Ageism and Sins From the Past

Last month, I went to the dermatologist for the “Redhead Checkup.” Because redheads are so prone to skin cancer, we’re supposed to get a full body examination every year. All those years at Seaside Heights in the 1970s and 1980s, when I lay on the beach covered in baby oil trying to get a “base tan” are coming back to haunt me. One time, my sister’s friend from South Africa, Samantha, convinced me that the best way to tan was to cover myself in melted butter.

I used to get such bad sunburns that I would blister and get fevers. My mother would cover me in a paste made out of baking soda and Noxzema to relieve the heat. The tops of my ears and my feet would burn. The part in my hair. That sensitive spot behind the knees.

So, I go for my check-ups, and they’ve mostly been okay. After my teen years, I spent most of my time in a darkened library, so the damage wasn’t too bad, I think. My sister who liked to sunbathe, once got such a bad burn that she once had a two inch black spot in the middle of her back. It was probably a third degree burn. My dad, a fellow redhead, has had big chunks of the skin on his nose removed. My friend, Suze, another member of the redhead club, was a lifeguard in high school; she’s had a chunk of her forehead removed.

But last time, the doctor found a suspicious mark on that sensitive spot behind my left knee. So, I’ve got to get it removed at 9:00 am today.

Getting chunks of my skin removed is part of the indignity of getting older. There are others.

When I met up with writer-type friends at bars or restaurants this winter, the topic of conversation very quickly turned to plastic surgery. They’re all more highly placed than I am and feel under pressure to look good in front of a camera. Because writing isn’t just writing anymore. It’s also selling your word and your thoughts on cable television. I’ve been getting lots of advice on the benefits of fillers and botox.

Meeting up with my cousins at a brunch in New York City last month, my 40-year old cousin, who isn’t in the industry but lives in a Real Housewives of Florida sort of community, told me about all the work that she’s had done on her face. Her face is as smooth as a baby’s ass.

Many of my friends have kids who are nearly done with high school and are entering college, so they want to go back to work. Because we really can’t have it all at the same time, they did the mom-thing, and now they want to return to work.

Returning to work after years on the school drop off line is brutal. The worse-off ones are those whose prior work and education experience makes them overqualified for basic office or retail work. Also in trouble are those who used their free time to help out the schools and volunteer for parent groups, instead of working part-time. They have nothing to put on their resume. With part-time work, you can fudge your resume enough to make it look like you’ve been working full-time, and might even be able to scrounge together some references.

A former mom is death on the job search world.

And now we are looking at candidates for 2020. I have been sickened by the press’s reaction to the older women in power, like Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren. Warren, who was a darling in liberal circles for years, got a big “meh” from liberal pundits when she announced her candidacy. Sure, that Native American DNA video was dumb. But she has tons of experience and real knowledge about Wall Street and economics. She should be HOT, instead she’s a NOT.

Why? It’s because she has wrinkles, and her voice warbles. She’s old. And she’s a woman.

Old guys get a free pass. Biden and Sanders are old as dirt, but the public still loves them. Sanders’ fly-away white hair is just fine. Nobody suggest that he put poisons in his face to smooth out his wrinkles.

Ageism and sexism runs rampant throughout our society, and nobody gives a shit.

Meanwhile, I am growing older. I have to deal with humiliations like spots on the back of my leg and the inevitable questions that a 30-something interviewer is going to ask me about the gaps on my resume. “What exactly were you doing between 2008 and 2011?” I WAS TAKING CARE OF AN AUTISTIC KID AND TEACHING MYSELF HOW TO WRITE IN ORDER TO HAVE A SOME SORT OF A JOB WHEN I COULDN’T PUT MYSELF ON A NATION-WIDE JOB SEARCH FOR AN ACADEMIC JOB, OKAY? CAN I REPORT YOU TO HR FOR ASKING PERSONAL QUESTIONS? No, I won’t be able to say that.

