Gendered ageism is a real thing, so much so that some women won’t even disclose their age. Among them is Janelle James, a comedian and “Abbott Elementary” star who has captured the attention of the nation. In a recent interview with Variety, James spoke about her decision to not disclose her age.
“I’m grown. I have a 20-year-old son. I’m not ashamed of my age or anything like that. But for women — and everybody knows it and acts like they don’t — it gives an idea of what you are in people’s heads,” she said in the Variety interview.
It seems that for James, maintaining an ageless stance professionally is a way to advance at her own pace and without being put in any boxes. She resists allowing motherhood to categorize her as the “mom comic”. To that she simply said “it’s not my jam”. The star hasn’t disclosed the age of her oldest child.
Gendered ageism among Women of color
Beyond Hollywood though, gendered ageism has dramatically (though unsurprisingly) affected women of color. Around the world, women won’t disclose their age so that they won’t be stereotyped or prevented from showing as their authentic selves. Older women, particularly within communities of color, are stereotyped to be nurturers, mothers and there are expectations around care-giving that come about as a consequence. On the other side of ageism, are those women of color who appear younger than their actual ages. They may find themselves excluded from certain spaces and opportunities for being ‘too young’. This might be a way to discriminate by the stereotype that youth is synonymous with inexperience.
It brings to light women of color and what exactly that intersection means professionally. If we throw in the “Black don’t crack” narrative and other cultural beliefs, the conversation gets even more complicated. It presents questions about how society has a hyper-ageist gaze that leaves very little room for women to pivot as they please. Black women’s age especially deserves to be guarded since in several industries they already experience discriminatory limitations.
Can Black women wave away questions about age to guard their peace and professional growth? Making a conscious decision to not disclose age is how James and other women are able to prove that they can have the best of both worlds.
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