Defeating Ageism – Are Boomers Taking All the Credit?

defeating ageism

Defeating Ageism – Are Boomers Taking All the Credit?

I’m within spitting distance of being a Boomer, but I’m not proud of what some Boomers have been saying about the gains being made in addressing & defeating ageism. A lot has been happening around this thorny issue. Two or three years ago, there was barely a ripple on the topic in mainstream media, only an article or two in a newspaper or blog. Suddenly it’s everywhere, on Twitter, on Facebook, in pod casts, videos and blogs. It’s as if a faucet has been turned on and these ideas, which used to be relegated to the back pages—old people going on about being laughed at, ignored and excluded—have become a self-sustaining newsfeed.

Who knew?  Now, that its de rigueur to talk about ageism,  Baby Boomers are stepping forward and taking the credit for it:

“In our youth, we said we’d never trust anyone over 30”, they crow, “Now we are re-inventing what it means to get old”. “Thank God the Baby Boomers are reaching 70”, they say, “Now, at last, we are getting somewhere”.

So now that this vast and savvy generation is coming aboard and joining the fight, we are no longer crying out in the wilderness. We should relax and welcome them with open arms. But something doesn’t quite resonate with me. I’ve been aware of ageism for a long time, long before Boomers reached an age to care.  When I hear about the blame cast on my generation—the Silents, or the Lucky Few—that we gave in to being laid off or forced to retire early, and didn’t utter a peep, that we listened to the jokes about old people and laughed along with them, that we turned our parents over to inadequate nursing homes without a twinge, well that just isn’t true.

What has our generation been doing?

Our generation has been quietly laying the groundwork for the massive attitudinal shift that is happening now.  In 1975 Robert Butler sent up a warning balloon when he coined the term, ageism, in his book, “Why Survive? Being Old in America”. He had an intuitive understanding of this mistaken perception of old age,  and described it with a deadly accuracy that endures 41 years later.

Here’s how he defined it:

“A process of systematic stereotyping or discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish with skin colour and gender. Ageism allows the younger generations to see older people as different than themselves; thus they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings.”

Butler saw ageism manifested in “a wide range of phenomena on both individual and institutional levels- stereotypes and myths, outright disdain and dislike, simple avoidance of contact, and discriminatory practices in housing, employment, and services of all kinds.” The strongest stereotypes around aging are those which equate aging with the “3 Ds”- disease, disability (in terms of actual functional impairment, or as perceived potential to lose abilities), and death.”

Many other thinkers and writers of our generation questioned how our culture approached growing old. Here are a few who blazed the trail:

Simone de Beauvoir, (1970) Coming of Age, in which she explores our perception of elders, and describes “the separation and distance from our communities that the old must suffer and endure”.

Betty Friedan, (1993) The Fountain of Age. Here she writes about how our culture decries old age, and how, in struggling to hold on to the illusion of youth we deny the “reality and new triumphs of growing older”, and how we have seen age only as decline.

Ram Dass, (2001) Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying, in which he continues to provide innovation and thought, this time focussing on aging, having reached “the autumn of his years”.

Ronni Bennett, Time Goes By, a groundbreaking blog launched in 2004, and the first of many on-line blogs exploring old age.

It takes an enormous effort to nudge a culture toward change, but these people, and writers and thinkers like them, forced us to question the status quo and re-frame the unspoken rules about age that govern our society. Current and established ways of thinking and living are, by their very nature, deeply ingrained. But thankfully, a glimmer of light sometimes breaks through and, if all goes well, we have a shift in thought and, as always, thought precedes action.

These tried and true quotes say it best:

The first step toward change is awareness. (Nathaniel Branden)
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step (Lao Tzu)

So, as the Boomers make the transition to the “second act” of their lives, and become the critical mass that will propel ageism to the back rooms of history, all I ask is they give credit to the people who preceded them—the real movers and shakers of the ageism revolution.

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28 Responses to Defeating Ageism – Are Boomers Taking All the Credit?

  1. Christy says:

    I really like this post about ageism. I will have to look those books up and get them from the library. I always feel I’m in a funny position, having had my son at forty, my one and only, I have always been decamped in two camps, my generation and the generation below me because of having my son so late in life. I have two peer groups.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I was quite nervous about writing this…I love the Boomers, but they have taken over this issue, I feel. I hope they have no hard feelings!

  2. The image says it all for me, it is the stereotype of the boomer, as if all people in that age cohort are middle class. Sure the ones getting media attention are affluent, but they do not represent the majority, never have, and seemingly never will. I find the smugness of those who have been lucky enough to have their efforts rewarded nauseating.

    Having said that, I wonder if a lot of the agism that the Lucky Few as a group have experienced was actually perpetrated by the those very same boomers.

    “In our youth, we said we’d never trust anyone over 30”, they crow, “Now we are re-inventing what it means to get old”. “Thank God the Baby Boomers are reaching 70”, they say, “Now, at last, we are getting somewhere”.

    This seems self glorifying, self satisfied, and elitist. Emphasizing that a particular age cohort is superior to any other is AGISM. These intellectual giants are using agism to fight agism.

    All I can say is that they don’t speak for me, never have, never will, I can speak for myself. And so can every other person given the opportunity, regardless of their age.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Wow, Maggie, you are exactly the population I hoped would read this! Thank you for this strong comment. And yes, the image was posted for the purpose of showing the Boomer generation in its’ most popular guise.

