of them using the new coursebook. I’m a CELTA holder, I invest in my CPD, and my performance evaluation has been quite positive both from students and the coordination. I feel I can only attribute these recent changes in their behaviour to my age and that is terribly unfair. I can only imagine what would happen to my professional life there if I stopped trying to look younger”.
I see her point and what she told me reminded me of Templer (2003), who says that “the greater majority of discriminatory practices against EFL specialists over the age of 45 go unreported and undocumented in part because of the (…) subtlety of age discrimination in internal institutional practice”. Also, a recent article by the Centre for Ageing Better (Young, 2019) remarked that myths about older workers still persist. Stereotypical views of older workers such as saying that they are slower and less productive, unable to adapt to change, or that they struggle with technology are still being used and, though none of these has any basis in fact, they can mean that older workers aren’t given the same opportunities for development and training as younger colleagues.
One could say that changing jobs would be an easy solution for Ana; if she feels they do not value her skills where she works, she should simply try and find a new job elsewhere. It sounds simple, but the fact is she lives in a city where there are not many such institutes. Also, when it comes to trying to get a new job, older females face more difficulties than men. A recent article at Forbes (Marcus, 2019) pointed out that “research shows that as men age they are viewed as more valuable and competent in the workplace, while women lose their credibility with every new wrinkle”.
Kornadt et al (2013) explains that ageing is a gendered process and that, overall, women do face graver challenges and discrimination than men during the ageing process, especially when it comes to financial and work-related matters. In a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (2017) authors claim that older female job seekers face more age discrimination than males. They explain that “evidence suggests that physical appearance matters more for women” and that “age detracts more from physical appearance for women than for men”.
Indeed, appearance is said to be more important for women than for men, especially as we age. There is even a saying that goes “men age like wine; women like milk”. If you google “anti-ageing” you are sure to find a myriad of products aimed at making women look younger; from face creams to shampoo and even pillow cases, there is no limit to what industry creates to prevent us from looking our age.
We are also to blame here. Whenever we say ‘I’m showing my age’ after making a cultural reference, we’re reinforcing the view that advanced age is a shameful thing. Also, when we compliment others saying they ‘don’t look their age’, or they ‘look at least 10 years younger’, we are also saying that although they are indeed getting old, they are still relevant. If you have the chance, watch Amy Schumer’s skit, “Last F**kable Day”. Although it is about women in the movie industry, it surely does apply to women from all walks of life. Ageism and sexism tend to walk hand in hand nowadays when we, women, talk about our professional lives. Nevertheless, I still hope for a future when women will be free to look the way they feel like, without being abashed by it or having to face any kind of professional backlash because of it.
Puri has been a EFL teacher/trainer for over 30 years, working with a wide range of age/proficiency levels at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. A DOTE holder, she’s a coach and mentor at the Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. Puri graduated in English Language and Literature from PUC São Paulo, Applied Linguistics at PUC São Paulo.
Kornadt, A., Voss, P. and Rpthermund, K. (2013) Multiple standards of ageing: gender-specific age stereotypes in different life domains. European Journal of Ageing. 10(4): 335–344. [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549213/#CR3 [Accessed 10th February 2019].
Marcus, B. (2019) The Double Whammy For Women Over 50 In The Workplace Today. Forbes [online] Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bonniemarcus/2019/01/17/the-double-whammy-for-women-over-50-in-the-workplace-today/#4a344b08175d [Accessed 20th February 2019].
Neumark, D., Burn, I. and Button, P. (2017) Is It Harder for Older Workers to Find Jobs? New and Improved Evidence from a Field Experiment. The National Bureau of Economic Research. [online] Available from: https://www.nber.org/papers/w21669 [Accessed 10th February 2019].
Templer, B. (2003) Ageism in TEFL – time for concerted action. TESL reporter. 36 (1) pp. 1-22. Young, A. (2019) Don’t be scared bosses: older people are changing workplaces for the better. Centre for Ageing Better. [online] Available from: https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/news/dont-be-scared-bosses-older-people-are-changing-workplaces. [Accessed 17th February 2019].