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DISRUPT AGEISMBy Blog Master
At the recent national Village to Village annual conference, Dr. Tracey Gendron presented a workshop titled “DISRUPT AGEISM”. Dr. Gendron is the Chair of the Department of Gerontology at the Virginia Commonwealth University and she has explored issues of ageism for the past 15 years.
The Pasadena Village disrupts ageism. Our members understand that interdependence makes it possible for them to fully participate in life. Educational programs prepare them to understand and be prepared to take action to protect their finances, maintain their health, and enlist support when needed. Affinity Groupsprovide ample opportunity to continue to learn and participate in activities that stimulate their minds and build new, supportive relationships. As our members go about their lives, in the community, they are examples of aging – not ageism.
Dr. Gendron pointed out that many people think of workplace discrimination when they first think of ageism. And it is true that older people face many forms of discrimination in the workplace. But ageism is much more than that. Ageism is expressed in different ways.
• It is internal – it affects how we feel about ourselves
• It is external – we face it daily in messages we receive
• It is relational – it affects how and what we communicate about our age.
Ageism is broad and complex. It is everywhere, but at the same time hard to see because it has become so normalized.
We often are told that aging is a public health crisis in this country. But in reality, ageism is the crisis. Dr. Gendron pointed out that decades of research show that negative attitudes about one’s own aging leads to poor health outcomes. In fact, research has shown that people who internalize negative age stereotypes have decreased life expectancy. Those with positive views of aging live 7.5 years longer than those with negative views.
We hear a lot about “generations”. There is the Baby Boomer generation, the Millennials, Gen X, the Greatest Generation, and many more. And yet, traditionally, the concept of generation has referred to members within a family. The use of “generation” as a reference to a social group of people born during a certain time frame implies that they share a common consciousness. But this concept of generations is directly tied to ageism.
When we lump people into a group by making an arbitrary determination we end up labeling and stereotyping people. We casually declare that Boomers are a drain on resources. Millennials are narcissistic. This is not helpful for anyone, and yet our cultural definitions encourage its use.
It is certainly true that we live in a society that values youth. And we, as older adults, absorb that value and pass it on unknowingly. When we meet someone we haven’t seen in a while, we often say, “You haven’t aged a bit.” That might seem innocuous but the underlying message is that we don’t want to age. Well – there is no such thing as someone who is not aging!
And have you ever heard yourself say something like this? “There is still so much to learn, even at my age.” What’s wrong with this statement? It implies that learning is outside the normal condition of being older. It implies that at some point older people stop learning. This is part of the pervasive reach of Ageism which has negative impacts on how we think, how we feel, and how we talk about aging.
As older adults we are also guilty of age shaming. How often have we said to a young person, “You’re too young to understand.”? How do we know that is true? This diminishes the life experience of another person and reinforces the gaps between ages.
Dr. Gendron closed her presentation with examples of how Ageism harms everyone in different ways.
• Masculinity – males are seen as the family provider, vitality is prized, being in charge is the “proper role.” There is a huge market playing on men’s perceived “loss” of virility.
• Femininity – women are hyper-visible (for their physical appearance) and invisible at the same time.
• Racism – people of color suffer from longevity inequity as a result of cumulative discrimination.
We need to think about being old in a different way. Aging is not decline. Aging is about living. Living is about growing. Let’s listen, and pay attention to the words we hear and the words we use when we talk about “young” and “old.” Equipped with knowledge, we can all disrupt ageism.