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It’s so common it may seem routine, trivial, well-intentioned. Researchers have found numerous links between cultural ageism and health problems — physical, cognitive and emotional — among older people.“There can be no movement unless the public clearly understands many of the powerful aspects of ageism,” said Margaret Gullette, a resident scholar in women’s studies at Brandeis University and author of the just-published “Ending Ageism, or How Not to Shoot Old People.” “People don’t even know how to deal with ageism, so they don’t recognize it when it happens to them. They don’t know complain about it.” Challenging ageism means getting people to pay closer attention to messages they’ve been hearing all their lives.“It happens when you’re younger and people are telling you about what old means and you’re incorporating it.Assuming you live a while and become old, you turn it against yourself and it gets internalized.” Statements that denigrate older people’s functioning, thinking and appearance, advocates say, can lead to old people being stigmatized, isolated, ignored, politically disadvantaged and treated as “others.” Yet despite — or because of — the ubiquity of these messages, people rarely consider that they might be damaging.Labor statistics show that older job-seekers have more difficulty getting hired — which is why they are frequently advised to color their hair, update their wardrobes and lop the earliest jobs off their résumés.Casual ageism, on the other hand, isn’t even especially frowned upon.Brown, who is 71, has been alert to cultural ageism for decades.She joined the anti-ageist Gray Panthers at age 36; after meeting some local members of the activist group, she decided they were “really cool people who were living their values.” (She eventually served as the chairman of the Panthers’ national board and as volunteer executive director.) “You see this ‘other’ category of people,” Brown said.
“It is also pretty ridiculous, in my mind, to think that 50 and 30 are equivalent in any real way,” Brown said.A birthday card that says “‘Ha ha ha, too bad you’re Jewish,’” Nelson said, “wouldn’t go over so well.” ‘Everyone is ageist’ Ageism is a weird prejudice in several respects.For one, it has an ironic aspect: It’s a bias held by younger people against a group to which they will eventually belong — if they’re lucky.Everyday ageism is so widespread that people tend to use “young” and “old” as almost synonymous with positive versus negative traits.“Someone will say, ‘My mom is 94 but she’s not old,’ ” Applewhite said. “She may be peppy, she maybe having wild sex every night, she may be a lingerie model, she may be a marathon runner.