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Age ≠ affinity. (Except when it does.)

            I often point out that age has far less to do with compatibility than we think it does. There are exceptions, of course: reproduction is largely a young-person’s game, along with extreme sports. Age differences can’t be wished away, nor should they be. But hanging out mainly with people our own age has more to do with comfort and inertia than with actual affinity, and the habit costs us.

            I still think that’s the case. But a question that came in to my Yo, Is This Ageist? blog tempered my thinking. It came from a woman in her late 50s who belongs to a cancer survivors group.The admins regularly schedule events ‘for survivors under 40’ or for ‘young survivors,’” she wrote. “So far they’ve involved trivia games and making appetizers, which would be interesting for just about any adult. I politely pointed out that what they were doing was ageist and suggested they reconsider, but they went radio-silent. It’s so frustrating and demoralizing to be left out simply because of my age. Do I just let this go?”

             My first reaction? Hell no! Perhaps the admins were assuming younger members wouldn’t want to hang out with older ones. Even if so, better to call it out, because when we remain in age (and race and class) silos, prejudice persists. Besides, wouldn’t it make more sense to form affinity groups around commonalities like shared diagnoses or treatments?

            But not so fast. Before responding, I had the good sense to query two thoughtful younger friends, also breast cancer survivors. Their responses took me by surprise.

“Yes it’s helpful for people who identify as cancer survivors to join all different kinds of groups,” responded Dorian, who joined a bunch of them. “They were mostly older women (because that’s the biggest demographic), weeping because they might not have grandchildren, while at 26 I was wondering whether I’d even have a child. Or a career, or a life.”

It was a group for young adults and partners that Dorian found head and shoulders more helpful than any other. Members had different types of cancers, treatments, and prognoses. The only thing they had in common was the emotional experience of being a young person with cancer, and in the end, for Dorian, that mattered most. “They addressed things like dealing with parents swooping in at a time when you’re trying to establish independence, breastfeeding; and the future [emphasis hers]. One of the things cancer takes away from you is your future, and I think your perspective on that may be different as a 20-something than as a 60-, 70-, or 80-something.”

            Pam concurred, summing up the issue “in one word: envy. Younger women diagnosed with breast cancer are envious, for many reasons, of women who’ve had more time to establish their lives before this disease creates chaos.” She found it helpful to sit with women of all ages, but also joined the Young Survival Coalition for women diagnosed at age 40 or younger. “It was, and continues to be, a very important experience,” she wrote. Members were desperately trying to figure out how the diagnosis would affect their fertility, eligibility for adoption, and employment and financial prospects. “Cancer can be like a bomb hitting your life,” she explained, “and how much you’ve been able to prepare does make a difference.” And while Pam thought all survivors should have the chance to play trivia and make appetizers, “if some of groups are just for youngers, I hope you can understand why.”

            I do now. Even if I didn’t, I’d respect these younger women’s perspectives because it’s their truth. In any case, their response raised new questions. I posed one of them to Lori, the woman whose letter kicked this off: would she like the option of joining a group of older survivors?  “I’m just not seeing any advantages for us older people beyond specific topics,” she replied. A group for people who were losing partners of many decades might be for olders. Another, for fertility issues, would target younger people. A third, for caregivers, would be age-agnostic. Trivia and appetizers optional. Clearly the admins could have done a better job of addressing her query, but that was just the tip of just one iceberg.

            I reflected some more. Like many age-related questions, the deeper I went the more complicated and interesting it became. How could it be otherwise when trying to distinguish what’s rare and what’s shared in the context of the one experience—growing older—every human shares? Answers may vary, as they say, depending on the circumstances, number of people, culture, and on and on. But I did arrive at a couple of general observations:

  • Affinity seems to relate more to life stage than to age: to shared experiences and transitions rather than to the chronological age at which they occurred.
  • The connection between life stage and age is far from fixed.
  • The value of same-age groups is not evenly distributed across the lifespan.  

