This year-long, presidential primary has given Americans (and the world) an education in what brazenly overt racism looks and sounds like.
Until this election campaign, it bubbled under the surface hiding behind euphemisms (that we all recognize but too often ignore) and on disreputable white nationalist websites.
Donald Trump changed that. It's all out in the open now. Anyone can call people rapists based only on the color of their skin and actual members of Congress acknowledge Trump's racism, then say they will vote for him anyway. Think of it: it is fine with them if a person they believe is a racist sits in the Oval Office.
After that intro, some will not see a connection when I tell you that today's post is about the ageism that is played out in hundreds of little ways every day, all day in our media apparently, since no one calls it out, with approval or, at least, without disapproval.
A lot of people do not believe in ageism. In fact, a lot of readers of this blog do not believe in ageism, yet it is the biggest impediment to fair treatment of elders that exists.
But when I write about it, invariably there are comments invoking the kiddy “sticks and stones” argument. Here is the simplest definition of ageism from the geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, who coined the term in 1969. It is, he wrote,
”...a systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old.”
That definition can be further explained but that one line is the stone, cold bottom line. If you think it doesn't amount to much, isn't important, try re-reading it and replace the last word with "African-American" and see how you feel about it.
It can be said that ageism is a greater prejudice than all the other -isms because it eventually afflicts everyone – if you live long enough it will be directed to you.
Last week, while I allowed the cable news channels to bray in the background to keep up with so much political news, this commercial came up repeatedly throughout the day:
Does that opening statement bother you: "Delicate skin on your neck can show age? Gold Bond has used ageist language in skin cream commercials for years. Here is another from 2012:
"My dry hands used to give away my age but not any more," she says.
Let's not pick only on Gold Bond. Here's a typical Olay commercial:
"What's your age giveaway?" Right - because god knows you're a loser if you look a day older than 25.
For more years than I can remember now, everybody's favorite daytime talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, has been the pitch woman for Cover Girl's (now part of Olay) ageist message: "Don't buy makeup that settles into lines," she warns in one commercial. "It ages you." Take a look:
The phrases are repeated day after day, week after week, year after year:
• Can show your age
• Give away my age
• Age giveaway
• It ages you
When these commercials are in rotation during a company's marketing campaign - usually two or three periods a year each - that is brazenly overt ageism.
Do you really believe people seeing and hearing messages this frequently about how awful it is to show your age - and hearing it thusly from youngest childhood – don't come to despise old people? Don't think everyone abhors people who look old and that it's okay to do so? It's worse than that because this is only one kind of commercial that sells fear of old age and contempt for old people to make a buck. It's repeated with many other products.
And no one ever complains. Or, if they do, not enough that these companies stop demonizing old age.
By the way, I am not picking on skin cream itself nor do I think it is wrong to suggest it might make your skin more beautiful - that's just commercial hyperbole used by advertisers for everything from fast food to fast cars.
The only reason skin cream is featured today is that first commercial above was repeated last week until I wanted to smash in the TV screen. The good creams help keep skin moisturized (no, they do not remove wrinkles) and there are a few manufacturers who sell their products without resorting to ageist words and images. Here's an Aveeno commercial with actor Jennifer Aniston:
See? How hard is that?
Ageism is a pernicious prejudice that nobody takes seriously. One of the discouraging conclusions from the Frameworks Institute report titled, Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understandings of Aging in America, is this:
"Across the full breadth of our interviews with members of the public, the topic of discrimination against older people did not emerge as a topic.
"The reality that many older Americans find themselves consistently marginalized from participation and opportunities - in employment, civic life, recreational activities, housing, commerce and other arenas - is simply not part of the public's thinking about aging and older Americans."
Gee. Do you think maybe that's because the only thing the public ever hears about old age is to avoid it at all cost? Could that have something to do with the survey results?
Repeat after me: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH LOOKING YOUR AGE. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING OLD. Believe it. Live it.