Is Societal Labeling Valid?
It sometimes seems that in society, individuals are categorized in neat little boxes according to their age, ethnical background or environmental circumstances. Due to economical conditions, if you fall into a certain income bracket you are identified as either underprivileged, middle-class or wealthy. It fails to take into consideration your educational background, accumulation of resources or psychological merits. This is also only too true regarding the maturing adult. When you reach the plateau of 50+ you begin to acquire the rank of “Senior Citizen” a glorified term for “Old-timer.” What does this really mean and what is the connotation of this status.
There can be many implications of being labeled a Senior Citizen. This one has been implied by quite a few. What is it—“an individual who has obtained a certain age and therefore should be returned to the ‘shelf’ to wait the expiration date.” Handle with care and give every consideration except the right to be treated as a productive, highly capable individual or equal.
Even many of our churches resort to this labeling process—especially when it is applied to the maturing female congregations. The older woman is expected to sit on a “Mother Board,” wear an enormous hat and look ever so sanctimonious. Heaven forbid if she “steps out of character” and displays signs of life.
What is it with this obsession of wanting to put older persons “out to pasture?” My overuse of clichés is done here to emphasize the overuse in today’s society of the Senior Citizen labelling. To some this may seem to be just an act of bestowing the mark of distinction to individuals who have lived a long life and deserve some recognition. To others it’s just a fancy way of telling us—you’ve had it—next!
There have even been researchers as early as the 1970s who equated being a maturing adult in stereo-typical fashion. Inducing negative connotations, it is the period of loss. It is the loss of spouse, friends, roles, income and health (Pfeiffer, 1977; Ruth & Coleman, 1996.) This may have been true during an era when the passage of time signified the closing of a productive life, but to introduce such archaic conceptions into the 21st century is a misnomer. This dichotomy can be refuted because in our present time, more loses are due to the murdering of our youth and the consistent layoffs & outsourcing of jobs. These incidents have proven more of a negative impact to roles, income, friends, and yes even health issues than merely growing old.
Being a Senior Citizen has been linked to maturing adults who require special care such as nursing homes and the onset of dementia or senility. It conjures of images of frail bodies that have been ravaged by age—either because of genetics or disease. However, it could be due to neglect during their youth. The long term use of nicotine and alcohol has prematurely aged and debilitated many. It is a fact, if you ignore your physically and psychologically needs during the formative years—you can expect to experience problems as you mature. Aging is a process. To insure that it is a productive process that is orchestrated to its maximum efficiency requires an investment on the part of the individual.
Some of us naturally appear 10 to 15 years younger than our actual age. Many go through the expensive process of modifying their appearance. We may have even been approached by men—even pursued by them thinking that they will acquire a robust young thing. However, once “door number one reveals its true content” the pursuers scampers away like frighten rabbits looking for another prize. All because of the stigma the Senior Citizen persona displays. Only occasionally is the maturing female appreciated for her rare beauty and sustained elegance.
Caitlin C. Thompson and Brianna L. Zinser did a study that can be found in The Wesleyan Journal of Psychology Vol. 1 (2006) 9-18 entitled: Is it Just a Number or Does it Mean More? Senior Citizens’ Perceptions of Their Age, I truly believe that everyone should not only read this information but also to take exception to it.
Here is the abstract from this article:
Old age is often framed or viewed negatively, especially throughout the United States where this perception is perpetuated by the media and societal norms. This study examines the way senior citizens perceive their own age and the aging process. We also explore how seniors define “old age” and whether they consider themselves to be “old.” Evidence from qualitative interviews suggests six themes central to perceptions of old age: defining characteristics, illness, independence, resistance to self-identify as “old,” death or illness of a significant other, and reciprocity. These findings imply that senior citizens maintain society’s negative conceptualization of old age, and therefore, resist categorizing themselves as “old.”
This study substantiates my beliefs that a great number of maturing adults don’t consider themselves as being “old” as society would label them. Many of us believe that being “old” or the label “senior citizen” is a very unattractive label and as earlier stated conjured up images of nursing homes and dementia. Four women who were participants in the study were 60+ and did not consider themselves as being old. On the contrary, they were active and vivacious individuals. These women attributed being aged to physical disabilities, illness and lack of independence. Their opinions were not in the minority but in the majority.
It is so easy for the sake of convenience to group and label people because of assumed characteristics and lifestyles. When one sees an individual with graying hair and a few wrinkles; it is automatically assumed that this person is approaching the threshold of becoming a Senior Citizen. Forget the fact that hereditary traits could cause one to gray prematurely or the fact that they have experienced circumstances that could have cause them to frown or become worried—just yell out “Yep, I see you’re getting old.” Some say this as if it were an accusation instead of an accomplishment.
The fact that hairs gray and wrinkles come send many baby boomers to the druggist looking for “cures” so that they can be accepted by society as still being a vital, useful individual and not someone who needs to sit on the sidelines of life. The media constantly tells maturing adults to “look younger”, “be more attractive”, and “cover that gray” with all kinds of products and chemicals. Not one of them is saying to love yourself for “who you are.” That doesn’t sell products!
Pardon those of us who refuse to be labeled as merely a Senior Citizen and want to be looked upon as also a viable, contributing factor in this universe. If we color our hair—it is for the sheer pleasure it brings to us, and not because we are trying to recapture our so-called faded youth. We can read our favorite books, singing in choirs, teach those who want to gain wisdom and rejoice in our independence.
We are not all wheelchair bound—and those who are still possess the mental capacity to top the younger set at a game of Scrabble or Chess. We are artist, poets, writers and musicians who have not relinquished our zest for life. We can still cook, sew, crochet or knit. We type 60+ wpm and remember when shorthand was a requirement for secretaries. If the power went out and there was an antiquated typewriter about; we could still bang out a “best seller.”
We are NOT just a Societal Label … we are reliable, dedicated and have endured the test of time!