Be Seen: Fighting the Invisible Woman Syndrome As You Age

It’s Women’s History Month! But for a moment, we want you to take a break from thinking about the collective history of women’s achievements and struggles, and think about your own history. The story of you. An older woman navigating the 2020s, who has experienced not only the changes of history, but the changes to herself that come with aging. How have these changes, well, changed you? Are you more confident in yourself, do you know what you want more than you did when you were younger, are you more ready to speak your mind? We hope so! 

But we also know that there can be a darker side to aging when you’re a woman. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with aging and with your body changing – it happens to everyone! But because of so many messages telling us that women need to stay forever young to stay relevant, or even worthy of being seen and heard. So the question is: despite all of the positive changes that the years have given you, do you sometimes (or even all of the time) feel invisible in a world that values youth so highly? Are you suffering from the invisible woman syndrome? If so, is there a way to feel more seen in a world that seems reluctant to open its eyes?

The Disappearing Act

silhouette of a woman with her face missing
The older women get, the more it feels like they are unseen and looked over for jobs or other things in their life.

We get it: everyone gets old, and we’ve just got to deal with it, right? Sure – but what no one signs up for is being made to feel unseen, overlooked, and patronized when they get older. And it seems like that’s just what’s happening to a lot of older women. While middle-aged or older men are often considered to be at the peak of their professional and personal lives, and viewed as accomplished and experienced, women of the same age can be seen as “past it,” especially since they’re often viewed through the lens of their physical appearance. 

And we’re not saying that women over 50 don’t look good – that’s a completely subjective thing and hopefully you’re rocking your chosen look – we’re saying that our society is obsessed with youth, and has come to equate that quality with beauty for a woman. That can be a problem not only because it can make older women feel unattractive by default, but also because it reduces them to their physical self, and ignores all their other qualities, experiences, and accomplishments. 

And then the disappearing act begins. And it’s not just all in your head: there are real world consequences to aging for a woman. For example, an older actor might no longer be offered roles after she turns 45 (did you know that women were cast as just 26% of characters aged 40 or older in 414 films and television shows aired in 2014 and 2015?). Or a woman can’t land a job interview after her 50th birthday, a 60-year-old woman is ignored in a shop or pushed past on the street, or a widow in her 70s is no longer invited to dinner parties without her husband around. 

As the writer Ayelet Waldman once said in an interview after she turned 50, “I have a big personality, and I have a certain level of professional competence, and I’m used to being taken seriously professionally. And suddenly, it’s like I just vanished from the room. And I have to yell so much louder to be seen. … I just want to walk down the street and have someone notice that I exist.”

Feeling Overlooked

If you’re nodding along to all of this, or if you’ve noticed this phenomenon in the life of someone you love, you’re most certainly not alone. Just check out the results of this one survey conducted by the website Gransnet:invisible woman syndrome infographic

  • Seven out of 10 (70%) respondents believed that women become ‘invisible’ as they get older, but only a third (32%) thought the same applies to men.
  • Women reported feeling ‘invisible’ starting at the age of 52, while for men the average age was 64.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) felt that older women tend to be more invisible than men of the same age, putting the phenomenon down to society being obsessed with youth (62%), ageist (54%) and sexist (35%).
  • Nearly two-fifths (37%) said that younger people have patronized them as they have gotten older. And almost a quarter (23%) said that if they’re out with a younger person, people tend to talk to the younger person rather than to them.
  • More than half (54%) said they receive less random attention from the opposite sex. And nearly a fifth (18%) said that people had let doors slam in their faces.
  • 43% said they have been passed over when waiting at a bar or restaurant, and 31% said they have been ignored in shops.

Pretty tough stuff, right? And unfortunately, no one can single-handedly change society. But can you change that feeling of invisibility, and feel like you’re actually being seen?

Living Out Loud

If you recognize yourself in the above, you know what we’re not going to tell you? To try to “age gracefully.” The solution to feeling invisible is not to go gently into that good night. And that doesn’t have anything to do with looks and how your body is aging – let’s put all that BS about older women needing to look a certain way or “compete” aside. You can color your hair if you want, or use all the wrinkle creams in the world, that’s your choice – and if it makes you feel good, do it! 

The point is that you’re more than wrinkles, or a changing body. In fact, you’re more than someone with “empty-nest syndrome,” or a woman experiencing menopause. You’re someone with, as the writer Francine du Plessix Gray wrote, “presence, authority, and voice.” You just have to find it. 

