Ageism Exists But Isn’t Acknowledged

Let’s take a look at how life is for older people

Photo by Thomas Hafeneth on Unsplash

Our society turns a blind eye to discrimination against older people. Probably because people fear old age and the death that follows it. Each of us can help get rid of this inequality. Below I explore problems that I see happening with the older generation.

1. Older people are often spoken to in a condescending way.

When I was on a “coach” (i.e. bus) tour of Wales and Ireland, I witnessed the tour guide doing this to the retired folk. I was in my thirties, and it rankled watching this happen. Don’t treat older people like they’re lacking in intelligence.

2. Small homes may be attractive by choice but not by circumstance

While young people think that living in small spaces is cool, for many retired people it’s the only way they can have a home. If you haven’t managed to pay off a house or something’s gone awry like a flood or a fire then you could find yourself without a home. These people end up in RVs or vans acting as camp hosts in parks. That way they don’t have to pay rent. They may or may not get paid as well.

I was travelling around in my small RV, and was curious about a phone installed on the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in Taos, New Mexico. My friends had told me about boondocking when you camp in an RV or van in the middle of nature by yourself. They thought I should upgrade from the Walmart parking lots where I usually stayed. So I joined a Facebook boondocking group to find out where else I could sleep overnight.

I asked my question about the phone. Blaize Sun answered with a link to her blog post where she described working next the the bridge, and how the phone was treated. Her writing held my attention, and I went on to regularly read her posts.

She gathered a bunch of interesting stories about being a camp host, and published it as a book by Blaize Sun, the Rubber Tramp Artist. It’s called “Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods

A rubber tramp is someone who lives out of their vehicle. There’s a scene in Cheryl Strayed’s movie “Wild” where she’s saying that she’s not one.

3. Opportunities disappear when you get close to retirement age.

It’s not what’s said but what’s thought. No one will come right out and say that you don’t get the job because you’re old. That would be against the law. No, you just get passed over quietly probably never getting a response to the job application. This is why we see so many older people being Walmart greeters. They need the income. In the USA there’s no basic government pension like there is here in Canada. So if you have hiring authority, don’t discriminate against older folk.

4. Stop making generalizations especially about people of a certain generation

Yuppies like to blame all the current economic woes on the Baby Boomer generation. A lot of boomers aren’t doing so great financially these days. It’s not our fault. We have our own problems. It isn’t right to criticize Millenials or other young generations either.

5. You’re never too old to learn or do something

So engrained is the idea that getting older means becoming incompetent or stagnant, some people self-deprecate and say things like they’re too old to learn a musical instrument or a new language. Childhood is lauded as being the best age to learn another language. It’s not that we can’t learn at an older age. If we had our own personal coach (read mother) then we would have reinforced gradual language acquisition.Meanwhile there are older people going for parachute jumps, or other adventures. There’s also DJ Ruth Flowers playing nightclubs in Paris. If you have an interest in something then just pursue it.

6. Levelling up is celebrated in games and should be in life too

In games like World of Warcraft (WoW) my son says that the real game starts after you get to max level. Birthday cards and congratulations greet anyone who reaches 100 but our culture does not celebrate the levelling up. Ancient cultures used to revere elders because they were the knowledgeable ones. “The Gorge” special event in Klei’s “Don’t Starve Together” multi-player game had an elder who looked after his community.

7. Back-handed compliments aren’t welcome

“You look young for your age” gives the message that people your age usually look terrible.

At Lock and Load last year a young guy asked me if I didn’t think I was a little old to be there. My son thought that kid was about fifteen years younger than everyone else. I should have asked him if he didn’t think he was a little young to be there. Every year there are more and more parents playing Warmachine and Hordes. There’s no reason this miniature wargame can’t be played by any age group.

8. Comparing how two different people have aged isn’t nice

A meme circulating a year or so ago on Facebook compared two 80 year old women. One was the oldest female bodybuilder (Ernestine Shepherd) and the other was a grandmotherly type sitting in a wheelchair. Sports training places were all blogging about this meme. It asked which one you wanted to be when you got to age 80. I got very angry at the young guy who had posted it. Just exercising isn’t going to ensure that you get to age 80 unscathed by disease or accident. It was basically body shaming the little old grey haired lady in the wheelchair. Somehow it conveyed the message (not so subtly) that she had engineered her physical weakness by neglecting to exercise. I’m not including the meme here because of copyright that might be on the photo. But just google Ernestine Shepherd meme and look at the images.

The text on one meme says “Both of these women are 74 years old … The choice is yours to make.” Then the articles go on to wax poetic about the woman on the left who is Ernestine Shepherd, the oldest female bodybuilder. There’s never any further mention of the wheelchair bound woman on the right. I suspect the ladies on the right are always much older than what is specified. I think they are more like 80 or 90 years old. I also doubt if there was any permission given to use their photos in such an insulting manner. It makes me very angry to see two people compared like that.

I can’t help it. I don’t like Ernestine Shepherd. If I was her and into being fit for myself, I would be horrified to be included in these atrocious memes. They’re always talking about how wonderful she is at the expense of the other person. One variation shows a big woman and her and it says “These women are the same age, guess which one is the fat activist?” It doesn’t mention that again in the article but it’s body shaming the large lady. If I was her I’d be speaking out against ageism and condemning these memes. People are lauding her as a way to break the stereotype of weak old people but I thnk she’s being celebrated as the exception.

9. Age is all relative

The working world made me feel old but compared to my friends that play oldtime music, and other Toastmaster members of my club, I’m not. There’s a stereotype that people have when they think about older grey haired folk. In Sociology we learned that a label or “stigma” has a negative impact on the labelled person. That’s how stereotypes work. Instead of seeing the individual there is just a blanket assumption based on their age. It’s important to get to know people of different ages. If you have white hair then it’s the perfect opportunity it have whatever bright colours you want. My daughter who is a hairstylist says that white hair holds the dyes easily for the fun colours. I currently have rainbow and blonde hair. Why be boring?

Conclusion

Birthdays are looked at by some people as a sign of growing old. What really makes you feel old is when you count how many of your friends, and acquaintances are dead. So rejoice in the fact that you’re still here.

What can you do?

Don’t make comments about people’s age. Avoid self-deprecating remarks like you’re too old to do or learn something. Appreciate your elders. Someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll be in their shoes.