This Week in Elder News: 22 March 2008
The Enormous Value of Elderblogs

Who Speaks For Elders?

category_bug_ageism.gif Here is how ageist beliefs are maintained and reinforced. All three of these incidents turned up, one after the other, in under an hour of random surfing with television news on in the background.

  • In a tech blog post explaining how to teach a newbie to use a computer: “Be calm and talk slow…Talking slow and loudly (for seniors) will make this process much easier for them and less stressful for you. Be prepared to explain the same thing multiple times. This will mostly apply to seniors because they often have problems hearing. So always talk VERY slow.”
  • On a blog reviewing a hair coloring product: “Getting older can be less obvious thanks to [product name] hair color…Now that I am freshly coiffed and colored, I am headed over to Starbucks to hang out with the younger crowd!”
  • On a cable news program: when a guest economist made an historical reference to a middling past he had lived through, the anchorette conducting the interview told him with a smirk that of course, unlike him, she is not old enough to remember those days (nudge, nudge, tee hee).

In the last example, which gets much wider distribution than the blog items, the moment was fleeting – two or three seconds. And gratuitous. It had nothing to do with the news item, which was about inflation.

The message pounded home through repetitions as brief as these doesn’t require overtly offensive statements, such as many that are lobbed at Senator John McCain about his age. As every advertiser and President Bush’s speech writers know, any idea repeated frequently enough becomes conventional wisdom.

In just these ways - in print, on television, in movies, books, advertising and the internet - hundreds, maybe thousands of times every day, elders are maligned, demeaned and ageism in made acceptable, even encouraged. The more time you spend in these venues – and who does not? - the more frequently you will run into them, as do millions of people every day.

I am not infrequently taken to task for harping on these so-called minor indiscretions against elders and accused of having a victim mentality. Let me be clear. They are not minor and they cannot be dismissed as indiscretions. They are bigotry against a particular segment of society. And, when you speak up to defend yourself, you are no longer a victim.

If as many statements as offensive, gratuitous and repetitive as these were as widely and frequently made about women or people of color, there would be headlines, speeches and Congressional hearings. But one difficulty with combating ageism is that the offenders don’t even know they are being offensive due to the ubiquity and tolerance of what they are saying.

So as with the women’s and civil rights movements of the 1960s, it is up to the abused and maligned to fight for the respect and dignity all people must be granted to create and maintain a civil society.

The late Claude Pepper, Democrat of Florida who served in the U.S. House and Senate from 1936 until his death in 1989, was American elders’ best friend in the political arena, using his public profile to raise awareness of the needs of old people. For many years he chaired the House Committee on Aging. That committee no longer exists.

“Old age will only be respected when it fights for itself, maintains its rights, avoids dependence on anyone, and asserts control over its own last breath.”
- Marcus Tullius Cicero

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones recalls her Nevada wedding during college in A Gamble on White Lace and Promises.]


Comments

When did the Committee on Aging disappear and how do we get it back? Every 'Boomer' in the country should be interested in doing just that. Unless they're in denial?

Well and succinctly said, Ronni!
I believe we all owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to the generations after us, to challenge ageist attitudes whenever and wherever we encounter them.
Yes, it can get awfully tedious and some folks will label us picky or boring. And it will probably take a century or more to stamp out ageism. (After all, sexism and racism haven't gone away yet either. They've just shape-shifted a bit). But those are not reasons to avoid doing it. Water can wear away rock if it drips for long enough.

What she said^^^.

I've just been setting up a page on one of the social networking sites. The site gave me the option of hiding my birth date. I swallowed hard and decided to do just that. I don't like handing people number they can beat me over the head with.

I'm not ashamed of my age, and my picture shows that I've earned every single day of my age. But ageism is not only alive and well; it is actually respectable (as seen, for example, in the treatment of John McCain)!

Of the examples you give in this post, Ronni, the tech blogger somehow offends me most, so here's a little counter-example:

HOW TO TALK TO A COMPUTER GEEK

1. Stand very close and force the geek to maintain eye contact with you. This will be challenging since most geeks are autistic.

2. Bring along some hand sanitizer. The personal habits of geeks are well known, and you may have to make frequent physical contact so that the geek will remember you are there.