That might not feel easy, but it can be done, and it’s something we all need to do, to avoid withdrawing and ceasing to try (and again, we don’t mean with your looks). According to Alison Carper, a psychologist who practices in New York, “As humans, we all need to be recognized, but as we grow older, the manner of recognition we search for can change.” That means you need to look inside yourself, and make yourself the “subject” of your life, instead of an “object.” 

According to Carper, “a subject is someone who is aware of how she can and does have an impact on others and how she is, ultimately, the author of her own life. She is aware of the responsibility this carries.” That’s a lot to take on board, we know. So where do you even start? Most experts agree it’s by taking control, and as the writer Emile Zola put it, “living out loud,” by doing the following:

  • Banishing the word “still” – Ok, not in every situation! But we have to stop picking out a few celebrities blessed with great genes and an even better plastic surgeon, and admiringly proclaiming that they “still” have it. Reconnect with your “it”: you never lost it.
  • Being where, and doing what, makes you feel like you – Again, you are you, no “still” about it. Go to music festivals if that’s your thing, or run races, or hang out at the nude beach. Paint, play video games, ride your bike, lift weights, write, go to karaoke – whatever you enjoy. Do things just for you. 3 older women laughing together on the beach
  • Having a velvet-rope policy for who you let into your life – Surround yourself with people who make you feel seen, heard, and respected. There will still be people who treat you as less-than, but you get to decide how you react to them, and if that’s by speaking up, all the better. Two of the positive statistics from the Gransnet survey above were that 65% of the women said that they felt more confident, and 79% said that they care less about what people think about them now that they are older – don’t let that bravado go to waste! 
  • Forgetting about being “age-appropriate” – Again, we’re not all that interested in talking too much about appearance here, but it is also true that how you present yourself outwardly can reflect how you feel inwardly. So dress how you like to dress, and in what makes you feel most like you (that day), whether it’s ripped jeans casual or full Iris Apfel. 

While it can often feel like others are deciding your place in this world for you, especially as you age, that’s your decision. Don’t ever forget that. There’s no need to compete, compare, or apologize. Just be visible for who you are (and forget the people that refuse to see that).

This Women’s History Month, Let’s Focus on Women’s Futures

It’s Women’s History Month again! So, as with any month that is dedicated to highlighting the history of a “minority” (and we use that term loosely, since women make up more than half of the population) or marginalized group, there will be a lot of focus on historical figures who have beaten the odds and have made a big difference. And that’s great: history is there for us to learn from, and that’s what we should be doing. 

But the problem with this way of thinking is that there’s a danger of losing sight of those who couldn’t beat the odds, and those who are still working to do so. So while we’ll certainly think about women’s fascinating past this month, and how we’ve gotten where we are today, we also want to focus on the futures of all women. To do that, let’s look at ways that we can ensure bright futures for all women. One way to do this is by supporting organizations run by and for women that strive toward equality in the present.

Where We Are Now

There’s no doubt that women have made great strides over the centuries, especially over the last one, and we would never want to diminish those hard-fought battles, and the rights and achievements we have attained. But it’s also clear that we still have a long way to go. Consider these stats about where we are today:2 rows of coins, one smaller with a pink woman gender sign and the other larger with a blue male gender sign

  • The gender wage gap persistsIn 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 42 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2020. Those extra few cents also mean that women make at least $80,000 less over their lifetime than men – and that doesn’t even take into account the fact that African American, Latinx, and Indigenous women will earn even less over their lifetimes.
  • Domestic violence is still an alarming problem – More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) in the U.S. will experience rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this adds up to more than 10 million people – and again, these numbers change when adjusting for factors like race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and housing status. In addition, on average, more than 3 women are murdered by their intimate partners in the U.S. every day.
  • Sexual violence and harassment plague us –  One in five women in the United States has experienced a completed or attempted rape during their lifetime, and 81% of women have reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime. And consider this unexpected statistic: the estimated lifetime cost of rape is $122,461 per victim.
  • Women are still underrepresented – Women are 51% of the population in the U.S. but make up only:
    • 27% of Congress at large 
    • 24% of the U.S. Senate 
    • 27% of the U.S. House of Representatives 
    • 0% of presidents of the United States 
    • 30% of statewide elected executives of any kind
    • 31% of state legislators
    • 31% of the largest cities’ mayors 
    • 25% of mayors in cities with populations over 30,000

And, again, these numbers are not adjusted for race, income level, or age. fetus with a heart and a stethescope

  • Access to reproductive healthcare remains an issue – Although most U.S. maternal deaths are preventable, we have the highest maternal mortality ratio among wealthy nations. In addition, contraception and assisted reproduction services are often unaffordable and out of reach for many, and 90% of counties in the country are without a single abortion provider. African American women, Indigenous women, and people of color, and those living in rural communities and with lower incomes, are disproportionately harmed when healthcare is inaccessible. For example, African American and Indigenous women in the U.S. are roughly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. 

