Elderbloggers Rule
Even Some Elders Are Boors

An Ageism and Blogging Clarification

category_bug_ageism.gif Last week, Crabby Old Lady took out after a reporter who listed lot of negatives about getting older. Ann who blogs at One Wild and Precious Life took issue with Crabby’s assessment of the writer:

“This is a serious question, not trying to be inflammatory. I'm not yet an "elder," but I am beyond middle age (55). What are your specific objections to any of the quotes you cited? For the life of me, I couldn't find anything ageist or wrong with them.

“They seemed to reflect MY reality of aging, even though they were some of the more poignant/negative aspects -- and there are positives as well. If I say my body is past its prime of beauty, and that I have aches and pains, is that ageist? If I say I look around and find myself to be the oldest woman at work, and that bothers me, how is that ageist? To me, it just sounds honest.

“I truly am puzzled. But I'd love to hear your specific objections to each of these quotes, because I may just not have my consciousness sufficiently raised yet.”

Good question, Ann. There are two issues raised in your comment: one is the ageism question and the other is a difficulty in the nature of blogging. Let’s take them one at a time.

Media Ageism
Ms. Paulson’s article that Crabby quoted last week is not unique – similar ones pour into my inbox every day from Google and newspaper alerts and I mention perhaps two or three percent of them over time.

Stories about the negatives of aging appear daily in newspapers and magazines and are repeated in ageist jokes by comedians, in sitcoms and in offensive remarks about elders in dramas on television and in movies. And the often repeated belief that elders are not only not creative, but cannot do the job – any job – as well as younger people is so widespread that is it accepted as truth from on high.

In addition, it is not possible to read a magazine or newspaper or watch television without seeing large numbers of advertisements and commercials for lotions “that will make your skin look young again” furthering the cultural dictum that the physical aspects of aging are abhorrent and must be hidden.

Add to that the consistent repetition by elders that they “don’t feel old” when what they mean is they feel healthy. By confusing good health with youth they reinforce the opposite – that age equals sickness.

The amount of negative information about aging in this youth-centric, age-phobic society is so overwhelmingly prevalent that any other perspective is drowned out. And so I give my small voice on this blog to the other side against a tsunami of negativity.

That is not to say that Time Goes By does not address the downside of getting old.

A Blogging Difficulty
Over nearly four years, much has been discussed here about the decline of aging, how to cope and make peace with waning capabilities and with the ultimate question of life that must be faced in our later years – our mortality. And there will be much more over time.

Those who are regular readers know that, but it is in the nature of blogging that new and occasional readers know only what is written today and so it appears, as may be so with Ann in this case, that I am nitpicking and ignoring the inevitable decline of aging which is not so. With the enormous contributions of commenters and guest bloggers, we cover a lot of territory in the area of aging – the good and the difficult.

I could, when writing such a piece as last week’s, link to old posts about the poignant aspects of aging, but a blog is not a book. Any blogger’s point of view builds up over time, through many daily posts and not every issue can be covered in every entry. So it is easy in reading one or a few posts to see only one side of a blogger.

As I note on my About page, I began this blog after six or seven years of studying aging without finding anything in books, magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, medical research, documentaries, etc. that are not about decline, debility and disease, and it hasn’t changed much in the years since Time Goes By was launched.

Having worked in media all my life, I pay special attention to how aging issues are treated. Although there has been some improvement in media in recent years as marketers have realized that baby boomers are getting old and as a generation have a lot of money to spend, overall the attitude is condescending when it is not dismissive and even hostile.

Ms. Paulson’s story is offensive because is it lazy writing repeating what has been and continues to be said in thousands of other stories reinforcing the belief that there is nothing good about getting old.

Ageism is as mean and wrong as sexism and racism and all three are often subtle – and effective. One way to overcome prejudice is to consistently point it out when it occurs.

[Today at The Elderstorytelling Place, Ronni Prior tells a lovely story about her little boy when he was five years old in My Son, The Patriot.]


Comments

Ronni, your words about "the attitude is condescending" hit me smack dab in my face. In the previous Blog I commented that I didn't really resent the attitude of young people because they couldn't know what being old is like. When I read your words I suddenly realized that I was kidding myself. I do resent being patronized because (a) I didn't hear them correctly or (b) because they think I am suffering from dementia.

Do you really think we of advanced age (I'll be 60 by year-end) most need is our own voice of negative?

