This Is Why It's (Often) Rude To Ask A Woman's Age

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shocked stylish older woman

I'll never forget the first time a man called me "ma'am." 

It wasn't the word. It was his tone — dismissive, even demeaning. I've cringed in the same way when a person I barely know asks me my age.

I don't always find questions about my age rude. I'm proud of my age, my experience, and I'm told I look good. "Based on what?" I'm prone to retort.

I'm usually fine divulging my age to people I consider friends. Yet ageism exists, it's a kissing cousin to sexism.

Depending on the situation, context, and tone of voice, asking a person's age is as impolite as asking their religion or political stance, especially if you don't know them. This is but one of many reasons why it's rude to ask a woman her age. 

Preoccupation with age has been around since women (and men) have started living past age 35. As early as the 1800s, it was considered improper to ask a woman her age. So what gives?

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Why is it rude to ask a woman her age?

Women are not only judged by their age, they're supposed to stay young forever. These ridiculous expectations are influenced by the media.

The beauty industry is teaching women and the men who admire them that aging is bad, so they can make money from "fixing" the problem.

This kind of spotlight on every physical feature can make some women feel insecure. If you visit any cosmetics counter or watch enough makeover shows, you too will find yourself looking at your reflection more often, counting wrinkles and gray hairs.

Even with all of this negative messaging, many women still don't often think of themselves in a negative light in terms of their age, but they're worried that others might.

Today's strict societal standards can be absolutely dystopian. We demand that women smile with straight pearly whites, have clear, bright, twinkling eyes, style their hair as dictated by influencers, and keep the lines and wrinkles at bay as long as possible with botox, or with invasive plastic surgeries. 

You'd think we were born as mannequins instead of humans.

In spite of night creams and collagen, aging is inevitable, but if a woman, by nature or nurture, looks younger, she can start to lie about her age because she knows through experience that society sees women differently at 30 than at 20, and much differently at 50 than at 35.

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Societal standards connect a woman's value to her age.

Women are judged, especially by men, based on their beauty, and conditioning causes society to connect age with diminishing beauty, fertility, and desirability.

As a woman ages, she can feel this judgment coming at her from every direction, observing not who she is but what she looks like.

If she looks younger than her chronological age, she may keep it a secret because she doesn't want age to get in the way of a friendship or relationships.

Women are always being judged, usually more so than men, strictly on their appearance. Especially in these days of social media Livestreams, women are apt to join in the harangue, too.

"We used to call it a meat market, and now the internet has made us women over 45 into a sideshow," one single friend quipped to me last month.

"I want to teach my viewers how to be more confident, and all they comment on is that my teeth aren't white enough," one internet influencer lamented to me.

Ageism at its worst can stop us in our tracks. It can prevent healthy relationships, and it can keep us poor.

Women may be closer to earning what a man earns in the workplace, but the women in their 50s and 60s who fought for equal rights at work are not just afraid of being judged, they are afraid of being dispensable.

Many are petrified of losing their jobs due to their advancing age. 

It's even worse for single or divorced women in search of a loving relationship. A client was silent about her age until her beau asked her to come home to meet his parents because he wanted her to be the mother of his children.

She knew she had to tell him she was 50 and in menopause. He consoled her at first, but she never saw him again.

Why would a man ask a woman her age anyway?

Ageism exists in dating and relationships. It's sexism, pure and simple. It's said that men age with grace, but women have saggy boobs and butts.

It may be that a man wants a younger woman because he feels insecure himself. He may want more power or control in the relationship. Or the man could want a trophy partner, whose beauty makes him feel or even look more desirable.

Or it may be that he wants a younger woman as a baby-maker. All of these reasons were around before the feminist movement, and they still exist.

Ageism exists at work. I've been asked my age in a job interview before it became explicitly illegal to do so. I looked younger than my age by about a decade.

I assumed the interviewer was wondering if I had enough life experience to manage the position, so I handed him another copy of my resume.