  3. Helen Edwards says:

    I am a baby boomer and really don’t like those who claim to be changing societal views on ageism. I first noticed “old” when I spent lots of time with my grandparents. I learned so much from them that I changed my perception of them as “old” to “wise.” I have long maintained that “age is just a number.” My mother was more active at 85 than most of her contemporaries and many of her younger friends. I hope to be the same as I near my 70th birthday. I have more energy and drive than I ever did in the years I was working or rearing my children. I now have the time to learn more things and acquire more skills. Do I need to do this? No, but I do it because I can. I still work part-time but as my own boss and spend most of my time volunteering for different organizations. I will never be OLD.

  4. Thanks for this post. Too often all of us are complicit when we don’t watch our language. I am shocked when I hear friends speaking of a ‘senior’s moment’ after forgetting a name or some turn of phrase. I am shocked when I hear words like ‘geezer’ used by compatriots. Regardless of the person, old or young, who uses ageist terminology, it needs to stop. Only awareness will create the changes we desire!

  5. Virginia says:

    I guess I’m guilty as charged, or perhaps uninformed is a better word. Although I have knowledge of the authors you cite, I never realized there was a movement against ageism. Perhaps it’s because the spot light has been shone upon us practically from conception that we have always focused on ourselves as a generation apart, and brought up like no other group had been and thus regard our way of approaching aging as somewhat unique.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Not to take anything away from the Boomers, you are a special and amazing generation, but it is important to my generation, I think, to open up the discussion! Hope everyone accepts this in the spirit in which it is done! Thanks, Virginia, you are terrific.

  6. I’ve always associated age with wisdom, and I never understood the prejudice against older people. Now at 76 I figure our main job is to set a good example for our daughter and son-in-law, showing that life can still be rich and rewarding.

  7. Aunt Beulah says:

    Thank you for defending so well those of us who preceded the boomers. Your words are fluent and apt. I particularly enjoyed reading, once again, what our notable peers had to say about aging. I also enjoyed the thoughtful comments of your other readers. Thank you.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Amen to hearing from the other readers. Very thoughtful and helpful. Having people read this blog helps me to shape it and make it more relevant. You rock, readers!

  8. worzelodd says:

    The waving Granny on the news gives me hope for us all. I will be the waving old maid/spinster. Cheers, great post.

  9. Marcia J. Hill says:

    I first became aware of this bias when my Dad, at 80, was hospitalized for surgery. All the health car workers, including the Doc would come in and address him in a loud tone of voice and a somewhat condescending manner, as if he were a child. I could just imagine what my Dad was thinking about this, so I brought a picture of him with his bike, he biked 10 miles a day, every day and brought it to their attention. They began to look at him as a person, not an “old” person and things changed. After his surgery, he continued to bike 10 miles a day until he was 85 and drove to Martha’s Vineyard every summer for 5 more years died at 91. I learn something from him constantly, he died in 2005 and I am 7y8 and in the process of recreating a life for myself after being a 24/7 caregiver for my husband . Life is starting over, not giving up.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Your comment reflects the courage and wisdom that you have gained through your long life experience. It takes the younger generation a few double takes (like you bringing the photo to their attention) for them to realize the fullness of who we are. Glad you are re-inventing yourself…you have so much more to give and receive!

  10. Lynne Spreen says:

    As a Boomer, I say, if the Boomers are such anti-ageism activists, why are they trying so hard to be young? The real anti-ageism will emerge when it’s okay to be old, and such phrases as “65 years young” and “Such and such activity keeps you young” are treated with the scorn they deserve. Thanks for this gutsy post. You inspire me.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      So far, hell has not rained down on my head! Thanks for the encouragement and understanding. There are still many, many miles to go in the long road to defeating ageism, I’m afraid!

  11. I am old what the heck I am what I am:)

  12. yeahanotherblogger says:

    Sometimes I run into situations where it seems to me that another person thinks I can’t figure things out on my own. It happened today in a supermarket when I was looking over selections in the store’s beer section. A store employee asked if I needed any help and then looked at me sort of quizzically when I said “Nope, everything’s fine.”
    Anyway, I really enjoyed this article. It makes a lot of very strong points.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      What you experienced in that supermarket was ageism. Younger people questioning your competence just because of your age. Thanks for commenting, and adding your experience to addressing this issue!

  13. I only just discovered this blog post and it warmed my heart. As someone who was teaching ‘eldering’ workshops in the 1990s and who, by 2002, had already published two books on women and aging, I confess to feeling irked at times by those ‘kid sister’ boomers who act as though they were the first ones to discover this new territory. I tell myself that as long as the revolution is happening it really doesn’t matter who started it. But we all have a little girl inside us who likes to be acknowledged. We did pave the way, every one of us who thought and talked and speculated about this brave new world, even those who didn’t give talks or write books about it.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      When I started this blog,over a year ago, I intended to focus on our generation (the pre-boomers).Somehow, probably because the boomer generation is so compelling, I started to write about matters which had a broader base. I still value my own generation very much, and am so happy to hear from you!

  14. janinsanfran says:

    My age cohort — the Boomers — tend to think we know everything. We don’t. 🙂 We are merely numerous.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      It’s not my age cohort, Jan, I’m older. But I do think the Boomers are quite well informed. But wait a minute…aren’t many of Trump’s supporters Boomers? What happened there?

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