3. Sprinkle your remarks liberally with references to computer games, Star Trek, Star Wars, anime and manga. These are the only subjects geeks know anything about.

4. Avoid irony and sophisticated banter of any kind because geeks' social and emotional maturity levels stall at about age 14.

Like Pete the geeks are the hardest to stomach. My disenchantment with them began 25 years ago when I was in my mid thirties. I had installed some software on my Apple computer. The program worked but it wasn't behaving quite as I expected. I went to the computer store on the campus of the University I attended at that time and asked one of the geeks what was going on. The kid was fifteen years younger than I was and told me I couldn't install that program on an Apple and no wonder it wasn't working. I simply looked at the Brat and told him "Son, I just told you that I DID install it, it is working and my only question is why it is behaving in this one odd way not described in the instructions. If you can't answer my question get me someone without a hearing problem who may be able to answer the question posed." I offended the poor baby. He was only the first of many.

The newsreader (I don't call them reporters) are my second biggest bone of contention. And your example clearly illustrates why. I think most slept through their intro American History classes like several I met in the classes I taught.

Well to me, the third example was nothing given I say the same thing. I remember this and you do not therefore I have life experience you do not. It is all in how you take it. I think if the other person was hit back with their own lack of understanding due to less life experience, they'd stop giggling. There are perks to getting here and one is we've been around the loop a time or two.

And sadly to say on the hair coloring example I have friends who do prefer to hang out with younger people purely because they think it'll make them seem more with it and youthful. That's the fault of the elders, in my judgment to have this kind of attitude (hair color aside) that if they hang with youth (or even date youth), it's somehow superior.

Right now we are hearing a lot of age jokes given we have a 70 something man running for the presidency. They do joke about his age which given his mother is still around and spry in her 90s might be the equivalent of his 40s in other less long-lived families. To me what McCain has been illustrating is how some are like him their whole life, but when they get old, it's all laid on old age's doorstep.

Actually I think equivalently dismissive comments of the lightweight "indiscretion" sort are made about women and people of color (and women of color) in these media every day.

But I also expect we are about to be in a season of very serious age-bashing through November 2008. I want to defeat John McCain as much as anyone; he's a danger to us all. I actually read a small discussion yesterday of polling that shows that the greatest vulnerability McCain has with the electorate is his age -- so I can expect folks on "my side" to bash away at that.

As if it weren't enough wrong with him that he's a powder keg of international ignorance ...

We recently hired a PR firm to make our fitness studio (which caters to Boomers and beyond) well known in our area. I was waxing passionate about aging being a natural state of affairs, and a time of great opportunity to make a difference, despite the demeaning portrayals of older people in the media. The owner of the firm was asking me about our Powerful Aging Coaching Group and asked me for examples of how elders are denigrated in the press. I gave her some blatant examples, but these, more subtle examples of ageism are exactly what she needs to hear.

On a more upbeat note, Eckhardt Tolle says in his book, A New Earth: "On the new earth, old age will be universally recognized and highly valued as a time for the flowering of consciousness. For those who are still lost in the outer circumstances of their lives, it will be a time of late homecoming, when they awaken to their inner purpose. For many others, it will represent an intensification and culmination of the awakening process." That has certainly been my experience. I'm proud to be 65 and still not buying the b.s. about limitations!~

Comments like the ones you listed diminish us all. We do have to be vigilant.

The only way to stop the aging process is to stop living. Would they really rather die than become elderly?

You're in good company with Cicero. :-)

One addition to my McCain comments above: check out this article on his age.

And I reiterate -- I really, really, really don't want to see this intemperate man with his finger on the buttons, but this stuff, from all parties, is ugly.

First up I want to comment on a previous post, the one that says most geeks are autistic, talk about labeling and prejudicial. That persons comment is just as discriminatory as the ones TGB is remarking on. We don't need anymore judgemental talk, with comebacks such as that how will any perceptions change. So Pete, a gentle reminder, not all geeks are autistic. Second discriminatory, prejudicial, or judgmental talk about anybody young, old, whatever, is totally uncalled for, and as a 50 something I do gracefully bring awareness to my younger counterparts when they say something anti anything, and most are not even aware of it. If there is to be any change in agism perception, we baby boomers need to set the tone and the paramiter of what is intolerable. There are enough of us to make that continuous drip on the rock.

