What’s a girl got to do to get heard?

Clair Woodward
8 min readMar 16, 2021

Frankly, I’d be more interesting to the world if I was dead. Alive, it seems that I am of no interest to anyone, but if I went to join the Choir Invisible, my life as a single, childless, out-of-work woman in her mid-fifties could act as a salutary lesson to young ladies about what not to do with theirs. If I did myself in, or if I was found three weeks after my sudden natural death, in bed with the electric blanket on 3, with local foxes attracted by the tasty aroma of lightly-braised flesh, young, posh, pretty twentysomething lady writers, attired in floral midaxi dresses, and who look good in byline photos draped across a velvet button-backed chair, could tell my story.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Their slightly older commissioning editors — who vaguely know who The Beatles are — would pick up my story from the Coroner’s Court in a local newspaper, and tell the young lady to reflect on my sad, lonely tale, giving it an “Eleanor Rigby vibe”. They would quote some of the lyrics in italics at some point.

Eleanor Rigby
Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream

Despite the second verse for me actually being: “Picks up the cheap Polish lager cans where alcoholics in the graveyard go to get pissed, on her way to the bus stop”, it would reflect on my lonely life and sad death, in the way that the movie Dreams of a Life examined the life of Joyce Vincent, whose skeletal corpse was found in her north London flat with the TV on, two years after she was last seen. The earnest prose would include the words: “never found a suitable man…friends wondered why”, “…we think she would have liked a family…” and “after her career as a journalist collapsed…”. There would be a shit picture of me lifted from Facebook (not a nice one, oh no, old, sad women have to look dreadful, even after death). The comments section would include three sympathetic replies, but the majority would be along the lines of: “Serves the stupid bitch right, she should have got married (but she was probably a closet lesbian anyway)”, or “Selfish cow should have just pulled herself together”. The comments would be turned off for pieces like this about living subjects, but because I’d be dead, it would be OK, and anyway, “We’re getting loads of people registering to comment, and we might get subscriptions out of them, so keep comments open, yeah?”.

There might be a bit of Twitter comment, but it would die down quickly after someone in the public eye said something that was thought to be offensive to trans people and social media would be ablaze with that, and then my cremains would be shovelled under a rose bush and that would be The.End. But hey, after years of nobody wanting to hear my story or my views, I might be listened to. It’d be through the filter of someone who never knew or understood me, but as long as it got some earnest young woman a nice byline, who cares?

Let me make myself clear. I’d rather not be dead. I’m not planning on doing myself in, and if I popped my clogs at home, I don’t think I’d be left rotting away for more than a week. And I’m heterosexual and unlucky in love. But as the world in general goes, me and my kind are of absolutely no interest, because we’re seen as weirdo outsiders for some reason — and I suppose we are. Past our sexual sell-by date, men our own age are happily pursuing 30-year-olds, leaving us to contemplate yet another dinner with our girl/gay friends.

We are largely unemployable because so many companies think our skills went out with the Ark. Because we don’t have children or grandchildren, we generally can’t take part in those kind of discussions because “we don’t know what love feels like until you have a child”. Also, people aren’t interested in selling us life insurance policies on daytime TV, because our funerals are paid for and we haven’t got anyone who needs a cash payout from us to support them when we’ve finally keeled over.

I’ve had a day of real hard knocks over my status in life. As a journalist (am I still one? Discuss) who’s written about broadcasting for the best part of 30 years, so, fed-up with the way the BBC’s recent announcement of a diversity plan seemed to involve every under-represented group apart from older people, I wrote to Tim Davey, the Corporation’s Director General. I didn’t expect a reply, but today, I got one. Some poor sod in the BBC’s Audience Service department had the pleasure of sending me a patronising standard reply

In my original letter, I’d pointed out that the diversity plan did include an older person employed by the BBC, but it was a man in his sixties who’d moved from the commercial sector and was hired by the Beeb, and could they find a woman in a similar position (I thought not). I also raised issues about representation of older people, especially women, on TV, and quoted a recent Ofcom report showing a huge imbalance. I also asked how many over 50’s were employed in TV production, and why catch-up services had home pages which appeared to be aimed solely at younger people.