Thirty years later, I’m paying for the sins of my youth.


40 thoughts on “Ageism and Sins From the Past

  1. I am reliably reported to have been a redhead from birth to age two or three, when I went brunet. And I have a red headed daughter. So, fellow feeling here! Since I have read that there is plausible scientific speculation that ‘redhead’ came into the gene pool from our fooling around with Neanderthals, I call her my red headed cave girl… and yes, I had my very first basal cell carcinoma cut out three months ago. Not dreadful. I go in for a once-over every six months.
    Now, about Princess Fauxcahontas: I think her ancestry claims are fraudulent and that she absolutely knew she was doing fraud, and that it got her her nice gig at HLS. I realize that opinions can differ here, and she is no Ward Churchill, but I think it’s distasteful, and I don’t think my views here are because of her gender. She is also way to my left – again not a gender thing, Bernie has the same problem. I have long thought Hillary Clinton was a grifter (remarkable success with commodities futures!) and her abetting the rapey history of her husband is vile. So my claim here is that my dislike for these two politicos has adequate basis separate from their gender, and that others may well have the same basis for reaction.
    I think what you are talking about is real, and that your case is a lot stronger with the hero worship flowing towards perky cute Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with her remarkably thin resume and absolute inability to say how all the nice things she is advocating will be paid for. I’m right there behind Claire McCaskill in her complaints in this matter


    1. “Now, about [Elizabeth Warren]: I think her ancestry claims are fraudulent and that she absolutely knew she was doing fraud, and that it got her her nice gig at HLS.” FTFY.

      Her ancestry claims are not fraudulent. DNA testing analyzed by a highly respected genetic genealogist confirmed them.


      “I hate the way she dealt with Donald Trump’s incessant attacks against her, for example. Why did Elizabeth Warren have to take that DNA test? Why couldn’t she have handled his abuse the exact right way? If I were being libeled by the President at his toxic mob rallies of hate, by golly, I would know just how to turn that into a moment of pure perfection.

      And you know the DNA test is a huge deal, because Breitbart published five different stories about it over the course of 24 hours. Though I have never once in my life given a thought about the welfare of Native Americans, I am totally offended on their behalf. The fact they have criticized Elizabeth Warren just bolsters my claim that she’s the worst person ever, besides Hillary Clinton, and thus endeth my Native American advocacy until the day I die.”


    2. I think that saying you dislike a woman you disagree with on policy grounds anyway isn’t particularly interesting — if there’s no way you’d vote for the candidate, then that you don’t like them is really irrelevant and not very important to hear. On the other hand, conservatives now have only 13 women in the house, compared to the 89 Dems. The number of Reps who are women dipped in the 2010 election and has since flatlined. Is there a sustainable future in which Republicans can’t find women they agree with likable enough to elect? And I say this from a state where two of the three Republicans are women, and 3/7 democrats are women.


      1. I’m a law professor. Warren is one of the 2 or 3 most respected bankruptcy and commercial law professors in the country, and almost all the younger generation of bankruptcy law scholars were her students at Harvard. (It’s also really hard to find good bankruptcy law profs, for a number of reasons.) No one who knows the field thinks she didn’t deserve to be hired at Harvard .


  2. Getting old is hard. I can’t run anymore and I had to google “Adam Ruins Everything” to see what you were talking about. At least work is easier for me. Everyone I work with is over forty, except maybe one person.


  3. I had always been careful to cultivate references, but in my most recent job search, they never asked for any and never contacted my previous employer. So I wasted so much time trying to not piss off a subset of my colleagues.


  4. We worry about ageism we see in other humans, but there’s a new threat on the horizon. I am concerned about the use of artificial intelligence in hiring decisions. I don’t think an AI will be influenced by a facelift. If many of your Facebook contacts are of retirement age, it probably can gauge your age quite precisely.