Chronological closeness is more significant early on, when even a small age gap looms large because each year makes up greater percentage of our time on Earth. This limits perspective and point of view: our grasp of our capacities and potential. As Pam and Dorian poignantly attest, time itself is more salient for young people, especially ones confronting a life-threatening diagnosis. This makes age is a better predictor of genuine affinity among youngers than it does among olders.

For those fortunate enough to move into adulthood, chronological age becomes less salient over time. We age at different rates—physically, socially, developmentally—and become more different from each other. The older the person, the less their age reveals about them. Consequently, as the booster stages of reproductive capacity and peak physical performance detach from the rocket of life, age and stage also disengage.

As trajectories become more diverse, so do the points at which we enter various life stages—if, indeed, we enter them at all. No doubt there’s an average age range for people immersed in toddler-wrangling, or transitioning genders, or starting businesses, or learning to sing or code or cook. But loads of people do none of those things, or some of them, or stop and start. Examples of age-based affinity groups may come readily to mind: new moms, perhaps, or club-goers. But we can become mothers at 15 or at 50, and you’ll find olders on the dance floor if you look.

Age-diverse groups would be far more numerous if:

  • we didn’t tend to head for people our age in social situations, because we falsely assume that’s who we’ll have the most in common with, or that we won’t be welcome otherwise.
  • we weren’t barraged by ageist clickbait about what’s “age-appropriate.” (For adults, there’s no such thing.)
  • we weren’t brainwashed by an ageist culture into believing age shapes affinity far more than is actually the case—far less than class, race, gender and ethnicity, not to mention personality.

            Similar-age groups are socially sanctioned. They’re familiar. It’s easier to hang with people who look like us than to bust out of age- or race-based silos. But “age fit,” like “culture fit,” which is workplace code for “people like me,” is more about habit and comfort than actual affinity. That overlap is greater among younger people, because school is an age-sorting mechanism and because they’ve had less time to develop diverse interests and perspectives.

Age is never irrelevant. It is a key identifier lifelong, connecting us forever to people who’ve lived through the same historical events and share cultural references. At times, this matters most. It’s the point of reunions, for example. The pleasure of being with people we’ve known all our lives is acute, and grows more precious over time.

But genuine affinity based on chronological age is the exception, not the rule. If that seems improbable, it’s because so few of us have friends much older or younger than ourselves, not because age segregation is “natural” or destined. The more time we spend in mixed-age company, the more evident that fact becomes. So if most of your friends are your age:

  • think of something you like to do and find a mixed-age group to do it with. Strike up a conversation with the oldest or youngest person in the room.
  • question age-based assumptions. Yes, someone might look askance across an age gap—jerks are everywhere—but they’re a small minority and deserve to be ignored.
  • question habit. (Why, for example, does it seem so important to learn the age of a new acquaintance?) If everyone on the team or the guest list is the same age, ask why. Occasionally there’s a legitimate reason, but not very often.
  • push back against age apartheid, personally and professionally.

The sooner we emerge from our same-age silos, the richer our lives become, the more accurate and nuanced our grasp of what it means to grow older, and the more attainable the solidarity these times demand.

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More recognition (!) — the Maggie Kuhn Award

I’m thrilled to announce that on May 12th I’ll be receiving the Maggie Kuhn Award from PSS as “a visionary leader, author and advocate in combating ageism” for my “tireless efforts in the tradition of that great champion for older adults.”

I have two pictures over my desk. One is of Robert Butler, who invented the word “ageism” and to whom I dedicated my book. The other is a photo of me in front of a poster of Maggie Kuhn, presenting the same award to the Gray Panthers NYC in 2016. That’s my mom on the right, whose moral compass was as clear as a lightning bolt, gesticulating at something she wanted to change. These are the activists who most inspire me. Unfortunately, I never got to meet Kuhn, but she was a fearless trailblazer and a free spirit and it is a great honor to be recognized as following in her footsteps. “Speak the truth,” she urged us, “even if your voice shakes.”