Organizations to Support

The above facts and statistics highlight just a few of the issues that continue to stand in the way of ALL women moving forward, and having the chance to make history. And these numbers can make things seem hopeless, or like nothing has changed or will ever change, but that’s not true! Things have gotten better, and can continue to improve, thanks to the hard work of many people. So what can you do, if you’re not in the position to get into the trenches and do some hands-on work? You can help by supporting the following organizations. 

Note: we have highlighted issues and statistics here in the U.S., as well as organizations aimed at supporting women in the U.S., but there are many, many excellent organizations helping women around the world that are well worth your time and money.

1. National Women’s Law Center

The National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, has played an active role in the passage of legislation that supports women’s rights. It also advocates for women’s health care and reproductive rights, as well as the rights of children and families. Its current 100 Wins 100 Days campaign is asking for the Biden administration to prioritize a range of political initiatives from passing the Equality Act to protecting tipped workers, who are primarily women, impacted by the pandemic. You can donate to the National Women’s Law Center to support its fight for gender justice.

2. Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women

According to the National Institute of Justice, four out of five Native women experience violence in their lifetime, so the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (CSVANW) is dedicated to ending violence against Native women and children. By advocating for and engaging with tribal communities, CSVANW is working toward a future where all people can feel safe.

3. I Support the Girls

I Support the Girls serves women and girls experiencing homelessness, and it does so in a way that is often overlooked. They believe “A woman shouldn’t have to choose between feeding herself and her personal health.  Every woman should have the ability to maintain her dignity.” So they collect and distribute essential items, including bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products to women experiencing homelessness, impoverishment, or distress like domestic violence. 

4. Trans Women of Color Collective

stop violence written in a stop sign
INCITE! works to end violence in our homes, communities, and at the state level.

The Trans Women of Color Collective “seeks to shift the narrative of surviving to thriving in our communities.” The group provides a network to trans women of color where they can meet entrepreneurs, healers, and collaborators to help them succeed.


A network of self-described radical feminists of color, INCITE! works to end violence in our homes, communities, and at the state level. They’ve created accessible activism toolkits to help encourage community organization against issues that disproportionately impact women of color like police brutality and gender violence.

6. National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) is currently the only national organization dedicated to empowering Asian American and Pacific Islander women and girls through community mobilization and political change. They do this through their work in reproductive rights advocacy, economic justice, and immigrant rights. 

7. Women’s Prison Association

The Women’s Prison Association works to keep women out of prison, support women who are incarcerated, and help women who were previously incarcerated set up for life afterward. This includes finding affordable housing, preparing them for job interviews, or locating any mental health services they might need.

8. Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code empowers young women to pursue careers in technology and computer science. The organization offers after-school coding classes for young women in 3rd grade through 12th grade, as well as summer programs and an alumni network. They have worked with 185,000 girls in all 50 states, and college-aged alumni of the program are majoring in computer science at a rate 15 times the national average.

9. The Center for Reproductive Rights

The Center for Reproductive Rights uses litigation and advocacy to fight for the rights of women to have access to quality reproductive health and resources.

10. Girl Up 

Girl Up is a nonprofit organization that works to defend gender equality through leadership development training sessions for school-aged girls and women, according to the website. There are currently 3,300 registered Girl Up clubs in 50 US states, two territories, and 118 countries.

11. UltraViolet

According to their website, UltraViolet “work[s] to end violence against women, increase economic security for women and families, and ensure that all women have access to full and affordable health care services.” They do this through “a combination of organizing, technology, creative campaigning, and people power.”

12. She Should Run

She Should Run is a nonpartisan organization that inspires women to run for office by providing a free starting place for women to explore running for office. Its current goal is to get 250,000 women to run for office by 2030. Through its Ask a Woman to Run tool and She Should Run incubator, women from all backgrounds can enroll in courses on leadership, networking, and communication skills to build their individual paths to candidacy.

13. Poetic Justicewomen in orange jumpsuits with notebooks on their laps

Poetic Justice offers both in-person and remote creative writing for women in a growing number of prisons in the U.S. According to their website, their “vision is to offer opportunities for healing and growth by holding space to process trauma and rewrite personal narratives to transform the story of incarceration.”

It’s extremely important to know our history, but it’s just as vital that we support our present and empower our future. The organizations above are working hard to do this – and there are so many more that are doing so, as well, it just takes a little research to find one that speaks to you. So if these many, many organizations and many, many women and allies who are hard at work are any indication, the future is bright.