How to Recognize Ageism and Deal with It
Working with much younger colleagues in this ageist society isn’t exactly an enviable position. Put in a box by people’s presumptions and false impressions, branded for life with a moniker that is hardly flattering or befitting and practically fated to be the sitting duck to all the nasty age-related jokes, I am no more ecstatic about socializing at work than the silently suffering lamb sentenced to the slaughter table.
I am no saint. No matter how much of a good sport I’ve been or tried to be during that entire guffaw and sniggering, I am sometimes tempted to give in to that burgeoning urge of slapping the smugness out of my twenty-something-year-old co-workers with a lecture on discrimination. I thought I had left all that behind me, along with the other ‘isms of bullying in high school—sexism, racism, and what have you. But, even here in the corporate setup of work, discrimination can still be an issue.
Ageism is discrimination. People are categorized, singled out, prejudged, or disliked based on their age group. Wikipedia.org describes the principle of ageism as “a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify age based prejudice, discrimination, and subordination.” Ageism comes in different forms--adulticism, jeunism, adultcentrism, gerontocracy, and chronocentrism. This simply means that whether you are a veteran actress battling it out with much younger and more attractive hopefuls for a coveted role; a neophyte lawyer trying to make his mark in a court of legal experts; or an octogenarian trying to prove his independence in this fast-paced world, no one is exempted from this age-based bias.
Recognizing Ageist Comments
Ageism can be as blatant as inequity in the workplace or as subtle as an observation made to pass for a compliment on how young you look in your new haircut. Though many ageist remarks aren’t meant to insult, they are usually very telling of a person’s attitude towards a certain age bracket or generation. Below are some classic ageist remarks I have come across on a day to day:
“Oh, you don’t look frumpy at all. In fact, you can pass for a cougar.”
As if being likened to the stereotypical older woman seeking relationships with much younger men would thrill any woman to the bones. This was a comment made by a well-meaning colleague in an attempt to convince me that I still looked attractive despite my struggle to regain my pre-baby form in my 30s.
“You’re too young to understand.”
This is the last thing you would want to hear when you are young and trying to understand the world. To constrict maturity to a certain age bracket would be wrong to do so as our personal, spiritual and mental growth come with life experience rather than age.
“I feel sorry for that old man. He should be resting and enjoying his retirement.”
Stereotyping a person according to his chronological age is more crippling than any actual health condition. When we are blinded by our own presumptions and expectations, we have unknowingly prevented the person from being anything more in our regard.
Coping With Ageism
Ageism in any form promotes self-doubt, insecurity, depression, and all sorts of negative emotions. When you find yourself in the receiving end of this age-based prejudice, you’ll discover that it is no laughing matter. Here are some ways you can deal with ageism in whatever situation.
- Be calm. When people start poking fun at your age whether blatant or indirect, blowing up or walking out in a huff will further fan the flame of discrimination and incite more back talks.
- Speak out and nip it at the bud. My biggest mistake was keeping quiet and being tolerant about the labeling which eventually resulted in more stereotyping. Tell the person that you do not appreciate being tagged, branded, or classified. Explain stereotyping.
- Prove yourself. In some work environment, youth is regarded as a disadvantage since it usually spells out inexperience for some people. It is likewise the same with older people who are typecast as frail slow learners that need to be guided by the hand. Continuous learning lead to improvement of skills which often result in a boost in work performance.
- Detach yourself from negativity. Surround yourself with positive like-minded people. They don’t have to be the same age to be on the same page with you. Bridging the generation gap with people younger or older will broaden your horizon.
- Reevaluate your values. Do you harbor prejudice against people from a specific age group? Are you afraid of ageing? Do you resort to self-depreciation by saying, “I must be getting senile?” Are you prone to making ageist remarks about other people? Practice what you preach!