PSS, which stands for Presbyterian Senior Services, has supported my work from the get-go, and I theirs. Buy tickets or donate if you’re in NYC, feel like supporting an esteemed nonprofit, and want to see me blush.

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40 Over 40 – The World’s Most Inspiring Women

I’m delighted to be included in the first international edition of 40 over 40 – The World’s Most Inspiring Women, a list announced by F10 Fe:maleOneZero and sponsored by Capgemini.

As a feminist, it’s an honor to kick off Women’s History month by joining a group of extraordinary women around the world “who have one thing in common: they change the world for the better.” As an activist, I see my inclusion as a welcome, long-overdue indicator that global conversations about inclusion and equity must include age. W00t!

In January, I landed on HelpAge USA’s inaugural 60 Over 60 list. Can 20 Over 20 be far behind?

Kidding, I swear.

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Jan Baars on the paradoxes of aging—with assists from Thomas Cole and Eric Weiner

I recently came across a passage about contemporary aging so concise and insightful that I had to post it. It’s from a review by eminent gerontologist Thomas Cole of Aging and the Art of Living, by Jan Baars.

We live in an era when ever-faster, ever-larger flows of information and images fly around the globe, leading to a cultural acceleration of everyday life. When this acceleration meets chronometric time, Baars notes, two paradoxes emerge: (a) “premature cultural senescing” in which individuals live longer but are called old at earlier ages; and (b) the desire to stay young but grow older, which is the cultural creation of a huge antiageing industry in medicine and in commercial products that promise to maintain youth. These paradoxes result from the contradictory desires of long life and infinite youth. Our culture produces them because it suppresses and tries to control finitude and our increasing vulnerability over time—those things that in Baars’s view are the condition of our “spontaneity, discovery, creativity and uniqueness.” (p. 84)

Yes, yes, yes. I already knew of Baars, whom Cole describes as “the premier philosopher of aging.“ Possibly my favorite quote in my book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is his:  “Autonomy requires collaborators.” What brought him back to mind was a wonderful essay by “philosophical traveler” Eric Weiner called Old Age Is Not a Pathology, which contains another passage well worth quoting:

Old age is not a disease. It is not a pathology. It is not abnormal. It is not a problem. Old age is a continuum, and everyone is on it. We’re all aging all the time. You are aging right now as you read these words — and not any faster or slower than an infant or a grandfather.

Agreed, and beautifully put. I take issue, though, with another point Wiener makes:

Philosophy helps us define our terms. What do we mean by “old”? Chronological age misses the mark. It is meaningless. It tells us nothing about a person, says the contemporary philosopher of aging Jan Baars. “Chronological age is not the cause of anything.”

Chronological age tells us far less about a person than we think it does, and the older the person the less the number reveals. But it is not meaningless. Being young is different from being old, and age is a key component of identity. Baars, on the other hand, nails it again. Myriad factors shape our lives—benefactors and tormentors, hardships and windfalls. Age marks when we encounter them, but no more.

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The mainstream women’s movement has centered whiteness. The anti-ageism movement cannot.

Last fall, as I wrote about here, the Old School Clearinghouse hosted the inaugural meet-up of a women’s group called Biddies, a name I came up with and thought was hilarious. It turned out to be not just our first meeting, but our last.       

We created the group to take advantage of two things: the launch of Ageist? Sexist? Who Me?, Old School’s guide to starting a consciousness-raising group around the intersection of ageism and sexism; and the fact that so many conversations have emerged in recent years around women and aging—whether about bringing menopause out in the open, or going gray, or refusing to become invisible and shuffle offstage. Some of these conversations are ageism-aware. Others center “staying young,” or “still sexy,” or doing better than those women . . .

We thought, “How about using our network to tap into those networks in order to introduce ageism into those conversations?” I loved this idea, so did a lot of others. Almost 150 people showed up to that first Biddies meeting in September.

The consciousness-raising guide contains a section I’m especially pleased with, called Learning from the Women’s Movement. It’s about how the mainstream movement has centered whiteness and failed to address issues faced by more marginalized women, and how middle-class white women need do to better.

