Toyah Willcox: Time to tackle ageism and sexism

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Society needs to wise up according to pop star, campaigner and TV personality Toyah Willcox. After suffering sexism and ageism since her early 20s, she gives her personal viewpoint on why older women need more respect.

I am in my early 50s. By media standards, that's past it - just look what happened to the former Countryfile presenter, Miriam O'Reilly.

But I want to be relevant in the work place for at least another 15 years, and for people to look beyond the surface and see what I am capable of.

I'd like young people to seek my advice, and trust that the decades I have lived through have added to my abilities to be a valuable contributor to the workplace and society.

Then there's the continual culture of women being judged by their appearance.

Culture of spite

It did strike me recently that the two Sky Sports presenters, Richard Keys and Andy Gray, who have been severely reprimanded for lewd predatory remarks, are not exactly young, intellectual oil paintings themselves.

But when did you last hear a woman say "Oi you! Tuck this in my trousers"? Perhaps at a hen night in Blackpool, but not in the work place.

There is a culture of spite out there.

No matter how good your parenting skills are, all your hard work can easily be undone by the bullying that comes in the shape of fashion - fad diets, alcohol abuse, the haves and the have-nots - in popular media.

And this doesn't bode well for my age group, nor my gender, if we're telling future generations of employers that a woman is destined to be diet-obsessed in her 20s; over the hill by her 30s; divorced and depressed in her 40s; and just completely invisible from her 50s onwards.

If women are not portrayed truthfully, fairly, respectfully in the eyes of young men, then sexism and ageism will continue to flourish.

In my experience, women are conditioned to expect and accept that life will not only let them down, but they themselves will be the reason for their own downfall in the fullness of time.

A bit dramatic I suppose, but it starts in the school playground. The natural selection of those who find you attractive, and those who hate your face, embedding self doubt deep into the subconscious.

Then it moves into the dating game, and the laws of attraction and the bullying expectation of the hormonally driven boys imposed on the less predatory hormonally confused female.

Image caption,
Toyah on Top of the Pops in the 1980s - she says she got ageist warnings even when in her 20s

Am I painting a picture of a victimised weaker sex here?

Perhaps, but when I was a teenager I didn't have a barrage of self doubt and bad news and physical perfection thrown at me from virtually every magazine cover and tabloid newspaper, plus the internet, Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis.

Women of all ages need to be present in the media to instil girls and young women with self-confidence about their futures. And women of my age need healthy role models. Otherwise, how can we build the future dreams we still deserve to have?

I have experienced ageism and sexism. In my 20s, I was told by a camera lighting man I needed plastic surgery. In my 30s I was constantly told I needed to lose weight.

And in my 40s, as a presenter, I was dismissed from a TV programme because they wanted to try someone younger, And now I am in my 50s? Men affectionately call me an old woman.

My message to you is to insist all female age groups - and male for that matter - have equal, respectful, visible representation in all fields of the media.

* Toyah Willcox talks about attitudes to older women on BBC Two's Daily Politics at about 12.40 GMT on Wednesday 9 February. She will be debating her claims with MPs David Willetts and Jack Straw.

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