Home > Uncategorized > The pervasiveness of ageism – posted 4/28/19

The pervasiveness of ageism – posted 4/28/19

Not too long ago, I was hanging out with a group of guy friends and we were talking about the presidential race. When the subject of Bernie Sanders came up, my friend Tom responded that old white men like Bernie should get out of the way.

The Washington Post recently ran an op-ed entitled “Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are too old to be President”. In her piece on Bernie in the Concord Monitor, Katy Burns also accused Bernie of being old. She mentioned how exhaustingly stressful the modern presidency is.

Not long after, Burns attacked Joe Biden, for among other reasons, being old. When accused of ageism, she still stood by her argument that Biden was too old to be president. She cited declining physical stamina and the statistical possibility of dementia.

Bernie is now 77 and Biden is 76. There is no evidence that either is, in any respect, impaired.

President Trump is now 72. No one can accuse him of being a spring chicken. While there is a cottage industry written about the state of his mental health, there is no smoking gun evidence that Trump is impaired either.

I think candidates should be judged on the merits of their positions and ideas – not their age. Speculation about what might happen, that hasn’t happened, is worthless.

Generalizations about the declining capacities of older people are no more defensible than racial or gender stereotypes. Here I am not arguing for any particular candidate. I think that the age problem is ageism. By ageism, I mean stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people on the basis of their age.

Ageism is rampant in America. It is no exaggeration to say we are youth-obsessed and caught up in age-denial.There is a massive fear of aging. Just consider the wide range of anti-aging products and treatments. Off the top, I could think of skin care, hair care, cosmetic surgery, supplements, anti-stretch mark products, and anti-wrinkle products. Sixty is the new forty or eighty is the new sixty.

To grasp the roots of ageism, it first needs to be seen as an institutionalized form of discrimination. Capitalism scrap-piles older workers at younger and younger ages. Try getting a job if you are in your 50’s, let alone your 60’s. It happens, but I have seen a pattern of well-qualified people in their 50’s consistently get turned down for jobs. They are seen as more expensive because often in their recent histories they had commanded higher pay and benefits.

Older workers have to fight stereotypes that they cannot master new skills and technology, that they will slow things down, that they cannot perform physically demanding work and that they burn out. In hiring, younger managers typically prefer younger workers who they will say are more exciting than the older worker. That may not be discrimination but it is a bias.

There are so many other negative stereotypes around being older. Among the stereotypes, old people are sad, incompetent, ugly, sexless, mindless, forgetful, conservative and irrelevant. It would take a book-length response to combat all the stereotypes.

You have to ask: why the veneration of youth? Whatever happened to older people as the repositories of wisdom and life experience? Once elders of the tribe were held in high regard. That is certainly not the case now where older people have to fight off stereotypes that they are doddering geezers.

Sometimes older people themselves can be the worst at reinforcing the aging stereotypes. Look at President Trump’s ridiculous assertion that he is young, not old, like his contemporaries. All the tanning, scalp surgery, and hair coloring in the world do not change the reality that he is 72. Maybe he would be better off accepting, rather than denying, his age. It is okay to be 72, no need to be embarrassed.

Maggie Kuhn, who organized the Gray Panthers back in 1970 was the first person to put her finger on the issue of ageism. She felt older people were an untapped energy source and she also felt old age could be a time of great fulfillment. I always liked this quote of hers:

“Old age is not a disease, it’s not a social disaster, it’s a gift of the Almighty. It is a result of struggle and victory over many vicissitudes, it could indeed be the flowering of life, a time of enormous freedom – freedom to transcend our own narrow self-interests that we had to preserve when we were middle-aged. But old age is freedom to look beyond our skin and clothes to those who come after us, and to a new way of life that is truly human and shared. To achieve this, old age must be lived, poured out for others. And so lived, it could be one of God’s great surprises – that those nearest death should be chosen by Her to point to where new life may be found.”

Whether we like it or not, if we are lucky enough, we will become old. Whether it is choosing a President or competition for a job, candidates deserve consideration on the basis of their merits – not on outdated stereotypes.

Along with the fight against racism, sexism, class prejudice and homophobia, ageism also must be combatted. A good society would not be putting old people out to pasture prematurely when they have so much potential to contribute. We need to stop the de-valuation of older people, recognize their reservoir of life experience and find new ways to tap their creativity.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Lorenzo Bozzoli
    June 2, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Dear why don’t you stop to write fake news about my beautiful Country?
    It is clear that you have absolutely no idea about what you write. Worse, much worse, if you instead know about actual situation.
    Actual government has a parlament majority of almost 60% in a proportional voting system and actual prime minister is not a rofessional politician in spite of support rate among the whole voting population near 55% after 1 year of government. This result was not achieved in the last 50 years!
    Work contracts without fixed end has increased from previous government of 300% in one year a monthly money support has been introduced for whom apply to look for a job tohrough job seeking offices = no black money jobs.
    If this is a fashist government welcome!
    Meanwhile previous prime minister Mr Renzi, that reduced our country to a bunch of disgraced citizens fighting to get lunch and dinner while avoiding aggressions from Muslim aggressive immigrates benefitting a daily allowance of 40€ + hotel and food paid by Italian tax payers (not EU!), this guy is today same at Bilderberg meeting in Switzerland!
    Thus do not waste your hard earned money from Soros ong universe and enjoy your wealth and health in Carabbean’s Islands writing fake news about Mr Trump who is trying to save your people from misery and whole world from youamericans yearly new wars to export peace and democracy.
    Ciao caro, stammi bene e occhio alla bile,
    L. B.

  2. September 5, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    You are completely on the mark with this one. Old age is not a disqualifier, and in fact we’ve had some terrific AND some awful older persons in charge. Mandela was President of South Africa from the age of 75 to the age of 80. Konrad Adenauer was Chancellor of Germany from age 73 to age 87…and was instrumental in rebuilding West Germany and establishing them as an economic power after World War II.

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