At that meet-up I invoked it at length.

The attendees were overwhelmingly white, cis, older women—like me.

I didn’t even notice it until a Black friend said “Where’s the diversity?”

One thing I know, which I’ve been writing about for years, is that you can’t retrofit diversity.  It can’t be an add-on. I realized, with a gulp, that the Biddies couldn’t go ahead like this. To do so would reinforce the behavior I was preaching about putting an end to. The realization felt right and felt awful.

I spent the fall listening to a small group of women of color who generously advised us on next steps, reading, and reflecting. I dug into how and why the mainstream women’s movement has centered whiteness. Much of what follows is addressed to white women; if you don’t identify that way, I hope you’ll still find it compelling.

* * *

            Being white women isn’t a problem. It’s a problem when white women fail to acknowledge the privilege that comes with being white. It’s also a problem if we fail to recognize that our causes and concerns are not universal—that women who don’t share our racial and class privilege may not share our priorities.

It’s harder to see privilege if we’re born into it, and it’s easy to get stuff wrong. My failure to think these things through before announcing the Biddies is a pretty glaring example, and I’ve made plenty of other missteps. I’m not saying this to beat myself up, or to feel virtuous. Those feelings aren’t useful, or helpful. They’re beside the point. The point, as I see it—and believe me this is a work in progress—is to:

• become more aware of our history;

• learn to collaborate in ways that don’t center whiteness; and

• build an anti-ageism movement that includes all women. Because if it’s valuable to women of color—including women who are poor or queer or trans or disabled—it’s good for everyone. That’s the movement I want to be part of.

* * *

Here’s some of the history I’ve come to understand better:

• One reason so many prosperous white women supported abolition was because they wanted access to education and to careers outside the home—to be more than wives and mothers, the only roles they were permitted. They couldn’t imagine challenging sexism within their marriages. But they learned how to do it within the anti-slavery movement, and the experience soon proved invaluable in the emerging struggle for women’s rights. But many white women firmly opposed Black men getting the vote, because it would make those men superior. And many supported suffrage for women as a way to offset the Black vote and bolster white supremacy.

            • Despite their contributions to the fight for women’s rights, not a single Black woman attended the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, which is widely regarded as the birth of the women’s movement in the US. Even the most radical white abolitionists failed to see that the oppression of Black people under slavery and the oppression of women under patriarchy (white supremacy and male supremacy) were related. This failure on the part of abolitionists to be explicitly anti-racist carried over into the nascent movement for women’s rights.

• Many of the suffragists we honor when we celebrate the passage of 19th amendment every August held racist views. Leading figures, including Susan B. Anthony, justified indifference to the cause of racial equality on the catch-all grounds of “expediency.” When it came time to woo Southern support, even though lynchings and mob murders were on the rise after the betrayal of Reconstruction, Black women proved expendable. Once Black women won the right to vote, they were violently prevented from exercising it until after the Civil Rights movement led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. These rights are again in jeopardy.

• Historically white women, feminists included, have been reluctant to acknowledge the struggles of household workers, who are predominantly Black women and immigrants. Why? Because so many depend on this easily exploitable labor to clean our houses and look after our children.

• Historically, white feminism has valued credentials and expertise over stories and lived experience. For any number of reasons, it’s easier for white women to acquire those credentials. This leads to what author Rafia Zakaria calls “a kind of gatekeeping.”[i] We use our credentials to delegitimize projects or priorities that are different from ours, and tend to perceive them as misguided or inferior.

            • By 1967 a majority of Black Americans supported the Equal Rights Amendment. Opposition focused on traditional gender roles and the belief that the ERA would eliminate laws designed to protect women. That protection is tainted, because it requires us to agree that women are weaker than men and require their protection. I call this the “shelter of patriarchy.” Phyllis Schafley a white lawyer and doctor’s wife, organized the “STOP ERA” campaign. STOP was an acronym for “Stop Taking Our Privileges”. That kind of says it all.