The reply was basically: “We can’t make programmes that please everybody.” Well, duh. It also advised me that: “We provide comprehensive information about all our upcoming programmes on our website, on your television’s Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and via a range of independent listings magazines and newspapers, so in the meantime, we do hope that you are able to find some BBC programmes from our schedules to your liking, or to perhaps try some of our new programmes.” I wondered if I’d have received a ludicrous reply like that if I’d been a Millennial, the group that the BBC are desperate to attract. Sod this licence fee payer and the millions like me.

In my second thwarted attempt to make Britain stop treating me and my ilk like pariahs, I am a vocal supporter of Ageing Well Without Children, the organisation set up to offer help to those of us who are facing looking after ourselves in our old age without children and/or partners to look after us. As a Labour supporter, I sent a ton of emails to my MP and relevant members of the Shadow Cabinet, as Keir Starmer had been rattling on about looking after families, and making Britain “a great place to grow up in and a great place to grow old in”. As it’s something that needs to be looked into now, rather than ignored and causing a huge drain on public funds (which no party wants to address, amazingly) , I thought I’d address it, thinking that Labour would be interested.

Two months on, I have had no reply from anyone. I would at least have expected one from my MP, but nothing, despite several follow-up emails. I suspect that if I’d sent a correspondence headed: “HELP MY HARD-WORKING FAMILY”, I’d have been inundated with sympathy, but because it was about an issue that’s seen as fringe (it very much isn’t), I’ve been ignored. As ever, nobody, NOBODY wants to address this issue, so fuck you, the Labour Party. Naively, I expected better.

And today, I discovered that a good friend’s organisation supporting mothers and youth affected by violence and associated issues has been welcomed into the Labour fold by a ‘name’ MP. I am, of course delighted, as it’s vital, and my friend’s input is brilliant. I only wish people at the other end of the ageing spectrum was seen as important by people who run the country.

Because regardless of what situation you find yourself in as an ageing person, the bottom line is, nobody actually cares about you, unless they want to sell you something. Daytime telly is wall-to-wall ads for those bloody insurance plans, equity release schemes, mattresses, walking frames, delivery services for pappy food that looks like vomit in a long-life box. Last week, I spotted yet another of those “empowering middle-aged women” groups; this one set up by a journalist who’d “stepped down” from an extremely senior newspaper job. It’s advisory board is largely white, professional women, and they’re flogging retreats with “forest bathing”. They’re also positing toy jobs that you can only afford to do if you have plenty of money, or a partner who can support you as you train to be a light healer or something. One woman has told her story about becoming a shaman. Yeah, right. I suppose starting up things like this is one of the few things middle-aged women can do, given that nobody else will employ us. We end up selling stuff to each other; a fiftysomething multi-level marketing scheme.

Besides this, there are loads of genuine, serious bodies in Britain whose aim is to increase awareness of later life, and to improve it. My Twitter timeline is full of them, telling me about their reports on how to live a better life, how older people make great employees, complete with pictures of older people just getting on with their lives. It’s all lovely, but it seems that these groups are just talking into an echo chamber, to each other and to older people in general. In my experience, the general view of people aged 50+ has barely changed.

If we’re lucky, we’ll all live to a reasonable age and beyond. And everybody dies. But it seems that nobody with an ability to actually change anything about the experience of ageing wants to do it, choosing instead to put their fingers in their ears, going “WHOO-OOH, I CAN’T HEAR YOU, FAMILIES, MILLENNIALS, WHOO-OOH”.

My recent experience of the BBC being patronising and the Labour Party not even getting that far are more than indicative of how ignoring the issue loses public bodies an incredible amount of goodwill. The more the Beeb ignores its not-young consumers, the more fire-fighting their corporate PRs have to do to calm down the Daily Telegraph comments section and the #DefundTheBBC crowd. The more Labour chooses not to engage with people who have supported them, the more disinterested in voting for them (or anyone) people become.

Being engaged in issues about ageing benefits everyone, but nobody is committed to doing anything about it. Maybe I should consider self-immolation outside the window of The One Show at about 7.15 one night.

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Clair Woodward

Journalist, editor. Writes about arts, entertainment, life. Follow and commission me — Twitter @clairywoowoo