    As tech products have a lifespan of ~3 years, by the time anyone figures out that any particular company’s hiring is discriminatory, that company will be using a new platform. And people have this strange inclination to trust anything that comes from a computer. As a matter of fact, I could well imagine HR departments selling the advantages of the new tool because it gives hiring managers plausible deniability when it comes to hiring–“what, the CVs from most people over 40 don’t make it to our manager’s desk? Well, no human employee sees the applications until the AI has sorted out the most promising. We’ll have to talk with our tech contractors…”


  5. I too am frustrated by the growing role of appearance in fields that used to be (relatively) less demanding. Writers and scientists, for example. Now presentations in science are recorded and shared. TEDtalks are the biggest example, but even in other venues. And maintaining twitter feeds has become an important career move.

    I also have noted the increase in “shininess” of female politicians — wondered if they are all being referred to the same stylist.

    I think this is becoming an issue for male politicians, too, though. I think of Insley being the example — white, tall, “patrician”, with a long face and straight nose. How many new politicos look like that? As opposed to Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Lindsey graham?


    1. Of course I’m personally above all of this kind of criticism, but Cruz and Mitchell strike me as being among the least physically attractive people I’ve seen. Not limited to politics.


  6. As for 2020, I think the Democratic candidates I’d expect to be interesting are: Klobuchar, Brown, and Bloomberg. Warren is not a strong candidate. The history of presidential nominees from Massachusetts is also dismal, which likely reflects how far to the left the state has moved, and how far it lies from the center of American life.



      1. Age seems to have hit him less hard than it has hit many 76 year olds. Still, he is 76, and one would want to be confident in his veep. My favorite resume for Presidents is ‘former governor’, and particularly from a large state. That’s a problem this year because Brown is also 76, Cuomo widely perceived to be a mobbed up bully, Illinois and Mass have recently had Reeps, also Florida, Texas. Inslee is running as a single issue candidate. Nobody takes O’Malley seriously. Hickenlooper? The Dems have a serious geezer problem, Warren and Clinton and Biden and Sanders seem too old to me even if they were otherwise attractive. Age seems to have hit Clinton harder than it has many 71 year olds – the number is not all that daunting, but the stumbles are. And she has lost twice, once to Donald Trump f chrissake, how could we consider her?


      2. Bloomburg was an anti-democratic mayor. Executives typically aren’t coalition builders, and, in a divided nation, you need someone capable of building bridges, not someone who reacts with exasperation to the demands of the less powerful.


  7. My department just lost a great employee from our Seattle office when she moved herself and her family back to Canada after their child was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Even though we have what is probably some of the best insurance in the US it was just too much with the co pays and deductibles and all the hassle of getting approval for out of network visits (because insurance is not required to have pediatric endocrinologists that are accepting patients in their network, nor to cover out of network at the same rate if out of network is all that’s available. ) Do we as a country really lack the ingenuity to come up with a better system?
    Even with the fact that her US husband won’t be able to work in Canada they will be better off.


    1. “Do we as a country really lack the ingenuity to come up with a better system?
      “Even with the fact that her US husband won’t be able to work in Canada they will be better off.”

      It’s the Project for a Post-American Century. People like dave.s., above, like it that way.


      1. The bigger debate here is whether there really is a movement to a post-American century — discussion would include not just Canadians in the US/Americans in Canada, but whether people are moving to other countries from all over the world. I’ll throw in more anecdotes — a friend who recently took a job at UCL, London, the number of kids who applied to English universities from my kiddo’s school, my cousin, who has been saving dollars for American university for his son, considering shifting that money elsewhere (though I think he’ll still keep the dollars). Immigration restrictions will presumably help the shift, too. I’m deeply committed to my ideal of the American experiment, so there’s no celebration for me, especially in the context of shifts to countries that are not free and not working towards freedom (like the Emirates or China).


