WHY I SMILE AT CHILDREN or ageism is alive and well.

 

I am ‘gutted’ as my grandson would say. For the second time in a month I turn up at the Bank without the necessary documentation that I had prepared carefully on the kitchen table.

When I arrived back home I burst into tears. Not because of the event but because of the thought of what the bank manager and staff would think of me. I am used to these lapses and am learning how to minimising them. I remember how my now deceased friend panicked in these circumstances and on the whole I manage them with serenity. At nearly 82 I have been coping reasonably well with the decline of certain faculties. But a recent experience made me feel worthless.
At a conference coffee break, a recently retired academic knowing that I am a U3A (University of the Third Age)  member announced that she had joined the organisation. She proceeded to describe in the most vicious ageist terms the behaviour of the members of her group. I could not believe my ears when she ascribed mockingly to each one of them the most ageist, prejudiced characteristics that I have come across in my 20 years of being interested in the representation of old women.

It left me speechless trying to understand what was going on and the meaning of this diatribe.

The episode did make a mark on me. If an old woman academic could perceive us old women in this way, talk about us in this way what do other people think when they see my white hair, my sometimes unsteady gait, my forgetfulness?

Maybe that is why, in the tube, in the street I smile at little children who look at me with interest.

AGEISM AND ANGER

I was considering changing my lifestyle to keep healthy in my 80s as advocated by hundreds of  Ageing Advice sites on the net.  I am already eating healthily, and I try to take regular exercise. To avoid stressful situations is more difficult but I thought I was doing rather well until I came across Angela Rippon two programmes entitled How To Keep Young * . I started to see red, to get angry, to lose my temper. Not a very healthy response but for pity’s sake I am not young, Neither is she. Who is she addressing? 18 years old, 30? Older? is 50 young or old? is 71 Rippon’s age young?

God knows why I took the online  test What Is My Real Age? Do I need to have a test to know my real age? I know how old I am. I was born exactly 81 years, 4 months, 23 days and 4 hours ago. The test gave me a body age of 85. Does the body include the brain? Keep my cool ?  the blooming cheek!  I am all of 81 -and bits – years old no more no less.

“Give the programmes a try” says my husband foreseeing a vicious outburst.  “Blame the programmes not the presenter.”

I viewed and suffered both programmes, the stress increasing by the minute. I will not go into details.  I cannot waste  time to quote the vacuous images, the outlandish research projects and the comments of privileged, self-satisfied Rippon: (” I’m in a job people would give their right arm for, and in 50 years I’ve never felt bored.” Express Newspaper). Suffice it to say that in the first two minutes of the introductions to the programmes I saw smug Rippon (in the mirror) looking ‘half her age’, heard her say how to slow down ageing,  how research help us younger for longer, which exercise holds off ageing the most, what can make us all live seven years longer, how to ‘cure’ ageing, search to find the best way of keeping us all young, keep our minds younger than ever before, the fountain of youth.  The programmes ended with young 71 years old Rippon dancing frantically and desperately?

Now – I tried to forget about the stress of my anger in order to live longer but frankly I would rather rage against this ageism that so pervades our culture. Good friends of mine excused the programmes on the grounds that it does give some good advice about ageing well.  Really? how about employing old people if they want to work? how about fighting poverty, fighting abuse of old people in care homes, prevent malnutrition, isolation.  How about funding community projects and spaces?  How about fighting ageism in all spheres?

I may have shortened my life by a few days but I feel calmer.

 

* broadcast on BBC1 and still available on iplayer.

** coincidence. As I was thinking about this post Channel 4

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/on-demand/63201-006

 

 

“I write from a critical and feminist perspective” M. Holstein

“I write from a critical and feminist perspective , which means that I question, challenge, contest and resist the status quo ( Ray 1999) ” Martha Holstein

At long last a book, Women in Late Life  that fulfils my wish for a general feminist view of the experience of ageing. I have read so much about ageing, attended so many seminars and conferences and meetings since I retired 20 years ago.  Although I have absorbed some knowledge this has remained fragmented and in a way difficult to relate to personally. My work on feature films has been stimulating but has made me angry more often than enlightened.

