Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Understanding Ageism

Help Stamp Out Ageism! (Re-printed from National Gray Panthers publication "Network" Volume 1, Issue 2, September/October 1995, page 14.)  Gray Panthers is an intergenerational organization dedicated to bring together young, old, women, men, persons of all ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds for the promotion of social justice. http://www.graypanthersmetrodetroit.org/Ageism.html

Step I - Define It

Ageism is:

·       Discrimination based on chronological age.
·       The notion that people cease to be persons by virtue of having lived a specific number of years.
·       The use of age to define capability and roles.
·       A process of systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people just because they are old.
·       To be told "you're too old" is as disheartening as to be told "you're too young"; both statements make you a stereotype when in fact you are an individual.

Step II - How to Identify Ageists

1. The Pretenders - These are misguided older folks who believe that age is "all in your head".

2. The Discriminators - Some of their best friends are old, so how could they be ageist?  However, they are quick to point out the realistic limitations of older applicants to jobs in their sphere of influence.

3. The Exceptionalists - These elders consider themselves the fortunate exceptions to society's negative view of old people.  While they think of themselves as vigorous, productive and useful to society, they imagine most of their peers to be in bad shape, useless and boring.

4.  The Colonists - This type is frequently found among politicians, and is not at all rare in the ageism establishment.  They may easily be identified because they always preface any word for the ageing with the possessive pronoun, such as "OUR senior citizens" or "MY elderly".

5.  The Patronizers - This garden variety is commonly found in senior programs.  To them, the old are just delightful when in "their place" and, like children, should be catered to and played with.

Step III - (The Hardest Step to Accept) We are ALL ageist.

Whether we're young, middle-aged or old, whether we've taken courses in gerontology or not, whether we think we're immune or too well-meaning to be afflicted, we are all ageists.

We're ageist because the society we live in is permeated with ageism. We can no more escape it than we can the chemicals in our food-- or sexism or racism for that matter.  But at least in the case of the other two social diseases, there's been some progress and some serious efforts to combat them.  Ageism, by comparison, has been analyzed very little and manifests itself in many variations with hardly a challenge.

Step IV - What You Can Do to Help Stamp Out Ageism

1.  Quit complimenting people on how young they look.

2.  Promote intergenerational job sharing, part-time hours, and no hiring or retirement according to a plan based on chronological age.

3.  Try not to blame old age for fatigue or disorganization or forgetfulness.  In our youth, we blame poor planning, lack of sleep, and a bad memory.

4.  Criticize your local news media when a headline or cartoon is offensive.

5.  When selecting a birthday card, keep your sense of humor.  Just learn the difference between laughing WITH rather than laughing AT.

6.  Fight ageism with two important weapons -- knowledge and a willingness to approach every person, regardless of age, as an individual with unique strengths, weaknesses, options, and opportunities.

 The Old Women’s Project

Ageism — the attitudes and practices that ignore, patronize, insult or trivialize old women — affects women of all colors, ethnicities, classes, sexualities, abilities. It is a form of sexism — very old, very powerless, very frail old men are seen as if they were women, just as gay men are sometimes treated with contempt as if they were women.  Ageism is a central issue for women, because as long as we are erased in the last third of our lives, we will continue to have perilous footing during the other two thirds.


WHY NOT "CUTE"?  "Cute" is what younger people call an old woman when she does or says something that surprises them because it is just what a normal person would do or say.   Example: if she engages in, or even refers to, sexual activity.
WHY NOT "FEISTY"?  "Feisty" is an automatic putdown — its origin is "excitable, like a mongrel dog" — that is frequently used in newspapers to describe an old woman who is in any way outspoken, determined, or who engages in political protest.  Example: "Mary Jones, a feisty 86-year-old, had a different opinion."
WHY NOT "SWEET"?  When an old woman is not "feisty," she is rewarded by being told she is "sweet."
WHY NOT "SPRY"?  As you see more of us in gyms, this word is used less often since it expresses surprise that a woman in her 60s or 80s should be even a little active.
WHY NOT "LITTLE"? WHY NOT "LADY"?  Some of us are short and some of us are tall. We are still women, not "little old ladies."
WE ARE NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER.  "You remind me of my grandmother." Why don't we ever remind younger people of their sister, cousin, best friend back in Boston?  We are not defined by our ages, but by our interests and our personalities.
RULE OF THUMB: If there's something you wouldn't say to a 35-year-old woman, don't say it about a 75-year-old woman. 

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