      2. I agree, that is the bigger debate. There are at least two problems in most analyses, First, at any moment, there are a hundred pieces of news (and a hundred thousand personal anecdotes), so long-term trends are hard to discern. In this regard, it’s like the economy, where neither your friend who lost his job, nor even last month’s durable goods orders, furnishes much evidence by itself. Second is that most people’s analyses are irredeemably tainted by partisanship, so Obama’s withdrawals from Iraq and (sort of) from Afghanistan count as good judgment, and Trump’s withdrawals count as fecklessness and weakness. Or vice versa, for the other half of my friends.


      3. For myself, I stick with Engels: the only important determinant of long-term geopolitical strength is economic performance. It is now clear that the other large OECD countries will never in my lifetime match the United States in per capita GDP, so they will never have much power. On China, the verdict is still out.


      4. Or the Rise of the Anglosphere.

        I’ve come across European friends who have family members on 3 continents. It’s not unusual–for a certain type of family. (Highly educated, willing to leave their country of birth, often married to someone with a different nationality.)

        But the flow isn’t one way, nor is it forever. A professor family from our town moved multiple times across the “pond” (EU-USA-EU-USA.)

        What is missing in discussions of this sort of thing is that the majority of the population in any country does not want to leave (or is unable to leave.)


    2. Well, the plural of anecdote is not data. As best I can discover from a brief internet search, there are about 750,000 Canadians living in the U.S., and 250,000 Americans living in Canada. So we must be doing something right.


      1. Y81, the back of my envelope says that those numbers are roughly three per cent of Canadians living here, and a tenth of one per cent of Americans living there. But, math is not my long suit…


      2. Or, we could say that the US has 10X the population of Canada, but the ratio of Americans who live in Canada v Canadians who live in the US is only 3X.


  8. I’m very fair skinned and my beard comes in red. Also lots of sunburns as a kid. Had a melanoma removed four years ago and my dermatologist regularly removes suspicious moles. At this point my back looks like I was in a drive-by.

    As for age, I can’t speak to attractiveness of older men vs. older women at a societal level but it makes no difference to me personally. I do have a real problem with older people in power though. I’m desperate for the Baby Boomers to retire and give GenX a shot before the Millennials take over. My policy is that 60 is pretty much my cap for consideration in a leadership position. I’m shocked that Biden would even be considered given his age.


  9. I love the piece Wendy linked upthread. I am sure people can make legitimate cases for someone else vs. Elizabeth Warren, but what I’m hearing, even here in liberal MA, is “I just don’t like her.” But why, I ask? And then I hear weak BS like “she’s too liberal.” Yeah, great argument, left-leaning Prius-driving genius. Somebody just swallowed the “she’s not likable” shit from the same people that described Kavanaugh’s testimony as “impassioned” and Blasey Ford’s testimony as “highly emotional.”

    Personally, I’m over Dem candidates forming a circle and shooting each other and I’m ready to organize an internet mob to attack any candidate or member of the press who does. I don’t even want to hear why you don’t like or won’t consider X, regardless of gender, religion or age. Make a decent case based on specific policy proposals or stfu. And then if your candidate loses in the primary, get over yourself and vote the Republicans out.


    1. Well, a wide-open primary tends to lead to candidates criticizing each other. And you may “not want to hear” other people’s opinions, but that will have no effect on the thought processes of other Democrats comparing the candidates.

      I don’t think anyone should be threatening to “organize an internet mob” to attack others. That’s a terrible idea. You would be so upset about candidates criticizing each other, you will organize a group of enraged people attacking candidates or reporters who are engaged in the primary process? Do you think that will lead to dispassionate discussions of policy? It’s perhaps the least likely approach to lead to voters considering policies.

      You do have the right to free speech, and no one can stop you from using online tools to emotionally inflame the process.


      1. Cranberry, yes, a wide-open first past the post primary does lead to a lot of negativity. This is a suggestion that ranked choice can be helpful in meliorating the tone – incentive is for candidates to avoid angering the partisans of other candidates. Also makes it less likely that a single … unusual … candidate will capture the nomination (or the office, in a general) by virtue of the more reasonable candidates tearing each other down. Think Trump, or in my state, Corey Stewart. Here’s an article about how it worked in Oakland in Jean Quan’s election over Don Perata.


