The term "Ageism" was first identified and defined by Robert Butler in 1969 as "prejudice and discrimination toward elderly people." We women in our 70s encounter ageism at every turn, subtle or blatant, recognized as such or not. Stories abound on our blog at 70Candles.com and were shared in our conversation groups of women in their 70s. Here we are, more knowledgeable than ever before, with the benefit of a long perspective, with so much to contribute; but still, ageism stares us in the face. Even we hold ageist views about ourselves and others.
• We've seen institutions that won't hire anyone over 55, for fear they won't be in tune with the younger generation or with the newest technology.
• We're often the oldest in a social or educational setting, where age alone may determine the perceived value of our contribution.
• We're in businesses where we know we wouldn't be hired if we admitted our age.
• We hear terms of endearment from receptionists, and on the phone, like "dear," "sweetie," "honey," that we use to address our young grandchildren or our pets.
• We notice that hair color can matter; and facial wrinkles set expectations.
• We feel invisible in a crowd of younger people, and when we do get repeated attention, and think we are being admired, it turns out we remind that young person of a grandma or favorite aunt!
• When someone says something like "she's 70 years young" they think they are being cute and flattering. We want to scream, "70 is old! That's okay!"
Why do so many view older people as less competent, weaker, more needy? What is it about old age that engenders discomfort, fear, disdain? Perhaps our society focuses so much on external signs of physical strength and youthful appearance that it doesn't appreciate the value of internal virtues and of course experience. So often comments we hear and actions perpetrated upon the elderly don't match our own perception of ourselves. But we all know that aging is, indeed, the only way forward.
It's clear that social change is needed to educate about and eliminate ageism, particularly as the population ages and the baby-boomers now reach their senior years. The place to start is with us--those in our 70s -- sharing our stories and raising awareness first among ourselves and then among others.
Are you experiencing ageism? Let us hear your stories.
Adapted from the book, 70Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade, by Jane Giddan and Ellen Cole, coming soon.