Hello, I’m Right Here! Why Are Older Women Treated Like We’re Invisible?

by | May 10, 2024

older woman feeling invisible in a bar
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Featured image: Why do older women feel ignored when we travel, and in life? / Photo by djoronimo on Envato

I love solo travel, but I don’t love being overlooked

by Kathy Buckworth

I sat down at the hotel bar after a long day of travel, desperate for a bite to eat and something to drink. There were two bartenders, busy behind the counter, but there were no other customers waiting to be served.  After five minutes went by, I tried to catch the eye of one of them – a friendly wave – a cough – nothing. Two young women came up to the bar and sat down, chatting exuberantly. Immediately the bartender went over to give them coasters and to ask them what they would like to drink.

Did he not see me? Did he assume I was waiting for someone? Should I be louder?

Just then, two men in their 50s sat down on the other side of me. The bartender delivered the ladies their drinks, and then went to the men to get their order. He walked right past me. After the men ordered and it was clear I wasn’t going to be served, I asked the men to get the bartender’s attention for me so I could order. They did, and I ordered, but more than making me mad, it left me astounded.

Why do I feel invisible?

If you are a woman over the age of 50, you will become invisible. People tell you this, and I still can’t believe it’s true, but it has happened to me more times than I can count.

I posted my thoughts on Threads, venting a little bit, but not naming names or being too terribly rude:

“Just here to say that 💯 as a 61 year old woman I get IGNORED all the time at bars and restaurants. And here’s the thing. We have money. We order. And we tip well. But you just carry on…🙄”

Within 13 hours I had over 2,000 likes and 300 replies. And it grew, and it grew, and at time of writing is over 7,400 likes and 1,400 comments.

Older woman rock climbing smiles up at camera

Read more: Women Share Their Age-Defying Adventures  (October 2020) / Photo by anatolily_gleb on Adobe Stock

Most of the responses were from other women who had experienced the same thing and agreed that it was a real phenomenon. And we are all equally puzzled by it.

In an effort to advocate for women over 50, a recent study by JourneyWoman revealed that 70% of women over the age of 50% felt undervalued and ignored by the travel industry as a whole. 

Why? Well, some of the responses I received perhaps reflect what others are thinking. I was told:

  • I shouldn’t be in a bar because I’m 61
  • I was probably upset I wasn’t getting male attention
  • Likely I had resting bitch face so why would they serve me
  • Women are lousy tippers and servers know this
  • I must be a bot because 61 year olds don’t look like me
  • Why was I out on my own, at my age, no one does that
  • Clearly the server must have thought I was waiting for someone
  • I was probably a Karen and had probably already spoken to the manager

There were several other nasty notes, mostly from men, but from younger women also, who wanted me to fix this problem. It was my fault that other people found me invisible. I should be louder, friendlier, wave my arms, do a dance…it was exhausting to read all of these notes, so I stopped.

Read More: Life Doesn’t End at 80, Neither Does Travel 

I feel empowered, now what?

I had lovely support from Stacy London (of What Not to Wear and a recent aging advocate) who said “Kathy I don’t know you but I hear you. I promise more good things are coming to serve you and this entire demographic proudlyq50

And my pals Erin Davis and Lisa Brandt of the extremely popular podcast Gracefully and Frankly talked about it on Episode 72 on May 9th.  Thanks to everyone on Threads who took on the trolls when I was too exhausted to do so.

As a person who travels quite a bit, I am often on my own in restaurants and bars, and I like it. I love solo dining.

What I don’t love is being overlooked, and then being told I need to fix myself. Do better, restaurants and servers. We can do one thing as well, which is sharing our good experiences at restaurants and bars, and recommending them to other solo women customers. I’m not much for naming and shaming the ones who do it badly, but for rewarding those who just want to give a human being a meal, no matter who they are, or how old they are.

What can we do about it?

I shared this story on from the JourneyWoman community on Facebook and most comments were to be louder, smile more, wave a credit card or cash, leave the establishment, or complain to the manager. In my mind, these don’t solve the underlying problem, but perhaps the more we shine the spotlight on the fact that it is a real issue, maybe we can activate some change.

Now, please excuse me while I respond to the direct message which reads “I’m a 28 year old self made millionaire and I will buy you your own bar or restaurant.”  We can call it The Cloakroom of Invisibility.

Please share your thoughts below in the comments.

Find a woman-friendly adventure travel tour on the Women's Travel Directory.

More on Women Over 50 and Beyond! 

Kathy Buckworth is an award-winning writer, spokesperson, content creator and media personality. She is the author of six non-fiction books. Kathy is the creator, host, writer and researcher for the Zoomer Radio show and podcast, Go-To Grandma, which launched in 2021. She has interviewed hundreds of guests, and the show is in the top three sponsored shows on Zoomer. She is also the co-host of the Elder Wisdom Podcast, which has just reached 100,000 downloads.

4 Comments

  1. Lisa Brandt

    Kathy, you are so right. We women of a certain age are networkers and reviewers at the professional level! I will go out of my way to visit an establishment if a peer tells me they had a good experience. Thanks so much for mentioning G&F and for your inspiration.

    Reply
  2. Renee Prevette

    Hi Kathy
    As a young at heart 68 year old I really like the idea of sharing restaurants that embrace our generation. I too tip well but if ignored for a meal out I don’t believe I need to reward the absence of a waiter/ waitress!!

    Reply
  3. D. Gascoyne

    This has definitely happened to me on several occasions, although it has been worse in some places or countries than others. As a single traveller “of a certain age” I was treated extremely well in Italy, I think because there’s a strong culture of respect for older women there.

    Reply
  4. Trix VanEgmond

    I love the idea of a younger something funding something called, “The Cloakroom of Invisibility”! I think it would be a great hit.

    Reply

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