Anti-Aging Scams
Age: the Last Acceptable Discrimination

Opposing the Culture of Decline

“We women had a sense of exuberance when we talked about what we wanted to do with these bonus years. The men had a sense of hopelessness.”
- Washington Post, 12 April 2005 [pay archive]

Abigail Trafford, the reporter who frequently writes about aging in her weekly “My Time” column at the Washington Post, was speaking about two sessions at a Baby Boomer conference she attended - one about what women want as they enter their later years, the other addressing the same question about men.

According to Jed Diamond, another conference attendee who is the author of The Irritable Male Syndrome, “men are in decline” because they have lost their traditional place in society and they are confused about what to expect from life. So debilitating is this problem, according to Trafford, that the highest suicide rates in the country are among men 65 and older.

On the other hand, women in that age group account for only one-tenth as many suicides and unlike many men, they face aging with sense of excitement, glad to have graduated from carpooling the kids and eager to get out of the house for work and play.

Diamond goes on to blame men’s depression on loss of their job titles through workplace turmoil and change in traditional male roles. In other words, lack of status.

Trafford suggests that the difference between men’s and women’s attitude toward getting older is a new gender gap, and her solution is a call for “…a new agenda for compassionate feminism: to lead the attack on a culture of decline that is sinking too many men.”

That “culture of decline” is the very definition of aging in America which treats elderhood as a disease to be cured. It stems, according to Dr. William H. Thomas (who believes, as I do, that old age is a season of life distinct from adulthood), from the notion that to be old is to become an object worthy only of fear and pity:

“Once vibrant adults who can no longer conceal the effects of aging are relabeled as ‘the frail elderly.’ Former masters of the universe are scorned for being ‘infirm.’ No longer able to command a share of social resources, the aged come to rely on the noblesse oblige of adults who cannot imagine growing old themselves.”
- What Are Old People For?, William H. Thomas, M.D.

Even though some women seem to have deeper resources than some men for the challenges and enjoyment of our later years, this declinist view affects elders of both genders. But, says Dr. Thomas, it is gradually being confronted by a

“…growing number of people who are willing to challenge the doctrine of youth’s perfection directly and on their own terms.

“These efforts are united by a search for meaning in old age, and they rely on the assumption that there is life beyond adulthood.”

Which is precisely what Time Goes By was created to investigate. Right now, mid-life adults hold all the power in our culture and they define old age only as decline and a drag on resources. But the joke’s on them: they will join us soon enough.

Wouldn’t it be a fine legacy – and give those lost and confused older men a reason to be - if we, the first generation in history to have been granted the gift of longevity, prepared a better kind of elderhood for those who can’t or won’t yet imagine being old themselves?

Comments

Ah, but is the next generation any different from how we were? I can now sympathize with my mother's generation when they tried to sensitize my generation to aging issues. Too many of us didn't "buy in" until we joined the elder briggade. It really is difficult: we have been young and middle-aged and can empathize with those states. They have not been elders. Some of the societies, about which I was taught, that revered the elders, were pretty phlegmatic about seeing those elders take matters into their own hands in the end--be it floating to oblivion on an ice flow or on a ceremonial platform. The elders didn't seem to wait about to become wards of the younger populace. (How much of what I think I was taught is poor memory, how much romanticism on the reporter's part, and how much fact?) Keep up the good fight, Ronni!
Devil's Advocate

We need to reject old definitions of male status.

Having dropped out of Corporate America earlier than I expected, (at age 48) I know what it's like to lose one's status. Actually I didn't drop out as much as I was forced out. (Do they still call it "downsizing"? My firm called it "rightsizing").

Guys my age would always look down their nose at me when I told them I was a "freelancer" as if being a corporate dropout were some kind of loser position.

That was three years ago. Now that corporate status has become so volatile, I find men my age envy my status and seek my advice for how they can become less dependent on the corporation, which offers little to no security. These days older men can lose status in an instant, and lose it much earlier than they ever anticipated.

Yes indeed .. they will all join me soon enough. In some respects, my unplanned divorce with Corporate America was a gift since I'm able to plan the last third of my career on my own terms.

Ronni, am I a trailblazer in a new kind of men's movement?

Kathleen's parents left yesterday after a nice visit. He is 84, She is 80. He is more infirm than ever, can only walk 4 blocks...she pumps iron and teaches a Bible study class to prison inmates.