Martha Holstein’s book fulfils my need of making sense of all this information and I have finally found a language that I identify with in this complex field.

I strongly  recommend this book to women who need to make sense of their ageing.

 

Language advice to journalists

Successful Aging: What words to use, which to avoid in describing the older generation
By Helen Dennis, LA Daily News
POSTED: 06/16/14, 9:39 AM PDT |
0 COMMENTS

Last week D.W., age 64, expressed dismay about the lack of a good term to describe aging boomers. “Senior citizen” and “golden ager” didn’t work.
This week we are continuing the conversation tapping the advice given to journalists.
In a report “Words to Age By: A Brief Glossary on Tips and Usage,” Paul Kleyman, journalist at New America Media, surveyed nearly 100 journalists for the Journalist Exchange on Aging to get a sense of the language they used in covering issues of aging. Here are a few principles noted in the report.

• Elderly. “Use this word carefully and sparingly.” The term is appropriate in phrases that do not refer to specific individuals such as “concern for the elderly or a home for the elderly.” It should not be used in reference to a person’s deteriorating condition.
• Seniors. A style guide for one family of newspapers say that reporters should be specific when possible, reserving ‘seniors’ when no other descriptive will work.”
Additionally journalists are urged to use adjectives that are accurate and avoid patronizing or demeaning words such as “feisty,” “spry,” “sweet,” “eccentric,” “feeble,” “senile” and “grandmotherly.”

• Activity and relationships. Describing an older adult as “active” should also be avoided. This implies the older individual is an exception, suggesting that in general, older people are sedentary.
Additionally, don’t mention relationships when they are irrelevant. An example of an inappropriate use of reference to a relationship is “Golda Meir, a doughty grandmother, told the Egyptians…”
• Mentioning a person’s age. Don’t mention it unless it’s germane. A news story about an 84-year old truck driver who hit two cars should cite facts that his or her age was relevant to the accident.

An example of this is: “Rep. Nancy Pelosi, age 65, held her latest grandchild as she announced that preschool education would be among her top issues.”
Her age was not fundamental to the story.
• Be aware of political spin. This applies to public policy aspects of a news story. For example, the use of the term “burden” can be misleading. We may read it causally such as the “burden” of Social Security or the “burden” of our aging society.
It implies that the ills of America are primarily caused by our aging population.

• Avoid the naïve sense of wonder. This is my favorite both in news stories and general conversations. Operative words are “remain” or “still.”
Example: “At 76, Smith remains active as a eacher…gardener…or hang glider,” which assumes one typically is inactive at age 76.
“Remains active” can be erroneously interpreted as a “vestige of one’s waning power,” Kleyman writes.
On a personal note, here are some questions often asked of me.
“Are you ‘still’ working?” “Are you “still’ running?” “Are you ‘still’ doing yoga?”

It’s yes, yes and yes, with appreciation for the interest and gratitude knowing that many cannot.The most recent question is from an acquaintance who asked me what’s new in aging. After my rather comprehensive reply, she asked in all seriousness, “How is your memory?”
My acquaintance was worried I would forget to remind her friend to take some packages home. There were no “remains” or “stills,” yet the expectation was clear.
Professional journals also have guidelines. A notice to those submitting papers to the “Gerontologist,” a highly regarded peer-reviewed journal on aging, reads, “Please avoid (using the terms) elders, older adults, or other words…” Caregivers, Alzheimer patients and study participants are more commonly used terms.

People’s response to age-related language can depend on their chronological age, generation, cultural community and personal preference. Avoiding preconceived notions and remaining neutral is important not only for journalists, but for each of us in our everyday lives.
So what are the words commonly used? I gravitate to the descriptor indicated as the most preferred among journalists: “older.” I also use terms such as “later life,” “the next chapter,” and the “older generation.”
The guidelines for journalists can help us become more aware of implied ageism through the subtle use of language. By astute listening and use of accurate words, each of us can debunk the stereotypes and erroneous assumptions about aging. Consider that a collective goal.

