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The Day I Joined the Ranks of Invisible Older Women
One day, I became an invisible older woman. It was not because I chose to, but because someone else chose to see me that way. On that day, my physical, social being was dismissed as though it were a pesky fly in need of being shooed off a pie.
Happy Fifty-first Birthday To Me - I've Become Invisible
On the morning of my fifty-first birthday I stopped by the local convenience store to pick up a cup of coffee to keep me company on the hour-long commute I had ahead of me. If I do say so myself, I was looking pretty spiffy, wearing a flattering suit I’d bought the day before and a pair of stylish heels that were surprisingly comfortable. At the store’s coffee service area, I filled a small paper cup with French vanilla coffee, covered it with a lid, and stepped to the back of a long line of customers waiting to check out.
Early Morning Pleasantries
As I waited, my thoughts drifted to the tasks I had planned for the day. I wasn't focusing on them, exactly, it was more like gathering them together in a kind of mental warm-up for hitting the floor running when I got to the office. A soothing drone of customers’ voices exchanging pleasantries played around the outside of my thoughts. A Will there be anything else, sir? or a Thank you and have a nice day! from the cheerful, young cashier filtered now and again through my woolly thoughts. Most of the customers were men, dressed in company uniforms or overalls and well-worn working boots, buying coffee and morning snacks, the usual crowd at the start of a work day. Directly in front of me, a young mother braced a child on her hip with one hand and held a small jug of milk in the other. The young cashier cooed over the baby.
The Coffee Cup Gets the Attention
Finally, it was my turn. I placed my coffee cup on the counter along with a five-dollar bill, ready to greet the cashier with a smile and a Good morning! But she kept her eyes on the coffee cup, rang up the purchase, and said to the coffee, That’s 98 cents. There was no Will there be anything else, ma’am? for me, not even a glance in the direction of my face. She whipped my money off the counter, slapped the change down, and greeted the next customer with a cheerful Good morning, clearly dismissing me just like that fly.
My friends will tell you that I am seldom speechless, but that morning I had nothing to say. I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. Even if I had been able to come up with something smart, witty, or even kind, I wouldn’t have been able to muster the breath to deliver it.
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Invisibility - What a Birthday Gift!
On the morning of my fifty-first birthday, I had become an invisible woman, which as far as this young cashier was concerned, also meant useless, insignificant, unimportant, valueless, and just not there. I walked out of the store, got into my car, put the now sneering coffee cup into the cup holder, and looked in the lighted mirror on my visor. I saw myself, my face, ME. I pinched my arm. Yes, I felt the pinch on my very material body. I hadn’t changed, I hadn’t become invisible, but something else had changed. I pulled the car out of its parking space and started my commute to work.
Have you been treated as invisible?
If you love to drive, as I do, then you know the places your mind can go above and beyond paying attention to driving. Driving can induce a state of relaxation, and in this state I let the events at the convenience store go where they would in my thoughts.
By the time I reached the office, I’d come to a comfortable place about becoming an invisible older woman in the eyes of others. I reasoned that it didn’t have anything to do with me, but rather with another’s perception. I actually felt sorry for that cashier even while I also felt a bit of vindictiveness at the idea that she’d be 51 someday, too. Let her deal with that when the time comes.
All in all, it was a good birthday gift in that it was a reminder of the way I was raised, as expressed so eloquently by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: Good manners sometimes means simply putting up with other people's bad manners. The additional gift to me, and to the young cashier, was that I didn’t slug her in the jaw.
I don't know exactly why, but the young cashier was fired soon thereafter, and that was good news to me. I was happy to see her go. Maybe her being fired taught her this important lesson before she reaches 51: Equality is the public recognition, effectively expressed in institutions and manners, of the principle that an equal degree of attention is due to the needs of all human beings. ~Simone Weil
Readings on the Topic of Older Women and Invisibility
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