Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

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.

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What To Wear Over 50

A little eyeshadow gives a pink wink

A little eyeshadow

If you Google ‘what to wear over 50 years old’, there are an even 12,000,000 results. That’s 12 MILLLLLL-YUN! I’m sure you see the articles, mostly written for women, as you stand in the check out line at the grocery stores reading magazine covers, or looking through your online news articles. Yes, it’s news that women shouldn’t wear this or that as they age or shouldn’t sport eye shadow or certain lipstick colors. Guys you are not supposed to show off your sagging boney knees, any more than the women, by wearing shorts during those 100 degree August days while playing through eighteen holes. And, forget the swim suit!

I started reading these articles when I stopped coloring my hair way back in 2011. Looking for a makeup palette to complement my grey hair, I noticed articles on what to wear for women over 50 were in long supply. All were geared toward looking more youthful. Although I was in the process of eschewing our societal youth culture by uncovering my grey locks, I eagerly hopped on this train chugging down the track of anti-aging. I saw them as helpful, how-to articles.

It took me a while to catch on — 2011 was five years ago. I’m sometimes a slow learner. Then it clicked this summer when a well-meaning friend cautioned me about staying out in the heat too long. Working on my property expanding my gardens is a passion for me. Not to be deterred by ninety degree days with ninety something humidity, I don my sweatbands, mosquito spray and sunscreen, showing my sagging boney knees in a pair of shorts and my flabby upper arms in a sleeveless tee, while arming myself with Gatorade and water. I take to the land. When my same-age-as-me friend suggested I was getting old and couldn’t stand up to the heat and exercise, I was more than a little annoyed. Yes, I thought, I am aging. What’s the big deal? I’ve been aging from the day I was born.

It was here I realized ageism lies subtly at the underbelly of these articles. We tend to swallow whole this myth of things we should and shouldn’t do as we age — me included — which is exactly what leads to ageism in our society. We fall into the trap of doing everything we can to look youthful while at the same time accepting physical limitations due to age. For starters, we don’t all age on the same timetable. We don’t turn 60 with a birthday present of more wrinkles or less stamina.

Chutzpah aside, I know I don’t have the stamina I once did. Despite the Gatorade and gallon of water, I cannot keep going without feeling washed out later in the day. However, I can do what I used to do, just not as long as I used to do it. Still physically fit, aging is not a reason to stop an activity altogether. That said, I began to question the wisdom of not wearing eyeshadow, sleeveless tops or shorts.

The articles themselves are sometimes silly. One says don’t wear short skirts (those knees again) while another says long skirts are aging, making me look like granny (I am granny!). Cover your wrinkled neck with scarves or turtle necks but don’t button your blouse up to the last button —show some cleavage. That’s apparently peeks of bosom in-between the scarf hanging around your neck. Long sleeves are also preferred. After all they cover those wrinkly elbows and flabby upper arms. The bottom line of these articles is not so much how to look good as you age; it’s more like how to hide the fact that you are aging. They imply aging is ugly — better cover it up. If we don’t want to be marginalized as we age, we must cease buying into the idea of cutting back, taking it easy, stopping loved activities altogether and accepting society’s image of what is age appropriate and what is not.

 
I was further reminded of this when Martin brought home Motorcyclist magazine touting a story of ninety-year-old Erv Daley still riding his motorcycle up to 5,000 miles per year in-between RV stops. For anyone who rides a motorcycle they know 5,000 miles is a lot of miles no matter what your age. Erv has logged 145,000 miles since buying this bike new!  After reading Erv’s story, one cannot help but notice his attitude. It’s not about slowing down as we age. It’s about continuing to do what we love as we age, despite the age.  And how we look be damned!

What not to wear over 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 has less to do with eyeshadow emphasizing the creases of aging eyes or shorts showing off boney sagging knees and more to do with society’s view of aging as a time to slow down, cover up and perhaps even disappear from the rest of the world’s view altogether. What I’ve decided I’m not wearing over 50 is acceptance of a dubious deprecation, subtle or not, about my age and aging. Who decides what is appropriate for me anyway? Me! I made it this far; I think I have a pretty good idea of what I should or shouldn’t wear and what I am capable of doing physically and mentally.

As my husband often quips, “My body will tell me when I can’t do it anymore.” I think he’s right. Besides, I like my pink eyeshadow.

Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty

I wrote this post, then I received an email from AARP with a link saying, “Let’s Stop Fighting Age and Start Fighting Ageism #DisruptAging” (http://www.aarp.org) . Wow! It’s nice to know I’m on the leading edge but AARP put a much finer point on it. I invite you to read my take on ageism and visit their site as well.

