Combating Ageism: A Matter of Human & Civil Rights

Click HERE to read "Ageism In America", a special report published in 2006 by the International Longevity Center USA (ILC). It defines ageism, describes its status in America in personal and institutional settings, and provides an agenda for action.  Dr. Robert Butler, President and CEO of the ILC USA, coined the term "ageism".

Help Stamp Out Ageism!

(Re-printed from National Gray Panthers publication "Network" Volume 1, Issue 2, September/October 1995, page 14.)

Gray Panthers is an intergenerational organization dedicated to bring together young, old, women, men, persons of all ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds for the promotion of social justice.


Step I - Define It

Ageism is:

+  Discrimination based on chronological age.
+  The notion that people cease to be persons by virture of having lived a specific     number of years.
+  The use of age to define capability and roles.
+  A process of systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people just        because they are old.
+  To be told "you're too old" is as disheartening as to be told "you're too                   young"; both statements make you a stereotype when in fact you are an                 individual.


Step II - How to Identify Ageists

1. The Pretenders - These are misguided older folks who believe that age is "all in     your head".

2. The Discriminators - Some of their best friends are old, so how could they be         ageist?  However, they are quick to point out the realistic limitations of older         applicants to jobs in their sphere of influence.

3. The Exceptionalists - These elders consider themselves the fortunate                       exceptions to society's negative view of old people.  While they think of                 themselves as vigorous, productive and useful to society, they imagine most of     their peers to be in bad shape, useless and boring.

4.  The Colonists - This type is frequently found among politicians, and is not at          all rare in the ageism establishment.  They may easily be identified because          they always preface any word for the ageing with the possessive pronoun,             such as "OUR senior citizens" or "MY elderly".

5.  The Patronizers - This garden variety is common found in senior programs.            To them, the old are just delightful when in "their place" and, like children,          should be catered to and played with.


Step III - (The Hardest Step to Accept) We are ALL ageist.


Whether we're young, middle-aged or old, whether we've taken courses in gerontology or not, whether we think we're immune or too well-meaning to be afflicted, we are all ageists.

We're ageist because the society we live in is permeated with ageism. We can no more escape it than we can the chemicals in our food-- or sexism or racism for that matter.  But at least in the case of the other two social diseases, there's been some progress and some serious efforts to combat them.

Ageism, by comparison, has been analyzed very little and manifests itself in variations with hardly a challenge.


Step IV - What You Can Do to Help Stamp Out Ageism


1.  Quit complimenting people on how young they look.

2.  Promote intergenerational job sharing, part-time hours, and no hiring or                retirement according to a plan based on chronological age.

3.  Try not to blame old age for fatigue or disorganization or forgetfulness.  In our       youth, we blame poor planning, lack of sleep, and a bad memory.

4.  Criticize your local news media when a headline or cartoon is offensive.

5.  When selecting a birthday card, keep your sense of humor.  Just learn the              difference between laughing WITH rather than laughing AT.

6.  Fight ageism with two important weapons -- knowledge and a willingness to          approach every person, regardless of age, as an individual with unique                  strengths, weaknesses, options, and opportunities.


Special thanks to Dr. Robert Butler, Tish Sommers, and Dr. Deborah V. Gross for their contributions to this article.







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