When I was in a hiring position, roundtable discussions involved age, but also cloaked verbiage like "not enough experience" or "overqualified." I was found "overqualified" for a position when I was around 50.

I've also quashed discussions about "having to pay for" maternity leave for women in their 20s and 30s. I bristle at any discussion of age in business. Period.

Ageism exists in daily life. Another client of mine mourns the days when men noticed her. "It's like I'm invisible now that I have a few fine lines on my face," she told me.

I notice that young women get talked to more by baristas, bartenders, and grocery store cashiers. Women don't want to feel lonely, left out, or like they don't belong.

All that said, it's sometimes appropriate to ask a woman her age, out of curiosity, concern, or simply to get closer and be more intimate. You may think a woman's age adds value and wisdom, and want her to know.

Of course, once you get to know a woman, it's normal to want to know more about her, so at a certain point, it's fine to ask about her age as long as she seems comfortable with the question. But if she squirms or wiggles her way out of answering, don't ask again.

It's equally as rude to ask a man his age as it is a woman. What applies to female etiquette should also apply to male etiquette. So women, don't think you're off the hook. Watch your manners as you enforce your boundaries, and don't cross his.

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Here's how to politely ask a woman her age.

1. Be polite.

Try to ask with a compliment about how great she looks or how amazing she is. Confide you think that age is sexy or cool.

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2. Use your manners.

Ask if she minds questions about age, either before or immediately after the question. You can hint around a little, though it's fine to be direct as long as you express why you're asking and that your intentions are good.

3. Practice good timing.

Make sure you know each other well enough that you're not crossing any inappropriate boundaries. If you know the person you're dating has had a bad day, don't choose that time to ask.

4. Talk about your past.

They may follow suit and tell you about theirs, or may even join in your memories. If you suspect or find out she's probably born in the same decade as you, reassure her that you're excited to be with someone your own age who can relate to the same moments in history and culture that you do.

5. Exercise wit.

If you say, "I can't believe anyone 20 years younger than me would know that much about 1990s television," you're giving her the chance to correct you, and if you say it with humor, she'll know you're really joking with her.

Does age really matter?

I contend that age does not matter in the slightest in a good, committed, loyal partnership. It's more like age is a barrier to both getting a job or entering into a relationship.

What great marriages have to show us is that age is irrelevant once you get to know and care about someone. Relationships with age gaps do last, at least as often as same-age relationships.

Yet the people in May-December romances need to recognize the inner workings of each other, instead of focusing on their physical features or other superficial qualities. 

In business, research shows older adults with more experience and a committed work ethic often produce more than younger ones.

But I've also hired young interns that vastly outperformed my higher-paid employees with years of work experience. As I said, it's the person, not their age, that matters.

Lasting relationships are founded on tolerating aging, not denying it. Any relationship that offers a balanced power dynamic based on a certain amount of unconditional love and understanding is likely to endure, no matter what age the people in it happen to be.

Getting to know her.

It is more acceptable today to ask about age, sexual preference, and other personal information. In some ways, women are beginning to be valued more for what they offer than for how they look. But change takes time, and we're not there yet.

We're a more transparent culture since we share almost everything from our dinner menus to the clothes in our closets online, so why is it rude to ask a woman her age these days?

It's all about the intent behind the question, so make sure the person you're asking knows your intent, and that might not be possible at your first meeting.

Get to know her first. Then be kind, be courteous, practice your manners, and have a little empathy. That goes for any question you ask another person.

As for me, go ahead and ask me my age. I'm proud to have gotten this far and have had many adventures to show for it. The scars on my body reflect the risks I took, the lessons learned the hard way, and the gifts life brought me, like the son I once carried, now all grown up and out there helping the world.

If you want to ask me, or you want to connect about a life challenge or a creative problem, feel free

Just don't ask about my weight.

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Kathryn Ramsperger, an intuitive and creative coach who can help you get unstuck and finish your book, is a woman and successful author of a certain age with lots of experience and advice she's happy to share with you.