Thank you, D.W. ,for your important question.
Send email to Helen Dennis at helendenn@aol.com, or go to www.

Active Ageing and Disability

I am angry, I am very angry.

‘Active Ageing’ is the buzz expression these days. Mention the magic words and short-term projects will be funded, academic research will be supported and women who want a contemplative and quiet life will feel guilty.

I believe that the expression was introduced by the WHO about people over 60 years of age and has been taken up by the EU and other organisations. What are the ageist assumptions that underpin the Active Ageing concept? I do not know about men, or other countries and I talk from an 80 years old Londoner’s point of view. I know that fit and healthy old women do not sit doing nothing all day. Some are still paid for their work, the majority work for no pay: they look after their grandchildren, they are carers for parents or partners, they volunteer for hundreds of charities, hospitals, hospices, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, they take courses or lead courses. They write, they sing, they paint.
They tend their gardens and allotments and care for the environment and campaign for peace and justice. And some have earned the right to choose not to be ‘productive’. Fit and healthy women do not need help in being ‘active’. I sometimes think that they would benefit from help in slowing down.

In the field of education I am angry because Adult Education courses where old and young adults learned together have been severely curtailed for lack of funds and new courses are funded specially for the ‘old’ to be active – very often without provisions for the disabled old.

Quoted in Age-Friendly-London Report: “Older people are living with disabilities and longstanding illnesses for a greater proportion of their life, although this varies with social class, ethnicity, gender and location. At age 65 men are now expected to live with disability for 7.9 years, women 9.9 years (ONS 2014a).” I am angry because the Active Ageing campaign does not address this fact and seems to me to concentrate on the fit and healthy.

There are no courses on living with impaired hearing or vision. There are no courses in adapting to creeping disabilities. There are no courses in adapting to the changing relationship in couples when one becomes disabled. There are no courses on how to talk to your doctor and learn about the medication prescribed. I only know of one course on living with a chronic illness. And apart from the growth of independently organised Death Cafes I know of no courses about death.

Active Ageing? Yes, of course. Give the old the means and they will need no help to be active. State-of-the-art hearing aids for the hard of hearing that is one of the causes of isolation. Mobility scooters for all who want one. Local Community Centres with good transport and facilities for the disabled that will provide daily social contacts.

I am angry because the problem of isolation and mental deterioration is not solved by a befriender visiting once a week even if there are caring relatives who can visit sporadically Sheltered accommodation, care homes, nursing homes are of an appalling standard unless you are extremely rich.

Yes Active Ageing: Fund community hubs, adult education, local activities, adequate transport, meeting spaces, age-mixed housing areas with cultural activities. We are social animals and need daily human contact however superficial.

MILITANT FEMINIST OLD WOMEN AGAINST AGEISM

Five years ago I was invited to take part in a  cafe style consultation in preparation of the WOW Festival on the South Bank. Of course on my table I made a point of putting the necessity of having older women represented at the festival. None of the other much younger or middle aged women took any notice and my contribution did not make the table report to the whole gathering.  I suffered until the reports of the other tables. None mentioned old women. On my way out I approached one of the officials and put my point of view. I even made positive suggestions: a film show (in particular the company of strangers. A video installation about old women, a photo exhibition,, a talk about the role of old women in societies.  I do not think that the woman who listened to me with a patient tolerance heard me. The body language indicated that she would not even report my suggestions.

I have not attended any of the WOW festivals since then. I am so delighted to notice that some of the 70s sisters in the past week have commented on the ageism of the festival and intend to do something about it. Apart from some old women performers, the old woman has had no presence in the WOW.

I feel at last that there may be a militant old women feminist voice against ageism in the air…