            Over half a century later, the ERA remains bogged down in a procedural quagmire. The U.S. Constitution still does not formally recognize the full equality of more than half the people in this country.

            • Feminism’s next wave introduced the need for reproductive rights, but abortion-rights activists never addressed the nightmarish fact that for centuries Black women have been forcibly sterilized. Consequently the movement was lily-white. Sterilizations continue to be federally funded and free, to poor women, on demand. But not abortions. This is overtly racist.  As activist Angela Davis explains, “While women of color are urged, at every turn, to become permanently infertile, white women enjoying prosperous economic conditions are urged, by the same forces, to reproduce themselves.”[ii]

• Third wave feminism did a great deal to increase the number of women in positions of power. But when white women land jobs once held only by white men, and celebrate breaking them as feminist milestones, it’s not a victory for all women. I’m lookin’ at you, Sheryl Sandberg. No amount of leaning in will enable the millions of women juggling low-wage jobs without healthcare or childcare to “have it all.”  Corporate feminism is inherently conservative. It maintains the status quo and helps white men get richer.

• Fourth wave feminism is more consciously intersectional—progress! A hallmark was the #MeToo movement to raise awareness of sexual harassment. However, discussions of #MeToo typically focused on white celebrities and overlooked the fact that a Black woman named Tarana Burke launched the movement in 2006 to assist survivors of sexual violence, especially women of color.

• Organizing feminist history into waves, as I have just done, itself centers whiteness. The struggles of feminists of color and in the majority world don’t fit that framework.

* * *

Enough history. I raise these points as what scholar Joy Carillo calls an “act of love” in the context of women criticizing each other: “It is an act of love to take someone at her word, to expect the most out of woman who calls herself a feminist—to challenge her as you yourself wish to be challenged.”[iii] I hope that feels right to you. This is the work of a lifetime. We have to support and challenge each other.

It’s uncomfortable to explore how white privilege has shaped Western feminism.

It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge our complicity: the fact that failing to act protects our privilege in a racist world, and ensures our second-class status in a sexist world.

 Relinquishing the advantages of being white and the shelter of patriarchy involves risk  and loss. It breaks white women’s historic alliance with white men, who may withdraw their support. Other white women may distance themselves. It may be safer or easier for women of color to do the same instead of collaborating. In comparison to what they risk, what we white women have to lose is a drop in the bucket. Be prepared to feel rejected, tired, foolish, embarrassed.

Be prepared to let go of the outcome. That’s one point that came through loud and clear from the women of color who met with Old School last fall. If you actually cede voice and authority, you can’t pursue the exact same agenda. Outcomes will change. Those outcomes will be harder to arrive at, and they will be better ones.

Another lesson was the importance of supporting work by more marginalized people, becoming better allies. In the context of Old School, this means prioritizing showing up for others over launching Shiny New Things (like Biddies Take Two) . Honoring the second part of Old School’s mission statement, which was originally “to raise awareness of ageism and how to dismantle it”. After we’d been going for a while, we added, “To educate others about the intersectional nature of age bias and the need to ally explicitly with other social justice movements.”

Being anti-ageist means supporting every struggle for equal rights—especially being anti-racist because of the uniquely ugly way racism is embedded in American history, including the women’s liberation movement.

Aging is the one universal human experience and ageism the one bias everyone encounters. The movement to dismantle it must represent us all. Otherwise it will perpetuate hierarchies of human value, as the Biddies would have.

            As of now white people are overrepresented in anti-ageism advocacy, especially straight, middle-class, white women. Yes, that’s a problem. It’s also an an opportunity. Because we white women are uniquely positioned to maintain white male power or to shake things up. To quote professor Sarah Brazaitis: “Were White women to disrupt the system, change their position, renounce unearned White privilege, and refuse the role White men have prescribed for them of being a complicit partner in maintaining the status quo, the entire structure of race relations might be altered.”[iv]

            I find that a very exciting idea. I hope you do too.

