Are you a ‘typical’ ageist?

Older drivers crash cars. Oldies forget half the things you tell them. Seniors are unreliable, slow and not willing to learn.

Propped up on pills, Gerries cost millions in taxpayer dollars. They had a job for life, had it easy, and now we’re footing the bill.

Ageism is the last great discrimination frontier. Unlike sexism and racism whose struggles that begun decades ago, ageism is a challenge we are only just begging to understand and tackle.

What is old? Do we define age by years lived, grey hair and wrinkles, a government edict, or an attitude? What are the differences between age discrimination as viewed by law versus common perception? And when does a negative stereotype become discriminatory and damaging?

Defining age discrimination is difficult but important: we must draw a line in the sand. Jokes about being absent-minded, sexually deficient, slow or tired are not harmless; they shape how older people are assessed by fellow community members, employers and politicians. However, our language is loaded with ‘age old’ syntax that defines incompetence in years lived: terms such as ‘ageing tsunami’ and ‘economic burden’ are entrenched in the reporting of the media and speeches of politicians and industry leaders.

For a visual interpretation, visit the local news agent and take in the myriad witticisms of greeting cards (now also coursing across the web and chain emails). How many of these cards are viewed as discriminatory by the average Australian?

Institutions establish structured racism through policy and practice: employment interviews, job descriptions, applications for government benefits or a credit card. Advertising consistently portrays narrow definitions of retirees, reducing diversity and shaping broader perceptions.

The language and phrases of older people often reinforce stereotypes. Yet age does not define us: our identities do not dramatically metamorphose at age 60.

As an agency often called upon to facilitate partnerships between organisations on age-related projects, we are acutely aware of the disparity in perceptions between age advocates, advertising agencies and peak employer groups. Our passion for understanding the dynamic issue of age and identity sees the agency’s leadership speak publically on topics as diverse as mature workforce barriers and opportunities, older people on the internet, and the misconceptions of death and dying in the modern age.

Overcoming ageism cannot only be achieved via words, imagery and context. It requires a strategic effort to end damaging discrimination and creating economic and social capital. It challenges notions of ‘typical’.  We all have a role to play.

Ellis Jones works with strategy, events, PR, imagery and of course wordsmithery to ensure older people are represented in the way they truly deserve. Talk to us we are happy to share our most recent work with you.

Image credit: Flickr kelseykradel