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Who me, ageist?

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How To Start Your Own Consciousness-Raising Group

this-chair-rocksI’m an activist working to end ageism: discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of age. I’ve been blogging about it since 2007 at This Chair Rocks, where you can find my bio and my research; I give talks; and I’m the voice of YoIsThisAgeist?, a Q&A blog. (Go ahead, ask me.) I want to see ageism take its place alongside racism, sexism and homophobia as a form of discrimination that’s no longer tolerable, and I want age to be included as a criterion for diversity everywhere. Why shouldn’t it be that way, especially in view of the fact that everyone ages? Which is why it drives me nuts to see “aging” used as an adjective and a pejorative—aging boomers, for example, or aging movie stars—instead of “older.”

Like most Americans, I used to be ambivalent about the prospect of growing old—until I learned more about it. It turns out that people are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. That the vast majority of Americans over 65 live independently. That the older people get, the less afraid they are of dying. I was astonished that so few people knew these easy-to-come-by facts, and radicalized by the reason: because ageism drowns out all but the negative about life after 65. Or 50, when trophy wives come on the scene; or 40, when workplace discrimination starts to kick in; or 30, when women start freaking out about being “over the hill.” The consequences, both personal and political, are disastrous. Taking advantage of longer lives means developing new roles for millions more healthy, well-educated adults, and thinking imaginatively about the kinds of intergenerational contracts an equitable future will require.

No one is born prejudiced, but attitudes about age—as well as race and gender—start to form in early childhood. We don’t question these attitudes when we’re young because they’re not about “us.” They harden into a set of truths—“just the way it is”—because these prejudices are so widespread and because they go largely unchallenged. Older people are far from immune, because they’ve had a lifetime of exposure to negative messages from advertising and the media: Old people are incompetent. Wrinkles are ugly. It’s sad to be old. When we believe those stereotypes, we feel shame and embarrassment instead of taking pride in the accomplishment of aging. That’s internalized ageism.

In the 20th century, the women’s movement and the civil rights movement woke us up to entrenched systems of discrimination around us. Now it’s time to see what forces attempt to shape our aging, stop colluding, and mobilize against discrimination on the basis of age. The critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices—our own internalized ageism—because change requires awareness. Everyone is biased; even in my line of work, I catch myself being ageist on a regular basis. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing—whether you want to change the world or simply to accept and embrace your own aging—this first step is yours to take.

That’s where consciousness-raising comes in, and why I’ve written a booklet called Who me, ageist?” How To Start Your Own Consciousness-Raising Group. Consciousness-raising is a tool that uses the power of personal experiences to unpack unconscious prejudices and to call for social change. The booklet defines ageism, explains consciousness-raising, provides suggested ground rules and discussion-starters, describes the goals of a radical aging movement, and lists anti-ageism resources. Download it for free here. [link to come] I hope you’ll send in more questions for the “discussion starter” section, and additional entries for the “Anti-Ageism Resources” page.

To learn more about ageism and track what I’m up to, please sign up for my mailing list on my home page (no spam, and I won’t give your address away), “Like” my ThisChairRocks Facebook page, and follow me on twitter @thischairrocks. A movement needs a million voices. I hope yours will become one of them.

 

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