By the way, you would be justifiably incensed if you saw an article or advertisement in which someone was referred to as a "Crabby Old Lady." It is both ageist and sexist, by the standards you use to attack others.

You have an audience. You have media experience and contacts. You can be either a purveyor of peace or war, but not both.

Well, John, I was a crabby young woman and now I've morphed into a Crabby Old Lady. The difference is, the phrase is used here to describe one person's general attitude, not as a stereotype of all old ladies.

As to the source of my crabbiness, I think it was Sir Bob Geldoff who said, "If you're not grumpy about what's going on in the world, you're not paying attention."

And yes I do believe we elders need to be honest about what getting old is really like - the postive and the negative. Is that what we "most" need? I don't know and it's not what I said.

My goal is neither peace nor war. Just tryin' to find out what old age is REALLY like since the media does not approach it in that manner.

I understand what you're saying here because I've experienced it, Ronni, but obviously others do not.

What I do not understand are John's contentions here. He obviously doesn't get it that 'Crabby Old Lady' is said with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek. I wouldn't say that you attacked Ms. Paulson, disagreed yes; pointed out the flaws in her reasoning, yes; but attacked? An unequivocal and resounding, NO! I consider you a voice of reason in a world that seems to have forgotten about it. What you're doing here is honestky addressing the things we elders are facing in the various aspects of our lives and I, for one, appreciate it.

John's last line is wrong, too. You can be both. Pointing out inequities and flaws isn't what I call war; and peace isn't candy-coating or blindly accepting injustices. I find you a pretty fair assessor of our role as elders. Keep up the good work!

I agree with Kay. You express opinions very well, and are refreshingly objective. You state your purpose for the blog extremely well, and you leave room for how you 'feel' about specific slings & arrows by expressing them thru Crabby Old Lady...long may she live.

And you leave all of us plenty of room to object, disagree, or rant on our own. I look at many blogs; I subscribe to only a few - yours is at the top of the list.

If I were to object to Crabby at all (and I don't) it might be to challenge the 'Lady' part. For me, 'lady' describes a behavior and not a person; I'll bet Crabby can be UNladylike in the extreme if she chooses. :)

Thank You Thank You Thank You Thank You Thank You Thank You

This stuff really is insidious. If it's biased to point out bias, then it is also biased to point out that pointing out bias is biased...

You never get to the end of it!

Thanks, Ronni, for the clarifications. I expect I need to spend some time rummaging around in your archives, which I confess I haven't done. I like reading your site for myself, certainly, but also because my parish is made up primarily of healthy, vigorous retirees who have come here for the golf and the beauty of the geography, as well as the reasonable cost of living. They certainly belie the aging stereotypes we encounter.

At every age people are experiencing physical, mental and emotional challenges. At 70 I work with many young women. Many of them have cancer, chronic back problems, ADHD,depression, etc. Yet it is the sickness of age that seems to define the conversations about the later seasons of our lives. Ageism and internalized ageism are everywhere. Every season is full of strengths and weaknesses

I think ageism is very real. I was offended when I was a teenager that the term teenager had such a negative connotation. I still feel that way when I hear the word used to describe a stereotype. As an elder I don't fit the stereotype, either, although I do have aches and pains, and I'm forgetful. I had those characteristics in my 30's. I don't like being typecast by gender, age, income or race.

I hope this gets past your 'screen' since it has been quite a while since you blocked my comments. In this case I couldn't agree with you more. Your stated intention is identical to my own in terms of changing the culture of 'decline' and negativity into which we all grow older. Any 'ism' appears when we think we can control something that we in fact do not control. That is a fact about aging. The first step (inlcuding in all 12 step programs) is to surrender and accept that we have no control -- profound acceptance -- and then choose or design how one will live life on life's terms. This doesn't mean inevitable decline which is a culturally based assessment, but change which is often not what we want, but which we can accept, even embrace nonetheless.

My college students routinely argue with me that their ageist comments are okay "because someday we will be old." One of their chief complaints is that old people are bad drivers. No amount of actuarial statistics about their poor driving dissuades them. In fact, I have even made youthist comments that repeat what they say to me about aging, and they just laugh. They refuse to believe that I "really mean it," so secure are they in their belief that youth is irreproachable.

For Karl Marx, ideology is like a colorless, odorless gas that distorts our reasoning. The ideology of ageism is all around us. Thank you for pointing out this poisonous atmosphere.

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