“Ageing is a fight against invisibility”, Cynthia told me. It was 2019 and we were at an Age UK meeting in East London, where I was tasked with handing around the microphone – a few weeks into volunteering with the charity. It was such a painfully eloquent articulation of all of the issues I’d observed so far that I remember feeling physically affected by it.
The invisibility of older women is particularly pronounced, as financial, social and health inequalities are amplified over time. In short, ageism compounds sexism.
Take, for example, the pension gender gap: in the UK, the difference between the average man and woman’s pension is 17% at the beginning of their careers, rising to 56% by the time they retire. Women also face a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion: 20%, compared to 14% for men, with the risk increasing with age; and, women are more likely than men to become caregivers as they age.
I’ve volunteered with Age UK for nearly three years now and have spoken with many of their service users. I’ve collaborated with over one hundred retirees to launch The Joy Club – and have been steered by our thousands of members since. I love to hear about their experiences – their humour, wisdom and resilience in the face of the fight against invisibility.
We asked members of The Joy Club whether they agreed with Cynthia’s statement. For context, of our thousands of retired members across the UK, 86% are female and their average age is 69. The majority did agree that ‘ageing is a fight against invisibility’ and the majority had personally experienced sexism.
Here are just a handful of their experiences:
“On a mundane level I find that in certain circumstances eg in a department store the young assistants will ignore you but fuss over customers around their age. Especially apparent on the makeup counter! I have waited to be served for minutes on end to buy a product while an assistant completely ignores me in preference to a younger woman who is browsing. When this occurs I do complain.”
“Got called ‘my love’ by a young girl in a coffee shop. (Told her I was more usually addressed as Dr Willcox as I have a PhD). Also observed how I was suddenly being noticed when walking down the high street recently – had forgotten that sometimes used to happen as I’d got used to invisibility – then realised I was with my 30 year old daughter and it was she who was being noticed – ha ha!”
“I recently walked into a restaurant with my daughter and family when the hostess warmly greeted my daughter and son in law and completely ignored me and my 7 year old grandson. I felt invisible and almost childlike.”
Does Perceived Ageism Widen the Digital Divide?
One of the manifestations of these sorts of experiences is that women are much less likely to participate online because they are more likely to experience ageism and encounter negative stereotypes. When it comes to this trend, we – at The Joy Club – are making a dint.
With their guidance, energy and contributions, we have co-created an age-positive online community with our members. The Joy Club has become a place where age is just a number. Our members come together to enjoy conversations and hobbies that some may (wrongly!) consider surprising – popular events have included the history of swearing, a belly dancing class and a burlesque session.
It is important that the experiences of all women are acknowledged and represented – and it is with great pride that The Joy Club team can stand alongside our members and draw attention to their particular experiences. Highlighting the challenges faced by working women is critical but so is allying ourselves to women who have left the workforce. After all, if we are lucky enough, old age will come to us all!
Hannah Thomson – Founder CEO of The Joy Club
Hannah was initially inspired to start the company by her Granny Jean. For Jean, retirement was the most joyful time of her life. Her retirement adventures included backpacking around New Zealand solo, volunteering in Bulgaria and becoming an amazing painter!
When Hannah lost Granny Jean to dementia, she wanted to pay tribute to her by bringing her sense of joy, adventure, and passion for meeting new people to as many others as possible.
After more than a year of research and preparation, The Joy Club launched on 8 December 2020 and is now the go-to place for activities and inspirational articles and videos for thousands of retirees across the UK.
Before founding The Joy Club, Hannah held key roles in several award-winning startups, including femtech company Elvie, where she was Head of Health and Strategic Partnerships.
She has degrees in human rights and business practices in life sciences and is a graduate of the Oxford University Fintech Programme. Her multidisciplinary background reflects her curiosity about the world and her passion to use technology to change it for the better.
Outside of work, Hannah is a keen adventurer! She has hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc, sailed across the Atlantic and run an ultra-marathon from the Lizard to Land’s End. In 2020 she ran the virtual 40th London Marathon in memory of her granny and to raise money for Age UK (you can watch the video here), a challenge she completed again in 2021 alongside thousands of other runners – this time in the capital itself!
Hannah has also volunteered for Age UK for over two years, including by being a telephone befriender for a shielding older person during all the national lockdowns.