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An Insidious “ism”: Ageism

by Shelly Kneupper Tucker on February 18, 2008©

Yesterday, I said the only controversy bubbling at my house was over chili with beans or chili without (go vote, if you haven’t).

I lied.

Well, I didn’t actually lie, but I did a little blog hopping to some of my favorite places and found some more controversy to consider. I read this post by the Savvy Boomer on ageism. He linked to some ageist remarks he saw on the internet. Linking to them, of course, called the writers out of the woodwork. I’m not going to do that, because I saw the types of comments those young pups made, and I don’t have time to deal with dumb. You can read his article if you want to follow the links. The controversy in the comment section is great fun.

Reading that made me really start to try to analyze ageism. Thinking about it makes my blood boil as hot as three alarm chili! It’s an insidious little “ism” that has invaded our culture, and I’m not sure exactly when that happened. Other cultures value their elders, even revere them. Here in America, we seem to toss out and disregard the “old.” Not just old stuff, but old people. Did that start during the Great Depression? When and why on earth did it begin?

Unfortunately, age is playing a part in our political debates, just as is race and gender. There are people, surprisingly enough, who make remarks like, “I’m not voting for Obama because he is black,” or “I’m not voting for Hillary because she’s a woman.Most of them make those remarks privately to friends, because they would not want the world to know that they are racist or sexist. Even those people can recognize racism and sexism in a heartbeat.

Why is it, then, that we don’t recognize ageism?

Savvy quoted one gal as saying, “I have to vote for someone…and that someone will not be McCain. Mostly because he’s downright too old. I’m not an ageist.” Sure you aren’t an ageist, bless your heart.

She claimed in a comment to Savvy that her remark was “innocent.” I followed that link, and read her article. I was more offended by this particular line of reasoning:

“Sorry to say this, but youth is king in America. Young people created everything we “worship” in today’s times of technology, ideology and every d*** other “ology” you can think of…”

I beg to differ.

Perhaps in technology youth is king, at least as far as the media is concerned. I didn’t waste the time in looking up ages of technological geniuses. Surely in fashion, youth is king (again because the media declares it so). But not in ideology. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought our American political ideology is based on The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution.

Take a hard look at our Founding Fathers.

In the 1700′s, the “average” lifespan was much lower than it is today, mostly because many people didn’t live past childhood. There are many different opinions on what the average lifespan was (some sources say as low as the twenties). Infant mortality was astronomical, and childhood diseases often snuffed a life before it got good and started. The chances were good that if one survived past twenty, one could live until sixty. That was often affected by wealth (which allowed one to have a proper diet and medical attention). Still, a person in their thirties was considered “long in the tooth.”

According to Life Two, the average age of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (at signing) was 45 years old.

For the times, that made most of them “old farts,” didn’t it? More than 200 years later, the words those “old men” wrote are as valid and as compelling as they were the day they were put to paper.

benjamin_franklin_by_jean-baptiste_greuze.jpg

And, what about this guy?



Arguably, Benjamin Franklin was one of the most brilliant men to ever walk the planet. He was an author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and diplomat. He was also one of the Committee of Five, who drafted The Declaration of Independence.

He was born on January 17, 1706, which would have made him about 70 at the time he wrote and signed that document. He lived to be 84, and was active and productive, a champion of independence and freedom, to the end of his life. He did not let his age affect his performance one bit.

Nope. You can’t convince this old broad that youth “invented” our ideology.

You can’t convince me that John McCain’s age would prevent him from doing a good job in office any more than you can convince me that Hillary’s gender or Obama’s skin color would affect their performance. All of these people are excellent candidates.

This really is not about politics, but no, I’m not voting for McCain. That’s because I’m a liberal Democrat, who fully supports your right not to be, so don’t start arguing with me. I have control of the delete button on this blog, after all.

Even so, I would hope that, when you exercise your right to vote, you look past the “isms” that you may carry. Don’t choose (or discount) a candidate because of gender, race, or age. Look at their political ideology, and see if it matches yours. That person is the candidate for you to choose.

I’d also like you to consider your views on age. It’s gonna happen to all of us, if we are lucky. I don’t ask you to blindly accept the adage “with age comes wisdom.” It’s not true. A stupid young person grows into a stupid old person. But, growing old does not make a person stupid, either. There is a lot to be said for life experience, and sometimes that is more important than wisdom. Just consider that we are wasting our time in glorifying youth, because it just doesn’t last. Age is a great equalizer, and can be just as glorious, in its own way.

