Resisting Everyday Ageism: Who’s Afraid of Being Old ?

February 13th, 2015 | Posted by Mervyn Eastman in Campaigns

Most of us are familiar with the pernicious myths and stereotypes about ageing that impact on our daily lives as we get older. Being considered as ‘frail’, forgetful and doddery, lonely, living with dementia, sexless and abused; examples of what Julia Neuberger calls ‘Not dead Yet!’

If ageism is a reflection of a culture being deeply gerontophobic, in that so many people now fear ageing and hold prejudices against the over 60’s, how can we change those beliefs and behaviours. Thus reclaiming our positive sense of who we are in those later years? The challenge in confronting both discrimination and broadly, ageism, is perhaps a challenge to ourselves first. We complain about being treated unfairly and ‘past almost’ everything that defined us as younger but at the same time seem pretty relaxed about terms like ‘pensioner’, ‘elderly’, ‘silver whatever’, all terms that conjure up negative and decline narratives. We, as older people, also think of older people as somebody else – those in long term care, dependent, sick, poor, lonely etc. This acceptance and collusion with such negative terms, plus feeling that our chronological age entitles us to respect and deference and we are owed for past years social and economic contributions, feed in my view, ‘everyday ageism’.

Attitudes which dominate our society arguably reflect the interests of the more powerful and influential social groups. Yet we are, as over 60’s, in general terms of demographic numbers, a ‘powerful and influential social group’. So why do we feel so disempowered with little, if any, collective influence in addressing everyday ageism? Is it because we ourselves are ageist viewing older people not as individuals but a homogenous group which can be discriminated against? How far do we as ‘older’ (read oldies, wrinkles, coffin dodgers, burdens, dependent, frail, elderly, silver…whatever, bed blockers…) help perpetuate and foster prejudices about the experience of so called old age, restrict our social role and status and thus become part of the problem?

Herein lies the core issue. We do not see ourselves as old (positive?) but see everybody else in their later years as old (negative?). Surveys evidence that just under a half of those surveyed have experienced ageism within the past year (Swift H: 2014) and at the same time fear and anxious about their futures.

It is this apparent contradiction about every day ageism that arguably re-enforces it ‘ugliness’. There is yet to be a grass roots movement or organisation (though the Age of No Retirement might –  if not captured by age experts and Charities etc).

We accept the notion that ageing is about dependency, deficit and sickness. We use the language of ageism and we hide the narrative of decline, cost/care burdens, plight, negative images and we must do something to and for these ‘others’ as being compassionate. If the narrative is compassionate enough celebrities, funders, politicians and organisations will applaud and want to be associated with it! BUT IT IS A REFLECTION OF EVERYDAY AGEISM.

“Changing everyday ageism…”, to quote Bonnie Kupperman ( My Senior Portal) “…starts with you and me.”

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