Age discrimination (ageism) creeps up on us when we aren’t looking. One day, we belong in the mainstream. The next, we older people find ourselves invisible in a grey (or beige) crowd. People describe us, collectively, as a burden.
As a nurse in aged care and as an advocate for seniors, I saw old people stereotyped and discriminated against because of their age. I worked in Advocare‘s elder abuse prevention program and discovered the victimisation that can occur as a result of age.
A conscious feminist from my mid-twenties, I grew antennae that can sense sexism, which stereotypes and discriminates against women. Often the only action often possible then was to be aware and note it.
In my forties and newly divorced, I completed a Graduate Diploma in Women’s Studies at Curtin University
Wonderful women who lectured in units like Women in Literature and History and the Sociology of the Family enriched my life. I learned about the politics of power, which lead some groups to act towards others as if they are less worthy, less entitled.
Even with my grey hair and wrinkly skin, I didn’t experience age discrimination until a few years ago. I walked faster then, worked more in paid employment, put my hand up for greater engagement in the community and wouldn’t even have considered using a shopping trolley, It’s different now I’ve slowed down a bit.
Now I’m old. I regularly notice age discrimination.
The World Health Organisation defines ageism as
the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age; ageism can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, or institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs.
Don’t get me started on the double-whammy of sexism and ageism. I hate to think about the burden imposed on people when racism or disability are thrown into the mix.
Here are a few ways age discrimination shows itself every day
- People talk and write about seniors as if we can’t read, can’t understand and can’t make our own decisions
- They overlook us when it’s our turn to be served in shops and banks, as if we’ve become strangely invisible. Perhaps we are no longer valued customers
- Strangers call us, ‘Dear,’ ‘Sweetie,’ or ‘Honey’
- Or they call us ‘Granny,’ ‘Grandma,’ ‘Grandpa.’ or ‘Pop’
- They talk to us as if we can’t comprehend simple concepts. (There should be a word like ‘mansplaining’ to describe this! Rebecca Solnit first used the term ‘mansplaining’ in a 2008 essay. It describes men explaining concepts to women whether the women need the explanation or not.)
- Or they act surprised when we say we have a blog or paid employment or do our own housework
- And don’t understand when we enroll in courses, take up new hobbies or holiday alone
- Organisations exclude us from their surveys and health initiatives on no grounds but our age.
- General practitioners dismiss evidence of illness because, they say, our symptoms or test results are ‘normal’ at our age. (I wrote a blog about not being taken seriously when I had shingles. You can read it here.)
- Doctors prescribe medication we don’t need, and which may harm us.
- They ask, ‘What do you expect at your age?’ when we tell them about our ailments. (The answer to that question is, always, ‘A better health care professional.’)
Some easy actions to combat ageism
- Call the perpetrators on what they are doing as soon as they do it. Say, ‘That’s an ageist thing to say,’ or ”Do you think I’m too old to know what you are doing?’
- Say, firmly, ‘My name is… . I’d prefer to be called by my name,’ when they use so so-called ‘pet’ names or call you Granny.
- Tell doctors who don’t understand, ‘Ageing is not a disease, although older people do experience more illness.