Co-creating a genuinely diverse and inclusive anti-ageism movement is going to take longer, and it’s going to be messier and harder. Here are a just a few of the ways it will benefit us all:

• People of color won’t have to be the “diversity expert” any more, and can do stuff they’d almost certainly rather be doing.

• White women will gain agency on our own terms, and white men be freed of toxic roles.

• We can bring our full, authentic, creative selves to the table, instead of being constrained by hierarchies of age, race, gender, and class.

• We will all be liberated.

To paraphrase “A Black  Feminist Statement” by the Combahee River Collective,[v]  achieving freedom for Black women means destroying all systems of oppression. In other words, if Black women were free, everyone else would be too. It’s time for their white sisters to puppy up. (A feminist friend came up with that phrase as an alternative to “man up,” and I recommend it.)

[i] Rafia Zakaria, Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition, p. 9.

[ii] Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race and Class, (New York: Vintage Books, 1983) p. 127

[iii] Joy Carrillo, “And When You Leave, Take Your Pictures With You,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, 4thEd. Edited by Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua. (Albany: State University of NY Press, 2015), p. 58.

[iv] Sarah J. Brazaitis, “White women—Protectors of the Status Quo; Positioned to Disrupt It” in Group Dynamics, Organizational Irrationality and Social Complexity: Group Relations Reader 3, Edited by Solomon Cytrynbaum and Debra A Noumair. Portland, OR: A.K. Rice Institute, 2004

[v] Combahee River Collective, “A Black  Feminist Statement” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, op cit, p. 215.

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60 Over 60 – Not Your Same Old List

That’s how HelpAgeUSA describes their inaugural compilation of 60 Americans over 60 “who are making significant contributions to society at the local, national or international level. I have long supported and admired the organization, and it’s an honor to appear on the list—at the very top, no less, thanks to sheer alphabetical and birthdate chance—alongside luminaries like Dolly Parton and Anthony Fauci, activists I admire such as Imani Woody and Dolores Huerta, and age advocates I’m lucky enough to consider friends as well: Sister Imelda Maurer, Elizabeth White, and Frances Zainoeddin. Huzzah!

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Hot off the press: News from Old School

I don’t post about every issue, but October’s Old School newsletter is well worth it:

Check out our newest consciousness-raising guide, Ageist? Sexist? Who Me?

Announcing Office Hours: in session every Wednesday from 1:30-2:30 ET Ask one or all three of us, in private or include the group, any question about how to address ageism in your personal or professional life. Starts Thursday, November 3

Save the date(s) for the next Movement-Builder’s Convenings

Register for my next free public appearance.

And, as ever, help yourself to the best collection of free, vetted anti-ageism resources on the web.

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Recalculating . . .

A funny thing happened on the way to writing this, and coming up with a title reminded me of something my sister used to laugh about. When she moved to New York City, she worked for a visiting-nurse program and her clients were strewn across all five boroughs. The job came with a car and a navigation system, and every time she made a wrong turn, which was often, it would somberly intone, “Re…cal …cu…lating.”  My sister called it her Higher Power. These days, I’m calling on it too.

This was supposed to be a pleased-as-punch announcement of Ageist? Sexist? Who, Me?, Old School’s new guide to starting a consciousness-raising group, this one around the intersection of ageism and sexism. It’s very good. As an older woman, there’s no intersection I inhabit more fully. As a writer, there’s no intersection I know more about. I’ll go to my grave proud of the fact that my first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, earned me a place on Phyllis Schafley’s Eagle Forum Enemies List.

The guide contains a section I’m especially pleased with, called Learning from the Women’s Movement. It’s about how the movement has centered whiteness and failed to address issues faced by more marginalized women, and how middle-class white women need do to better. I invoked it at length last month at the inaugural meeting of The Biddies, a group convened by Old School to bring ageism into the many emerging conversations around women and aging. Yet the attendees were overwhelmingly white, cis, older women. Called out by allies of color—special thanks to Mariann Aalda for doing so during the Zoom and to Alejandra Garcia for offering to reach out to Latinx and college groups—and realizing that to proceed would be to perpetuate the very system I hope to help dismantle, I am recalibrating.