Bridgemor: Of course, you are right. However, some of us - also rightly - who are older put your self-reverential baby boomer reference in the same category.

Boomers do not have a lock on determining elder behavior and will not have until every last one of us born before 1946 is dead.

We sure do like to think in "catagories". Reminding ourselves to be aware of sterotyping is an exercise in vigilence, both as the perpetrator and as the recipient. I think it's worth it. Thanks for pointing out some of the subtle/blatant elder bashing we want to counter, Ronni and all.

Bridgemor,

Of course what I wrote about geeks was as discriminatory as ageism. That was precisely my point. (I'm a geek myself, as well as a Boomer.)

The sad fact remains that somehow for most people--even people who wouldn't utter ethnic slurs or engage in racist, sexist or anti-gay remarks--blatant bias seems OK when it is directed toward age.

Remarks sometimes have to be placed in a different context for their true nature to be plain. The geek remarks I offered were nothing but dismissive stereotypes stereotypes--exactly like the "talk loud and slow" remarks from the tech blogger.

The first 1/2 of the quote from Cicero I agree with. The second 1/2 I don't. Avoiding dependence is unrealistic and controlling the last breath is a moral no-no in my book.
Your piece is great.

In an attempt to understand, not justify or condone, I think the willingness to tolerate ageism over racism and sexism is that eventually (unless meeting an early death) everyone will be "old." It's a postponed otherness instead of an absolute otherness.

Ronni, "anchorette"? Do you use this term because she is female or young (or, god help her, both)?

And here I thought I was being patronized because of my hearing loss. I guess it was because I have white in my hair.

Not only are stereotyped remarks about elders demeaning , but actions based on those attitudes are hurtful.

stephanie: No, because I can list at least a dozen occasions of her mis-statement of facts.

These days, young women who have no reporting experience are given anchor duties because cameras happen to be kind to them and they have mastered reading from a TelePrompTer without stumbling too often.

There are some exceptions, but not many.

Who Speaks For Elders?

Ronni Bennett.

:)

Aging...
We live in a narcissistic society, the majority seem to be obsessed with their own images. Their standards seem to be taken from the pages of the glossy "People" magazines I see at the checkout stands.
What we need to do is not change our hair coloring, get tummy tucks or fat reductions but instead accept the fact that our bodies have served us well over the course of more than (50,60,70,80 ?) years and we don't need to look like we just graduated from high school, and we musn't dress that way. Getting old is nothing to be ashamed of and maybe we should emulate the gay movement and wear tee shirts (or maybe grey cardigans) that say "Old & Proud"

WE have the experience and many of us the wisdom that our younger bretheren are yet to know. We need to recognize our own advantages and stop trying to compete with the twenty somethings or thirty somethings on their own turf.

On second thought let's make that slogan (and our mantra)

GREY AND PROUD

"Here's lookin' at you sweetheart"

Once again time goes by as I am spending it reading and responding to the latest Ronni posts. How I love this site and the people here.

The issue of who speaks for us and the comments that Ronni referred to turned me into my own version of Crabby Old Lady. I have been on a rant about the abundant use of anti-aging labels that have anything to do with products for people, especially women, who have been taught to fear the effects of aging.

This is especially true of cosmetics but have also entered the health/wellness products. There is one cosmetic company marketing anti-aging creams and lotions for different age groups. They actually start with "the 20s" and progress through the decades up to "the 50s". I guess if you use them in your 50s you will stay in your 50s until you die.

I will commend Dove. "Dove created pro·age™ products that reflect the unique needs of women in their best years. Formulated to nourish and condition, pro·age helps revive and renew skin and hair".

Question: Why can we not be pro-aging vs. anti-aging?
Answer: Because there is too much money to be made by the cosmetic companies by preying on the ingrained fears of aging. (Dove I hope will be able to prove that it can be done.)

I have a Squidoo lens on just this debate issue and you will be amazed by the responses of some. It is located at
We Need to Be Pro-Aging vs. Anti-Aging

Check it out and leave your comments or sides of the debate.

We need to stop looking for who speaks for elders: We need to speak for OURSELVES!

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