Specialist in Issues of Midlife & Older Adults

Monthly Archives: July 2015

Ageism in Modern America

Jikonsaseh first clan mother

Jikonsaseh first clan mother

While cruising Facebook this morning I came across an article posted by Paula Span, an author I respect so much for her insightful blog posts when she was featured as the writer for The New Old Age for the NY Times. Out of a budget cut, her weekly blog was cut but she still writes for the Times sometime and posts on her FB page. Here is the link to the article she posted which was written by the chief of geriatrics at Columbia University:  America’s Bias Against Older Women Must Stop 

The article has to do with the flurry of ageist comments in the media lately having to do with Caitlin Jenner. Not comments so much that were disparaging about her transformation from Bruce to Caitlin but comments that were denigrating of older women.  Demeaning comments, snide jokes, general put-down’s about older bodies, in particular older female bodies.

This topic and more importantly this phenomenon is so widespread and so ubiquitous in our culture that it is overwhelming when considered. And that overwhelm can easily lead to increased poor self esteem on the part of older women, denial and fighting against “aging” thus the billions spent on anti-aging products, and depression. I see this depression so very commonly in my counseling work with older women, espeically those in their 60’s and 70’s.

There is a common thread of complaints under the heading of ageism whether we use that word or not. The experience is of: being the butt of disparaging and cruel jokes, feeling devalued, ridiculed, infantalized and invisible. of not counting, that they don’t matter.

Stop-Laughing-at-Older-Women-458268265-156988801-170720246-300x194 (1)I wonder about our fear of women and women’s power in this culture. We women do have some kind of power when we are young and beautiful. Perhaps that is instinct that we are attractive when we can procreate. Perhaps we are also considered more valuable then because we “consume” therefore Wall St and the media value us. That doesn’t make much sense tho’ when you consider that older women and older people in general are big consumers and oh by the way voters as well.

No, there is something intrinsic and deeply rooted in why this culture devalues older women to such an extent. More than they do older men although there is devaluing there too. Is it related to fear of mortality and fear of dying? Is it the fear of becoming superfluous and needy? We know that our culture puts huge emphasis on independence and me-ness. Cross interdependence is not a big part of our cultural tone. And/or does ageism towards older women have to do with latent resentment towards primary attachment figures who predominantly are mothers emerging later when our mothers or ourselves are now in a vulnerable position. Payback time in other words?

A pair of Red-tail Deer fawns follow behind Mom.

A pair of Red-tail Deer fawns follow behind Mom.

I believe that we lose out as a culture and a people when we do not value our older women and listen to what they have to teach us. Margaret Mead told a story about the old does of the red tail deer herds in Alaska. In times of drought or severe storms, it was the old does who had the memory of out of the way watering holes or sheltering cliff where they could find refuge from the storms. The herd rallied behind and old does towards safety.

I worry about this way we have of devaluing and demeaning our older women. We are in times of crisis. We need all the wisdom we can find. Denigrating and oppressing and discounting an entire segment of our population is anti-survival and anti-wisdom. I hope we can change. I hope that we boomers can push back against too-often-accept stereotyping and dismissing of older women. Our survival may just depend on it.