Naming ageism got me into deep trouble recently, and I’ll do it again when I need to. I named it when I saw it because it seemed the right response. However, I ended up on the wrong side of one of the residents in this apartment building, the target of his wrath.
Sadly, I’ve never quite learned to shut my mouth in time, or restrain myself properly. Or perhaps I thought my comments reasonable, well thought out and inoffensive. Obviously not! I spent rest of the day feeling miserable.
This is how it happened. Someone wrote on the residents’ Facebook group page about a complaint made to the complex’s management about her dog.
A respondent replied that the complaint must have come from ‘the retirement village crew’.
That’s a clear reference to the older people who live here, and who, he implied, were out of place. We should, apparently, live in places set aside for older people, retirees, not here, with younger people. He lumped us together and further implied we’d be the only ones who’d complain.
My first comment on the Facebook page, ‘Sexism, racism or ageism are never OK,’ drew a subdued response. But the person quickly followed with a second post, this time a denial of my reality, stating that he didn’t agree that his comment was ageist.
I could have ignored him, of course. But I responded in a very measured way, pointing out that I have a clear idea about what naming ageism means. I even said I’d previously worked in the area of ageism and elder abuse.
The poor fellow saw red and told me in no uncertain terms that I had no idea and no authority in any area! He didn’t care about my professional experience, and my opinion was worthless. He used words like, ‘precious one’ (a put down) and slated my ‘hypersensitivity’ because of my previous employment.
Other words, ones I don’t use in my blogs, punctuated his comment. He invited me to take him on, face-to-face. And finally told me to take care (a further put-down).
I felt bullied.
At first I questioned whether I’d gone too far. But that didn’t make sense. The man had lumped together all the older people who live in our apartment block. His description, ‘Retirement village crew’ thinly veiled his disdain. We don’t belong here! Next, he’d assumed it would be one of us who’d complain. Perhaps he thought old people don’t like dogs?
My comments were factual, reasonable, gentle. But somehow, I felt embarrassed, humiliated by a stranger because I’d said something he didn’t like. My years of thinking, talking and writing about how people are damaged by stereotypes – sexism, racism, heterosexism – faded under the onslaught.
I took care not to enrage him further and withdrew quietly. But the experience shows again how ingrained ageism can be in our community. He continued to argue with another person after that. Later I felt comforted by a personal message of support.
The pages’ moderator also told me he thought the comments were not OK, and offered to take close down the post.
How naming ageism (or any other stereotype) works
Naming ageism may not have made a difference to that one person. But others obviously saw my comment and ‘liked’ or replied to it. Together we began to form a community of people who live here who are aware of the rights of older people, and the shared responsibility we have to look out for each other.
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
I’ll continue naming ageism if for no better reason than that doing so may help fight dementia. Here’s an article from Medical News Today you might like to read. ‘How fighting ageism may lower dementia risk’.
Related blog posts on my site
I wrote a blog when we first moved here. ‘Apartment life delights.‘ My opinion remains the same, four years later.
Here’s another. ‘Six reasons why apartment life could be better than retirement living.‘ The West Australian Newspaper published a version of this as a feature article.
One about ageism. ‘Age discrimination or ageism in practise.’