Somewhere around age twelve or thirteen, the saying, “don’t trust anyone over 30” entered my consciousness as my world, with The Beatles sound track playing in the background, erupted into a free speech, civil rights driven, bra burning disdain for the older, established members of the population. While I only watched from afar as the counterculture unfolded on the nightly news, still it’s no wonder I’m a bit of a cynic about the attitude toward aging today. Baby boomers created this youth culture. It is up to us to change the attitude.

It was on my twenty-fifth birthday when a much younger nephew quipped, “Wow! You’re a quarter of a century old!” While that gave me reason to stop and think about my aging, when thirty did finally appear on my calendar, I sailed through without giving it a thought. I was riding high at the time, successful, respected. Then forty arrived with a neighbor giving me a pot of dead flowers and an “over-the-hill” card. Even so, I still wasn’t feeling as if I was over-the-hill, washed up or any of the other negatives attached to aging.

Nearly another quarter of a century has passed. Now, I do notice _ ageism exists and is sometimes directed toward me. Even the medical profession tells me how I’m in really good health and shape “for your age.” In our youth driven culture my silver hair receives lots of strange looks. There was the bank manager who told me I needed to be quiet while she asked the questions. She couldn’t believe I didn’t have my account number with me. As she treated me like a naughty child, she stared at the top of my head instead of my eyes. Did she think my gray hair equated someone who should be carrying a checkbook instead of a debit card? Did she really think I could be treated without courtesy and respect?

Wondering if ageism really is entrenched in our society, I began researching and reading. Psychologist Becca Levy, PhD, assistant professor of public health at Yale University did a study, which caught my attention. In her study of people over 50, she found those with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions. Her conclusions point out that negative stereotyping of aging members of our population shorten lives!

We don’t tolerate racism or sexism in our society but we tolerate ageism. Everyone, at least everyone who is lucky, will be aged someday. It seems like only yesterday that Chet Huntley or David Brinkley announced in my parents’ living room the idea of “don’t trust anyone over 30.”  Yet, here I am fifty plus years later, way over thirty and experiencing this gnawing feeling of being discriminated against because of my age. Because of the sheer number of baby boomers, ageism may become the civil rights issue of the coming years.

In that vein and for the record, let me say I am tired of being told I look good for my age. I’m tired of being told I look good for someone with gray hair. I’m tired of being told my addition of pink or blue hair chalk is not age appropriate. Ditto for my leggings, crazy socks, reptile print top and animal print flats. I’m tired of being told I’m aging gracefully. I’m tired of being told I am tech savvy for my age. I’m tired of being told my being tech savvy makes me like “the young people.” I’m tired of being asked if I’m sure of what I recall about a situation. I’m tired of being called “honey”, “dear”, “sweetheart” and “darling”. I don’t know what happened to my real name or even “ma’am” but since I turned 60 and stopped coloring my hair, it seems to have vanished into endearments from complete strangers at the stores, banks and wherever.

As AARP says, “Enough.” Yes, I am tech savvy just like the majority of people over 50. I’m also creative, physically active, mentally and emotionally engaged and my memory still works quite well, thank you very much. Despite my introduction into the “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra of the 1960s, I also have a very positive view of aging. I feel like I am at the height of my abilities. After a shaky start to retirement, I’ve found my niche. I’m having the best time of my life, feeling more empowered, more confident, more inspired and wiser than I’ve ever felt. I have choices beyond what our culture traditionally dishes out to aging people. The last thing I need are naysayers raining on my parade.

Now, what can we do to change the overall view of aging? We can change it by adopting a positive view of our aging experience. We can educate by not tolerating negative stereotyping _ ageism. After gathering my identification and walking out on the bank manager, I later told her supervisor, my treatment was inappropriate and won’t be tolerated. Fortunately for my bank it was an aberration so I’m still a customer.

Similarly, I told the last thirty something store manager who called me “dear” that the only man with my permission to use endearments instead of my name is my husband. The manager’s bug-eyed, surprised stare and apology tells me he won’t be calling any woman, young or old, “dear” in the near future.

I’ve spoken to plenty of people my age or older with similar experiences who refuse to say anything about ageism. Along with complaining to me, I’ve heard all the excuses for why they don’t complain where it matters, from they don’t want to make a fuss to it won’t do any good to complain. If we are to end ageism, making a fuss is one of the things it will take to do so. Speaking out is what it will take just like it did in the 1960s. We have the numbers to do some good, to change the stereotypes. Educating people is key to achieving a change and the educating starts with us. #DisruptAging