    2. I will presume that “internet mobs” are an exaggeration on Nora’s part and will describe my own take. I am happy to discuss reasons why one prefers a particular candidate, but I will not engage in discussion of why one dislikes a Democratic candidate. Preference will sometimes be an implied criticism of another candidate: “I think Beto O’Rourke is a great speaker”. But, one can still say the positive without saying the negative.

      I am also entirely ill-suited to figuring out who “cross over” voters (especially anyone who voted for Trump) might vote for in the general election — as are most of the people I talk with, Thus I will include that not at all in my analysis or discussion. I think in these divided times, firing up the base is a necessary component of electing a candidate — and thus, guided efforts towards centrism can only work if you don’t loose the base (including losing them in the form of people staying home, not driving home from college to vote, standing in long lines, making repeated trips to acquire the ID you now need to vote in some states).


    1. Because Biden may turn out to be be the one who can best beat Trump? This is the same party as tolerated Bill Clinton and which took contributions from Weinstein for years and years while his behavior was known to insiders. So its outrage over bad behavior is clearly flexible, as is that of the Republicans.


    2. But it’s also the party that drove Al Franken out of office (and, earlier, Gary Hart). Is he still being too touchy-feely? Or has he stopped after the complaints (which seemed to have been circulating in 2015?)? The key is whether someone backs off when it’s not wanted. I myself am very awkward around hugging, so I navigate this issue all the time. I do not know any men who have not picked up on this awkwardness and stopped, though it might have taken them a couple of awkward hugs (and, I’ve never had to resort to using my words).

      Obama shouldn’t have called Harris the “best-looking attorney general in the country” in 2013 but I’ve forgiven him, because he listened to criticism and apologized.


      1. “I myself am very awkward around hugging . . . .”

        You don’t hug and cheek kiss everyone you know socially upon each encounter? That would not be life in UMC NYC.


      2. I try to accommodate the Europeans. But, not enough to learn how to hug right, so many give up except when they really need to hug for the social transaction.


  10. Another redhead here. Seemingly blond, but freckles, white eyebrows, white eyelashes, and I never tanned (or tried to). But, I have spent a lot of time outdoors and it’s coming home to roost. I don’t mind having chunks of skin removed, unless they are in difficult spots. Bridge of the nose was very painful; spots where your clothing rubs ditto.

    Also, Sherrod Brown is 66, not 76. I would be glad to vote for (and work for) him. He’s a progressive from a pretty red state — he knows his way around all kinds of people.


    1. The ancient Governor Brown about whom I was complaining was Jerry, not Sherrod, who is a senator… I actually dislike him for policy, too (medfly, fast train boondoggle) as well as thinking it’s not the right job for someone as old as he.


  11. Penelope Trunk has been saying for ages that fillers are the best career move. It doesn’t help that all of the aging TV women get thousands in monthly treatments and still look 40 into their 60s & 70s (Martha Stewart, Kathie Lee, Judy Wodruff, Katie Couric….) I want to hear more about the mom to career angle. PTA President in a rich school district doesn’t get you networking help? Surely it’s better to have a volunteer role with a title to put on the resume? A 50-year old woman has 20+ years to work ahead of her! One of the reasons I left corporate work was because the mid-40s women who had been out of college twice as long had the same position. But they weren’t leaving meetings to pump and bleary-eyed from being up in the night with sick babies. Their kids were old enough to be home alone after school. I realized I could take some years to freelance and focus on motherhood, and the corporate opportunities would still be there in another decade. Although, if I’d realized I’d have school age kids for 20+ years, I would have considered going into education to have a schedule that matches. I’ve seen many older moms without college degrees become very successful realtors or go into property management or personal training.


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