When I started this blog, the post I am about to write was not the kind of post I had in mind. This is not meant to start any kind of political debate. Nor is it meant to place blame. It is simply something which has been on my mind due to what I’m seeing in the news. Just like every post I write, these are simply my thoughts put in writing. That said, if you have constructive thoughts you’d like to share, I would love to hear them.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a few stories in the news and read some posts on other blogs and list serves about sexism and ageism in America. The views range from Sheryl Sandberg’s view that women must rid themselves of the internal barriers to gaining power in the workplace to male nurses are paid more than female nurses because, well, because they are male. Reading through the conversations on a senior forum, the answers behind the question of ageism from this group of mainly professionals, seems to be the mindset of both the general public as well as workers in the senior care professions. As someone who is categorized as one of the point women fueling the feminist movement of the 1970’s, I say we’ve come along way, baby, but the consciousness raising ain’t done. Mindset on both counts.
So, how is mindset changed? And why is it important to change it? Well, the first answer is the old-fashioned (yes, the tools of the 1970’s are now old-fashioned) consciousness raising is what changes mindset. I’m not talking about what is politically correct here. I’m talking about our internal beliefs brought to life each and every day through our words and action. I’m also talking about changing those internal beliefs because it’s practical to change. That brings me to my answer on the second question. I see sexism and ageism as being linked. And, it’s important to change the attitudes because our society has evolved but our mindset hasn’t kept pace with the evolution.
It’s no secret. In general, women still outlive men. Yet, women, and their partners, don’t take their working and saving and, yes, contributing to Social Security, as seriously as they should. The majority of women work today. We are also still the parent who puts aside career in favor of raising our children to a certain age before we head back to work. As a working mother, I know first hand how hard that is and how important that is. From a practical standpoint, I also know, currently, the Social Security Administration will take your 35 highest income years to compute your Social Security benefit. I have also met many women who forego maxing out their retirement contribution in favor of their spouse’s plan. Why? Mindset. The reason many women live their old age in poverty is because they tend to take care of others before taking care of themselves.
So, in many ways, I have to agree with Sheryl Sandberg. The change in mindset starts with women just as it did in the 1960’s and ’70’s. It’s up to women to demand equal pay for equal work. The fact that John Doe has been on the job longer is a red herring if Mary Doe is up to the same speed. You might even say, if Mary can rev her engine at the same rpm’s as John, without the years, then Mary may be the better qualified employee. It’s also up to Mary to start taking care of Mary by saying to her partner, “I’m putting as much in my retirement fund as you are, Honey”. And, by the way, I need 35 years in the workforce making as much as I can so if you die first and leave me alone, or, if we’re among the 60% who divorce, I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from in my old age.
Reading the comments on ageism, I found it interesting how several people thought our society needed a Gloria Steinem or a Rosa Parks to make a stand and raise our consciousness about ageism. As someone who watched Gloria Steinem on the evening news way back in the late 1960’s, I must say she was an influence on the direction my mindset took. However, the real work was done by everyday people with the courage to stand up in the face of societal norms and say, “That’s not acceptable anymore.” Well, people don’t age the way they used to. The reason Social Security and Medicare are in trouble isn’t because of any federal deficit or economic downturn. While the reason is a lot more complicated than this, the short and the long of it is we are living longer. We have better medical care. We have more options available to us. Seniors are more active, more involved than ever. When seniors leave the workforce, if they do at all, they aren’t going home to die. They are going on to a new, exciting leg of their life journey. Our society has changed. Retirement has evolved. Yet, we hang onto the old stereotypes of aging and the aged. Ageism. Changing the general mindset about aging starts with every day people having the courage to stand up and say, “That’s not acceptable anymore.”
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, if we want to get rid of sexism and ageism, it’s up to each of us to first get rid of the internal barriers preventing each of us from changing our mindset. We don’t need a Rosa Parks or a Gloria Steinem or a Mahatma Gandhi. After all, at one moment, each of them were just ordinary people willing to take action, to speak up. So, all we really need is the courage of our convictions. Catching up with our societal evolution depends on it.