Back in March, Crabby Old Lady surveyed the top 25 newspapers in the United States to determine the extent of their coverage of aging issues. It was a disappointment. There were only four news stories, as ageist and demeaning as the culture at large, concentrated on ailments of old people.
When Crabby queried the writer of the fourth article about its being filed in the Health section even though it was about the stereotyping of old people in the media, she was told, without a hint of irony, "Aging and health (or the loss thereof) go together like love and marriage, a horse and carriage, etc." Sometimes Crabby Old Lady despairs.
The Boston Globe and The Washington Post are the only two papers in the top 25 with regular, weekly columnists covering age issues.
Donald M. Murray of the Globe is excellent, reporting on his life and the world about him through his 80-year old eyes, although I’ve never seen him take on the ageist culture. Abigail Trafford, of the Post, does occasionally address stereotyping but mostly in the workplace which avoids the issue of an entire culture determined to keep older people in their place – invisible.
Now, from across the Atlantic Ocean, comes an excellent treatise on ageism in the U.K. by proto-feminist Germaine Greer writing in the Guardian. It is as sharply critical of the issues as Time Goes By tries to be and as pertinent here in the U.S. as in Britain.
Where Age Power Resides
“…crime prevention officers in Northamptonshire and Essex are issuing bells for people ‘over 50’ to attach to their wallets and purses, to alert them if somebody grabs them. Incompetence begins at 50, it would seem, even though nearly all the captains of industry are over 50...Clearly there are two kinds of aged: the powerful and the powerless. The powerless, hung with bells like the fools of old, may safely be abused, exploited and ignored.”
No one’s hanging bells on us in the U.S. – yet - but common perception of competency in age, or lack of it, is just as much a class issue. Skilled workers at middle and lower levels are jettisoned in their prime, expected to be grateful if they can find a job as a K-Mart greeter, while Sumner Redstone continues at age 82 as Viacom’s chairman and CEO. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan is 79, and the average age of the U.S. Senate is 60.
Germaine Greer, like me, refuses to pretend she is not aging and she runs into the same denials when she speaks up for her old womanhood:
“It is a proven fact than I am old, but if I refer to myself as an old woman, people around me start chorusing, ‘You’re not old!’ – consoling me, reassuring me, denying the obvious. They think that I am disparaging myself, doing myself down. But I am not a gerontophobe; 66, by any computation, is old. I call myself old by way of combating the prevailing gerontophobia…
“Gerontophobia is penetrating, instinctive and pretty well universal. Old people themselves are in denial about their degree of ageing and do not thank those who remind them of it.
We Are Our Own Worst Enemies
Ms. Greer also notes that as in the U.S., the stereotypes in Britain are so abhorrent that even old people will turn on their age peers:
“It’s not surprising then that most old people have no wish to join the club of the elderly. Instead of challenging this negative image, they live outside their age set for as long as they can…
“The fortunate elderly will not make common cause with the unfortunate elderly. What is worse, they will join in the chorus jeering them. Rich, 50-something actors are only too happy to make even more money out of caricaturing their less fortunate age peers.”
It is an event when mainstream media acknowledges the culture's - if not its own - age bias, and many thanks to Ian at Panchromatica for pointing out this one. It’s worth your time to read the entire piece - and let’s hear it for Germaine Greer.
“It is only for the powerful that old age is accompanied by ‘honour, love, obedience, troops of friends’; the powerless elderly have always been subjected to appalling physical and verbal abuse. Which makes it all the more important then that we never, ever take part in that abuse, even for a joke.”