The next time you see an older person and think, “old geezer” or whatever term you use, remember:

One day you are going to look in the mirror and see an old person staring back at you.
That old person will be you!

{ 9 comments }

Damien Riley February 18, 2008 at 2:33 pm

I love the way you can put a word in a search engine and get good info these days. Thanks for the link to the Savvy Boomer, I enjoyed your article and the links there.

The search engine doesn’t always send you to what you need, and I’m bad about finding the “right” word to get results. You’ll like Savvy, even though you aren’t a boomer….are you?

rositta February 18, 2008 at 2:39 pm

I learned all about ageism when my mother was in hospital. “She’s 84 after all”, was a common refrain. They did a study that showed elderly women in particular received inferior health care. After my mother died I looked at myself in the mirror and saw an older person looking back at me, sucks doesn’t it…ciao

Yep. Sucks like a Hoover! And, yes, elderly women DO get inferior health care. I think that women in general do.

Ann Tegen February 18, 2008 at 10:03 pm

Well put, Shelly!!!! You should get that published somewhere for the whole world to read!

:lol: The whole world will have to find me here, Ann! but, thanks for the kinds words.

Cindee February 19, 2008 at 11:06 am

We call them Fossils in our house…LOL My dad is 79 and he works harder then most 20 year olds. He is a stud! LOL My mom is 76 and still works doing hair! I don’t think age is the way to judge anyone. I know they look old but you need to talk to old people to really find out what is going on in their heads. My great aunt is almost 102! She is full of life. Her body is giving out on her but her mind is still going strong. Older people have a great understanding of life and therefore should be kindly considered. Knowledge is power after all! It is very interesting to talk to an older person. They have a lot to talk about! They would make great teachers…and Presidents…etc…(-:

Fossils, indeed. I’ve always enjoyed conversation with my elders, which is probably why I wound up being a storyteller. No matter a persons age (whether young or old) I just think we need to not have pre-conceived notions.

kacey February 19, 2008 at 1:39 pm

That was a great post. I’d seen that post at Savvy Boomer. I don’t know why we no longer respect our elders. They have so much life knowledge. You know as I get closer to having that elder label myself, I get tired of the quest for youth. The quest for health, I understand. For youth? Not so much.

At my age, 54, I figure that I’m past middle age…since I probably won’t live to be 108. I don’t know that I want “youth” as such, but I wouldn’t mind if gravity would quit pulling everything down! :lol:

Jamie February 19, 2008 at 6:18 pm

In many ways I believe our media is responsible for the view of age as not having value. Once you reach a certain age, you tend to buy things because you (1) really need them or (2) you want to upgrade to a better quality of thing you really need.

Companies rise and fall on their ability to sell more and more stuff to more and more people. The biggest return on investment in advertising is 18 -34 and for the expensive things 25-54. Once you pass 50, you start to cease to exist because you are no longer a “customer”.

All of the images and people are geared to those money spending groups, so face lifts for everyone if you expect to appear in public with any expectation of respect.

I think your observation is right on target. I have no clue how that could be changed. I don’t want a face lift…thanks! I’m trying to grow old with a little dignity. Very little.

Lisa Milton February 19, 2008 at 6:45 pm

Great post, Shelly. I don’t know how we combat stupid, in all its forms.

But I’m willing to try.

We gotta try, Lisa. It’s all a steer can do.:lol:

Larry Lehmer February 21, 2008 at 6:39 am

Love this post, Shelly. In fact, you so inspired me that I mentioned it in one of my posts this week. I especially appreciated you pointing out what an old fogy Ben Franklin was in relation to the other Declaration of Independence signers. Thanks.

And, I appreciate the link, Larry. I always have admired old Ben. Such brilliance, and he must have been a charming fellow to be a ladies man in his 70s!

Brenda Friedrich February 21, 2008 at 6:11 pm

I appreciate that you are calling attention to this. I am concerned about ageism also, but — to play devil’s advocate here — I think many of us have to admit to a degree of complicity. How many of us are into ‘anti-aging cream’ or color our hair to mask the gray as if it were something to be ashamed of? One of my siblings even begged me to color my tresses, because she hated introducing me as her younger sister! And we’re only in our forties!

You are right, Brenda. I readily admit that I color my hair, and I look for miracle wrinkle creams. But, wanting to look good and feel good about myself doesn’t necessarily mean that I hate getting older. I think that ageism works both ways…old people thinking that kids know nothing and young people thinking that the old folks are useless. I guess my problem is with prejudice of any kind. You just can’t assume that a person is any particular “type” just because of age, gender, color, or religion. They’ll fool you darned near every time.

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