I recall that when I was in the Army, colonels would retire (usually at about the age of 53) and then return to chat, as if they had nothing else to do. They still identified with the Army and were going nowhere. When younger lieutenant colonels retired (about the age of 43) they would start new careers, new lives. The longer you live with the patterns, the more deeply ingrained they become.

Recently I finished reading my fifth book about Elvis Presley, Elvis and Me, by his ex-wife Priscilla Presley. I've been wondering why such a fabulously successful entertainer came to such a pathetic end at the age of 42. I think I have my answer, so I'll be reading no more books about E. But in passing (to affirm that this is not really a non sequitor), it occurred to me that Priscilla is now 60 years old.

I just received the nod (at 59) for a Rotary Club scholarship that will send me to school in a foreign country to learn a language and volunteer in a humanitarian organization. The chair of the committee that interviewed me said that the top three candidates were over 40. Older candidates, he said, are more likely to stick with their committments to give back after their scholarships are finished. And he encouraged me all along to apply and make the effort to be accepted. I'm maybe one of those hopeful post-menopausal babes, starting a nonprofit to do tech assistance in the third world.

Hi Ronnie,

Found you by accident in one of my early morning trawls through my favourites and updates on blogs, and boy, am I pleased that I did.

Old? My brain thinks I'm not but my body does. I am 46 this year (ouch, that hurts to say it) and now I have found your blog, am going to make it a daily read.

Don't like getting old, haven't yet learned to accept the new aspects of this period of my life, and want to.

Like Ricado, left Corporate UK (public sector) three years ago, part my choice, part theirs and being a "freelancer" enjoy my freedom of status but still find it hard to be heard in the wider 'corporate' world, which I still need to do business with.

Will enjoy reading posts here.

Józefa

Ronnie, you hit the nail on the head. This is definetly a movement that needs to surge ahead. I speak from personal experience: My dad is 82, and he never really took to retirement very well. He just simply didn't know what to do with himself, no matter what his family or friends suggested. Golf was king for a few years, and then he spent less and less time on the golf course. Currently, he spends most days babysitting the TV.

My mom, on the other hand, just attacked life with a gusto that I'd never seen in her before. She paints and teaches art classes, travels with a woman's group, and just seems to get busier with every passing day.
My husband and I are in our 40's. Unfortunately, most of our male friends talk about retirement in the same terms that our fathers did; that is, they seem to think retirement will be one big everlasting golf game.

Something needs to be done!

Kalen--I would be interested in reading just what you mean to convey by, "Something needs to be done!" This is too vague a plea--I don't follow you in knowing "who" it is that you think should be doing "something", specifically about "what"? I'd be interested, too, in hearing what you, yourself, are "doing about" whatever "it" is.

Jozefa--Ouch!! If you think 46 is "getting old", what in the world will you do for the next 46 years? You are young, young, young! Cripes.

Cop Car, sorry you need specfics. I was replying to Ronnie's post, and in particular, the last paragraph:

"Wouldn’t it be a fine legacy – and give those lost and confused older men a reason to be - if we, the first generation in history to have been granted the gift of longevity, prepared a better kind of elderhood for those who can’t or won’t yet imagine being old themselves?"

Cop Car-- Thank you for your shout of 'young' it is all relative isn't it?

I suppose I am hitting that wonderfully named period called 'mid-life crisis'. I can look back and [still] remember details of the last 35 years or so and how quickly they went by, and then look forward and feel the panic setting in. One thing is for sure, I will NOT end up like my Mum, who gave up work, sat at home and didn't really have any hobbies or life to occupy her when 'older age' crept in. My work [as a lecturer amongst other things]keeps my brain very very busy and I am happy for that and hope to use it in later life. I suppose I just don't like the sound of the numbers, worry about health and feel that this is the second half....bit scary!

It is true, in my experience women in later life are more active than men in developing interests and projects. I have found this out through my blog, Late Life Crisis. We have developed a blogging community that is very predominantly female. They are sharp, talented and alive.

By the way, did the N.Y. Times interview you? I had a telephone interview with them regarding a story they are doing about "elderly" bloggers. Who are they and why do they do it? I understand the story will be filed March 15. No word on when it will appear.

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