Age-related shaming can occur anywhere—the shove in the street, the cold shoulder at the cosmetics counter, the deaf ear at community meetings, and the big one—the obtuseness of the health care system.
Ageism and age discrimination are different. Age discrimination raises its ugly head in institutions, corporations and housing. Experts often refer to ageism as complex and subtle. It is subtle, but not that complex. When someone addresses us as “young lady”, the implication is that young is good, old is bad. If we act flattered, we’re perpetuating the stigma. The expression “senior moment” aims to joke about aging memory loss as if it is an embarrassment rather than a normal part of getting old. One of our neighbors is often called “young at heart”. She’s an eighty year old woke grandmother who likes Chance the Rapper and marches in anti-racism demonstrations. “Young at heart” diminishes the lifelong experiences that have brought her to her own reckonings. Yes, ageism is subtle, but really, it’s not so complicated.
People in power have implicit or unconscious biases, baked-in at birth, passed down from generations like old recipes. Their unrealized thoughts are that people much older can be ignored because they are close to death, or they have had “full lives,” or they no longer care to survive. These never-expressed sentiments influence and often determine public policy.
Acquiring awareness of our own ageism warrants self-education and introspection. When we experience ageism from without, we tend to think “this is my problem,” rather than, “this is OUR problem.” Dismantling ageist thinking and behavior requires collective action, just like movements against racism, sexism and ableism.
Anti-ageism activism is turning intimate suffering into public grievance. “In our society, there is this endless drumbeat of youth. We need to challenge the underlying message that age decreases your value,” says Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism
and a blog called Yo, Is This Ageist?
Recently two members of Skyline Village challenged ageism by writing letters to the editor. Nancie Thompson and Regan Burke assure us they have been lifelong submitters of letters to editors. They had no expectations their letters would be published and yet, there they were—in the same week!
Let’s keep it up. Write your own letters to the editor the next time you hear, see or read ageism.
The links below will take you to contacts for your own submittals of letters to the editor.
While you’re at it, email us examples of ageism you’ve experienced: firstname.lastname@example.org
. We’re compiling a list for Skyline’s advocacy work. Don’t worry! If we use your example it will be anonymous unless you tell us otherwise.
Thank you for your contribution to this important effort.
Phyllis Mitzen, Sandra Herman, Evelyn Shaevel, D Clancy and Regan Burke