We’re so ready for this conversation

Yesterday the Washington Post published a wonderful profile of me titled, “It’s no longer okay to be sexist or racist. She asks why it’s still okay to be ageist.” I’m getting a lot of mileage out of it, and learning a lot in the process.

One lesson is that the title of the piece led some readers to assume that I think we’ve put racism and sexism behind us. Far from it; we have a very long way to go on both those fronts. But because of the civil rights and women’s movements, those forms of discrimination are no longer socially sanctioned—which is why we need to mobilize against discrimination on the basis of age. I need to be clearer when I make these comparisons.

I also learned a lot from a fascinating thread on Metafilter, an online community where someone posted this excerpt from the Washington Post article: “’Our society is so ageist that younger people don’t want to sit next to older people because they think they’re boring, and older people might think they have nothing to say to younger people.’ So says Ashton Applewhite, a blogger that has just published a book about ageism.” What follows is an absorbing, troll-free, multi-generational exchange.

This one stung but made me laugh out loud: “Just last week I was told that laughing bitterly about being old was a micro-aggression against the young people I was sitting with. I told them to suck it up because getting old is a macro-aggression.”

I’d never thought about how “church life” can foster age segregation: “You go to kids’ Sunday School with people of your age, then step-by-step graduate to youth group, college group, the singles’ group, the young marrieds’ group, up through whatever the popular euphemism is for the elderly members’ group–PrimeTimers or Senior Saints or whatever. You can go to church for 80 years and be stuck with the same people that whole time. I’m convinced the results have been dreadful.”

I liked this story: “So we have this little Three Billy Goats Gruff book from nineteen-dippity-three that my two-year-old is currently obsessed with. The bridge troll is introduced as ‘an ugly old troll.’ And I read it that way the first few times, and then decided that I ought to elide the ‘ugly,’ because why should it matter if the troll is ugly? And then I started to elide the ‘old,’ because why should it matter if he’s old? So now I just call him the ‘mean’ troll, although I’d happily take other suggestions (such as the suggestion to conveniently lose this book).”

There are tons more interesting comments, especially about ageism in the workplace (tech in particular) and its disproportionate effect on women’s lives, and I strongly recommend checking them out. I can’t resist closing with this one: “I bought the book and have been reading it this afternoon. Your comments about the Meetup are just what the author is talking about. Her thinking is that allowing jerks who dismiss you, or ambient noise levels that keep you from hearing easily, dissuade you from going out is allowing ageism to win.” Push back!

Oh, wait, I’m closing with this one: “I spent a long time thinking I didn’t like old people, until I realised that actually some of my good friends and most admired colleagues are in the age bracket I didn’t think I liked. Like so many forms of discrimination, it’s easy to think of the people you do like as ‘not really X’ because they don’t fit your stereotypes, when actually it’s your stereotypes that need to change . . . The key is to reevaluate your beliefs and feelings and actively seek to know more older people in spheres where you are likely to have some things in common.”

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