This post first appeared on March 18, 2013. Given the tumultuous political season just past in the US, I decided to post it again. Change comes from everyday people taking courage to do extraordinary things.
When I started this blog, this post 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 that 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 actions. 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 401k 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.
The change in mindset starts with women just as it did in the 1960’s and ’70’s. It is 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 chapter of their life journey. Our society has changed. Retirement has evolved. Yet, we hang onto the old stereotypes of aging and the aged — ageism.
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.
Here is the text of an email I sent earlier today to the photographer Kim Sholly.
Truman Henderson suggested that I contact you. I want to learn photography to a certain extent. It isn’t as though I can’t take a snap shot. There seem to be 18,000 of them on the cloud, but I have one basic goal. I want to take pictures of older people like myself. I want to show vibrance and eroticism NOT PORN. I want to show power and tenderness and intelligence.
There are real prejudices about age, and ageism seems like the last bastion of acceptable prejudice. So I want to show people who are brave enough to be beautiful. Now that the picador of old age has stabbed my shoulder I want to rage until I’m done. So I don’t want to refine my ability to capture peeling paint. I want those pictures to evoke emotions like desire and tenderness.
Anyway Truman thought you could help me find the right school or tutor. I am a member of Emrys but have not done any art except literature.
Thanks for getting back to me.
Thank you for reposting this Kathy. Is it a case of, “Everything old is new again”? Whether that ‘s the case or not this ‘oldie’ certainly feels brand new again – often! Graham
Ah, and the changes in 3 years are ….well, ch…ch…ch…changes that cause pause & pondering….what’s next?
Great post, Kathy. Definitely worth repeating. One of the things I have always loved about teaching sociology and women’s studies is that they are forms of consciousness raising — you provide students with concepts that they can then use to look at their experience through a new lens.