Casual Ageism


A friend of mine recently announced he was thinking of having his remaining hair – just a fringe really – removed with laser treatments. While it will save him the time and trouble of shaving, that is not the primary reason. Rather, being completely bald and shiny will make him look younger than having a short fringe of greying hair will. A highly successful novelist, he is making the transition to film and TV and looking younger is a definite plus in Hollywood – where ageism is notoriously rampant. There, it not only impacts the limited roles women of a certain age can get but also diminishes your chances of being taken seriously.

Ageism is a factor that most people face as the years pile on. Sharon Pollock, who has won the Governor General’s award twice for playwriting and continues to work creatively well into her seventies, reacted this way when the Canada Council announced they were shifting a significant part of their funding to support writers under forty: What are old writers supposed to do? Die?

I see it all the time in the public service. When you reach fifty, you may be respected as an experienced manager and a useful policy analyst. By sixty, everyone expects you to leave. And, of course, you no longer know anything current. It’s even assumed you can’t use modern technology – even though you may have been programming computers before the whiz kids were even born.

Here’s a hint – it’s not that we can’t master our smart phones; it’s just that we have more important things to do. Like work.

Another friend of mine, now in her 70s, told me how shocking it was to her when men simply stopped noticing she was in the room. “It was like I became invisible,” she said. Still a sexy woman – if you care to look – she found her sudden dismissal hurtful. Fortunately she had the maturity to get over it.

Of course, ageism cuts both ways. Who hasn’t heard the dismissive ‘kids these days’ remark, usually immediately followed by: Hey, get off my lawn! One of the great things about going to the North when I was 27 was that I got to do work that I was fully capable of but considered too young to take on while I was living in Nova Scotia.

Despite the occasional dismissal of youth that still occurs (I frequently refer to the young punks in the PMO as kids in short pants), we do live in a society obsessed with youth. People are always telling me that that fifty is the new forty and that you are only as young as you feel. I certainly hope not – some days I feel over a hundred.

I’d say more but it’s time for my Metamucil and my cane needs oiling.

Besides, that’s ten minutes.


3 thoughts on “Casual Ageism

  1. jeanlouist

    Obsessed with youth because it is dominated by the old… In many fields, the post-Baby Boom norm has been the expectation the younger generations would have to ramp up their qualifications and pay their dues much longer than the previous generations (just to end up with institutionnalized job insecurity and stagnant wages). A hand up for the young is not much more than a token compensation for the other burdens placed on them, from tripled tuition fees (in real terms, in Ontario) to higher housing prices. Now that the Boomers are leaving, people are realizing that there are gaping holes to be filled and that society hasn’t been doing succession planning as well as it should have.

    In the arts, the granting programs have been slanted towards older writers, for instance, because of a number of factors including the expectation that good, worthwhile writers are published by recognized publishers, will have accumulated awards, will be able to get letters of support from names known to the jurors (no spring chicken themselves, of course), and will have a sizable bibliography. All of that favours older, established writers. So, it does seem fair to me that, if the Canada Council wants to support new talent and foster the next generation of authors, it should shift some of its support to writers under 40. Not that, frankly, I would call writers between 30 and 40 truly young: thinking that is evidence that youth has been extended. Or just one of the signs you’re getting old.

    I’m within sight of the big 50 and, for now, my view is that roles changes as you get old, and so they should. The young often lack wisdom and the old energy or flexibility. The problem is that there are only so many spots available for wise elders of the tribe, which leaves the rest where exactly?

    Liked by 2 people

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