We (the three co-founders of Old School) are starting with a meeting that a small group of women of color have generously agreed to attend, to talk about making our work more relevant to their communities. We’ll listen hard and hope to emerge with next steps for diversifying the Biddies, or whatever the group becomes, and for applying those lessons to the anti-ageism movement as a whole.

I know you can’t retrofit diversity. I’ve been talking the talk for a long time. But when it came to walking the walk, I screwed up. I’m fine with admitting that, but tongue-tied and miserable when the screw-up involves blindness to my own white privilege. “It takes practice,” says my colleague Ryan Backer, a long-time anti-racist activist, both encouraging and gently admonishing me. I’m lucky to have Ryan, and many other non-cis, non-white, non-straight, non-old friends and allies. Stay tuned to see where this takes us.

One place it’s already taken me is into a radical reconsideration of whether our consciousness-raising guides are the best tool to catalyze intersectional activism. Can we do better? What might that look like? More to come on that in Recalibrating, Part Two.

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Happy International Olders Day!

In 1990, the United Nations made October 1 the International Day of Older Persons. It’s a big deal in ageland, but especially this year, because it’s the day the World Health Organization’s six-week Ageism Through the Ages campaign kicks off. (I’d have called the campaign Ageism Across All Ages just like I’d dub October 1 International Olders Day day, but I quibble.) It’s a fantastic campaign designed to expose the effects of ageism on everyone, starting with olders and ending with the way it harms kids and young people. Follow this link for dozens of ways to get involved—whether you’re a storyteller, a scholar, an organization, or a budding age advocate—and all the tools you need.

To mark the day, Australia’s EveryAGECounts campaign has created the first ever Ageism Awareness Day, with the unbeatable slogan “Ageism. Know it. Name it’

Because achieving equal rights across the lifespan, and around the world, means dismantling ageism. Talk to someone about ageism today.

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An expert’s take on the standard definition of “ageism”

This guest post is by Toni Calasanti, a professor of sociology at Virginia Tech. She has long been passionate about fighting ageism, advocating for “our right to grow old in diverse ways without facing mockery, stigma, or exclusion, however grey-haired or wrinkly we become; and whatever care or support we need at any time.” Professor Calasanti generously served as an expert reader of Old School’s forthcoming consciousness-raising guide to the intersection of ageism and sexism, Ageist? Sexist? Who, Me? In it, we relied on the dictionary definition of ageism as stereotyping, prejudice and/or discrimination based on age. Here’s why she thinks we can do better:

“Personally, I would not include these all together; and I find it useful to take them apart. Stereotypes are just that, group-based generalizations that are applied to individuals; they can be positive, negative, neutral. And in and of themselves they are not problematic, i.e., stereotypes often are rooted in “reality” at least in terms of the majority. As a group, old people ARE weaker than are younger people, or are more wrinkled, or whatever. At issue is how we EVALUATE these stereotypes, which is how I think of prejudice–a negative assessment of those stereotypes. But this is also different from discrimination–i.e., exclusionary behavior. This latter is how I choose to define ageism, drawing on [Dr. Robert] Butler’s work and even more, the comparison between ageism and other forms of oppression, such as sexism. So yes, old people are more marginalized; this is not because of stereotypes per se (or even prejudice; policies or laws can protect disadvantaged groups such that they can evade discrimination).

“These distinctions are important to me for the reasons implicit above; but also they do not allow us to get at the deepest level of ageism, i.e., what if a stereotype is true, or is true of an individual? What if they are frail, or wrinkled, etc.? Does this mean that they should be excluded/marginalized? If we are going to fight ageism, in my opinion we need to be able to validate those stereotypes in the sense of being able to say that a person is valuable regardless of the extent to which it fits them.”