SENIOR POWER: Whose month?

By Helen Rippier Wheeler,
Friday March 06, 2015 - 07:53:00 AM

Disparate treatment of elderly persons occurs as a result of the belief that older people are of less value than younger people. It lends itself to satire, sarcasm, ridicule and stereotyping. Remember Barbara “walkies” Woodhouse (1910-1988), parodied in the James Bond Octopussy film? Fear has a lot to do with it too.

Old age consists of ages nearing or surpassing the life expectancy of human beings, and thus, the end of the human life cycle. Euphemisms and terms for old people include seniors (American usage), senior citizens (British and American), older adults (social sciences,) the elderly, and elders (many cultures, including those of aboriginal people).

Ageism (also spelled "agism") is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. The term was coined in 1971 by Robert Neil Butler (1927-2010) to describe discrimination against seniors, patterned on sexism and racism. It may be casual or systematic. Butler defined ageism as a combination of prejudicial attitudes towards older people, discriminatory practices against them, and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about them. 

Women are the majority of the senior citizen population, making ageism -- discrimination based on one’s chronological age -- especially prejudicial. Why do I have on my desktop Nicolaes Maes’s (1656) beautiful Old Woman Dozing? I’m celebrating Women’s History Month, while community centers, city governments, and senior housing celebrate other months. Senior centers can foster Writing women back into history (March 2015 Women’s History Month theme) by scheduling memoir-writing classes, exhibits and displays, and “profiling” feminist seniors of the present and past. And not just during the month of March. 

The chronological age denoted as "old age" varies culturally and historically. Thus, old age is a social construct rather than a definite biological stage. Don’t assume! These international women represent many fields and accomplishments. Do you know their names? 

  • In 1971, following forced retirement at age 65, she convened the Gray Panthers to advocate for seniors' rights.
  • This Berkeley resident’s name is Rosita Dolores Alverio, but you may know her as Anita, Louise, Maria Callas, or, more recently, Amanda Wingfield.
  • This Mexican freedom fighter organized schools for Indian children. During the War of Independence (1810), she created an underground army of women, was taken prisoner and executed.
  • She was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress.
  • This actor authored The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them. (It’s in the Contra Costa County, Oakland Public and San Francisco Public Libraries.) A concert pianist and Los Angeles resident, she made many trips to Vietnam to entertain the troops.
  • She was the first woman of Japanese ancestry elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • In 1972 her persistence resulted in passage of Title IX. Because Title IX addresses only public and private schools that receive federal funding, several states, including California, have enacted similar laws to prohibit discrimination based on sex regardless of whether the school receives federal funding.
  • This German American psychiatrist founded a new school of analysis and challenged Freudian dogma, contending that cultural factors -- not biological happenstance -- most critically influence personality.
  • Orphaned at age 9, the frequent butt of jokes as an adult, she became a respected American newspaper columnist, world traveler and U N delegate involved in the League of Women Voters and the Women's Trade Union League.
  • The groundbreaking research work of this British physical chemist led to discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.

Age 70 or older in California? You must renew your driver’s license every 5 years. This includes the written test (also referred to as the legal test.) In the past this has consisted of a pencil and paper test. Samples of the questions and format are at the DMV website and in the manual. You may, however, be confronted with a new computerized set-up. You can request a paper and pencil test. The DMV where I go is prepared to do this but doesn’t advertise it.