By Theresa Reid, PhD
Host of CTN’s “Aging for Life”
What Is Ageism?
I owe my own enlightenment on this topic to Ashton Applewhite and her indispensable book, This Chair Rocks!
Here’s what she writes: “Ageism is discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of a person’s age. We’re ageist when we feel or behave differently toward a person or group on the basis of how old we think they are. . . . Ageism occurs when the dominant group uses its power to oppress or exploit or silence or simply ignore people who are much younger or significantly older.”
How often have you heard older people trash a younger generation as a group? You know the lament about the laziness or entitlement mentality of Millennials and Gen-Xers. That’s ageist.
Way more often we hear deprecating jokes and generalizations about elders–Boomers and their (rapidly expiring) parents. About their warts, their whiskers, their humps, their spots, their snail’s pace, their smells, their inability to learn, their out-of-it-ness, their dementia. About how expensive they are.
A few quick happy facts
Boomers control trillions of dollars in wealth, and spend more per capita on all manner of goods and services than younger generations do (or can). Aging minds typically gain flexibility, creativity, and insight.
The vast majority of us will not experience dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Elders are not a homogeneous group. In fact, the older we get, the more different from one another we become. (You’ll find sources for all of this information in the “Learn” section of agingforlife.org.)
Why is ageism so persistent?
The term “ageism” was coined in 1968 (by the indispensable Robert N. Butler), the same year as “sexism.”
American society has made all the other isms–racism, sexism, homophobia–not obsolete, sadly, but broadly shameful. But ageist jokes batter us constantly in an unnoticed barrage. This “ism” damages people as much as all the other “isms” combined, because it damages everybody.
Ageism becomes self-hatred
Americans dread becoming old like nothing else. We have all internalized negative stereotypes of aging with barely a thought. The older we get, the greater the dread. We don’t end this dread by trying to be young–we enact and perpetuate it. The only way to end the dread is to end the “ism.”
- First, notice the ageism. That shouldn’t be hard. We’re swimming in it.
- Cultivate agefulness. Ask, over and over again, who benefitsfrom ageism? Somebody’s gaining something, and it’s not children or the elderly.
- Protest ageism when you see it. Point it out, object to it, educate about it. We’ll post some of your best examples of protest as you send them in.
- Join forces with other enlightened people to fight the ageism that hurts us all. Start aconsciousness-raising group, or drive a chapter of the Radical Age Movement(I’m trying to get one off the ground in A2).
Whatever you do, please be in touch and tell me how it goes. We’re all in this battle together.
Theresa Reid, PhD, is Executive Producer and Host of Aging for Life, a podcast and television show she’s developing with Community Television Network in Ann Arbor. Dr. Reid is a Certified IONS Conscious Aging facilitator. This is the first of a series of occasional columns by Dr. Reid. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.