Forget bingo, here's how elderly women can seize power '“ Susan Dalgety

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrat Barbara Lee head for the floor of the House of Representatives (Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrat Barbara Lee head for the floor of the House of Representatives (Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrat Barbara Lee head for the floor of the House of Representatives (Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The number of female pensioners is set to soar, giving this section of the population significant political clout '“ if they choose to use it and be a bit more like Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and a generation of politicians in the US, writes Susan Dalgety.

Something happens to women when they hit their sixties. We suddenly become invisible. Even if we enhance our greying hair and choose the brightest shade of lipstick, we seem to merge into the background of life.

We introduce ourselves as, “I used to be...”. We apologise for taking up space in the street, on the bus, particularly in rush hour, and we can wander round a department store for hours without being pestered to buy anything.

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We disappear from boardrooms and the workplace. Wrinkles on a man are seen as a sign of wisdom. On a woman, they are a mark of decay.

Madonna, at 60, is vilified for maintaining her youthful appearance and zest for life. Bruce Springsteen, nine years her senior, is lauded for his energy and carefully honed muscles.

Two years ago, the Queen of Pop warned women: “Do not age, because to age is a sin. You will be criticised, you will be vilified, and you will definitely not be played on the radio.”

And now, it seems, some people think older women should be denied that most basic of human rights – our right to vote.

Speaking on the Jeremy Vine show earlier this week, singer Jamelia, who is 38 by the way, told pensioner Pat that people over 75 shouldn’t be allowed to cast their ballot.

“I think that you’re capable of being of sound mind,” conceded the pop legend (I had to Google her) sweetly.

But she went on: “I just don’t think it’s fair that you have a vote when you’re not going to experience the consequences of that vote.”

“It is important you don’t become offended,” she added, in a vain attempt to soften her ageist blow.

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And in an even more objectionable article, the doyen of progressive journalists, 72-year-old Polly Toynbee, celebrated the fact that today is “swing Saturday”.

She explained, “This is the day, in theory, when the country turns remain.

“Even if not a single person has changed their mind since the referendum, the demographic shift alone will have done the heavy lifting.

“Enough old leavers will have died and enough young remainers will have come on to the electoral register to turn the dial on what the country thinks about Brexit.”

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In Toynbee’s la-la-land, all older people are reactionary Little Englanders, except presumably for her and her narrow network, while everyone under the age of 40 is a saintly progressive.

Jamelia and Polly are in for a shock. Britain is ageing, and here in Scotland the population is changing faster than the rest of the UK.

The National Records of Scotland project that over the next 25 years, the number of people of pensionable age could increase by 25 per cent, while the number of working age people and children will drop.

The oldies are taking over. And given that women outnumber men in the general population, it is an easy prediction to make that older women will dominate Scottish society over the next few decades.

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So how do we encourage older women to emerge confidently from the shadows of late middle age? How do we harness the wisdom and experience of women over 60 to help strengthen our economy? How do we get Madonna back on the radio?

The business case for employing older women is obvious, not least that we have decades of knowledge and expertise to share with younger staff.

The 2010 Equality Act offers a degree of protection against age discrimination, and economists calculate that if everyone worked even one year longer, GDP could increase by one per cent, adding billions to the economy.

But in a society where ageism intersects with sexism, it can be hard for older women to force their way back to where they belong, centre stage.

That is why us older women need to be more like Nancy. “Nancy who?” I hear you cry.

Nancy Pelosi, newly appointed Speaker of the American House of Representatives, second in line to the Presidency after Vice President Mike Pence, and arguably the most powerful woman in the world.

Nancy will be 79 years old in March. She is, by any account, old. She is also courageous, and not afraid to directly challenge the madness of President Trump.

She is vastly experienced. She was first elected to Congress in 1987 and has led the House Democrats since 2003.

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She doesn’t give a fig about her age. She embraces her status as a grandmother. She delights in the youthful vigour of new female politicians like the Insta-friendly Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez, while making it clear she is the boss.

And she is not the only older woman making her mark in the USA just now. Nancy’s colleague Maxine Waters has just become the first woman to lead the Financial Services Committee, which oversees the American banking system.

She may also prove to be Donald Trump’s nemesis. “Crazy” Maxine, as the President calls her, now has the power to get his tax returns, and she seems determined to wield her authority over him. She will be 80 on her next birthday.

One of the frontrunners in the race to win the nomination for the Democrats’ 2020 Presidential candidate is 69-year-old Elizabeth Warren. She did not become an elected politician until she was 63.

And the new boss of CBS News, Susan Zirinsky, is not only the first woman to hold this prestigious TV post; at 66, she also is the oldest person.

The generation of American women who burned their bras in the 1960s and 70s, while challenging the patriarchal society that had buried their mothers and grandmothers in domesticity, are now their country’s senior citizens. And they are showing us the way.

We all age. Yes, even men and young people, if they are lucky enough, will age. Ageing is simply living.

The old rules, that meant a woman disappeared into a life of bingo, tea dances and home perms when she hit 60, are long gone.

As Madonna says, “Who made those rules? Who says? I’m going to keep fighting it.”

“Ten or 20 years from now, it’s going to be normal. People are going to shut up.”

Are you listening Jamelia?