On reading The New York Times Op-Ed page yesterday, I had a bit of a private snit about columnist Maureen Dowd. As usual. Again.
From that you would be correct to infer I am not a fan. Never have been. But this time it was not her puerile snark or other cheap shots. It was the headline – Granny Get Your Gun – that first caught my attention.
Of course, that might not be Dowd – headlines are most often written by copy editors at The Times. But in this case, whoever did the writing took it directly from references within Dowd's screed:
”...granny in a Scooby van”
“...between Macho Man and Humble Granny”
“...the hokey Chipotle Granny”
Don't be fooled. Dowd's repeated use of “granny” is meant to demean presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the eyes of readers.
This word, granny, the latest affront to the dignity of elders (women in particular although “grandpa” is occasionally bandied about in a similar fashion) is growing in popularity. There are dozens of examples every day due to the fact, I think, that writers believe it can be defended: “I only mean that she's a nice old woman.”
Maybe. Sometimes. Well, no, not really. It doesn't matter if a writer “thinks” granny is a cute way to say old. The word in a news story is far from harmless. It is dismissive, meant to weaken the woman's argument and integrity.
While British newspapers are bigger offenders with this word, the U.S. media isn't far behind. Some recent examples, in addition to Ms. Dowd's, that took me one minute to find on Google:
Granny Hair Is The Hottest Beauty Trend Of Spring/Summer 2015
Auburn Granny Tumbles 150 Feet Down Cliff
Runnin' Granny Training for First Blue Ridge Half Marathon
Okay, I cheated with the OregonLive item. Here is the entire headline:
”Auburn Granny Tumbles 150 Feet Down Cliff, 11-Year-Old Grandson Calls 911”
Even a child gets more respect in the media than an old woman. People of every other age group are routinely identified neutrally, by their number of years and full-word designation.
Just as I was sketching out my notes for a blog post about this, getting wound up about the ageism, I took a metaphorical step back: “Why bother, Ronni? Every time you write about ageism, particularly ageist language, at least half of TGB readers dismiss your point.”
It's been going on for years here - some version of “I don't care what anyone calls me,” they comment. Or, “You're over-reacting. It's not important what people call you." “Sticks and stones...” Et cetera.
But, you see, it IS important. Every time (and it's hundreds of times a day) an old person is demeaned with such language, it becomes easier to discriminate against elders in every other way. Refuse to hire them. Withhold certain medical treatment. Cut Social Security. Slash Medicare. It's all related.
So what, I said to myself. Nobody else cares and you haven't convinced anyone to change their mind in all this time.
I considered dropping that blog post and writing about something else. But my fury at Dowd's ageist tactic kept eating at me and I felt my bile rising again.
Then I remembered a couple of lines from a poem by William Butler Yeats. It is one of his lesser works, quite short and titled, A Prayer for Old Age.
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;
From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song's sake a fool?
I pray - for word is out
And prayer comes round again -
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.
These days, “thinks in a marrow-bone” is more likely to be stated as “know in one's gut” and although there is plenty of solid information, both research and informed opinion, of the harm that results from ageist language, I would know that even without the science and expertise.
“That I may seem though I die old, a foolish, passionate (wo)man,” no one can convince me that ageist language is not discriminatory, prejudicial and cruel.