Agism is action based on the belief that one age group is inferior to another. The action becomes oppressive when it is backed with power and resources (e.g. money and media). Agist beliefs are legitimized by theories (often "scientific") and myths, and serve to keep target ages out of competition for jobs and other resources.
We all experience agism in this age-segregated society. We learn to believe that people who are very young and very old are physically and mentally inferior to those who are in the "prime" of life and that young adults have the greatest strength, particularly men. This belief, a pay-off for exploitation of their labor and their bodies, also reflects our throw-away mentality, which puts top value on the new (young) adult, and the useful (able to find employment). Young women are defined at the height of their "beauty" as sex objects. Agism is so powerful for girls that many believe they will never grow up or grow old.
Agism intensifies all of the other 'isms." During the long period of childhood (itself a relatively modern phenomenon), we keep our young dependent, helpless, and almost totally devoid of rights while we socialize (brainwash) them into rigid patterns of behavior according to class, sex and race. In school, which they must attend, they are tracked into career lines at an early age with little account of individuals' speed of learning or lack of opportunities. This oppression of the young denies them access to their own dreams, visions, creativity, spirituality: their own reality.
For women, agism intensifies all of the atrocities of sexism, racism and class oppression. Old women (as defined by census, 62 and older) are the poorest sector of the population, with ever-diminishing expectations. Yet every year the population of poor old women increases.
Older women are expected to provide a background for the activities of younger women and men, but rarely play lead roles. They are often discounted, and are virtually invisible, leading to the painful, common and incorrect assumption that older women are not doing anything, or have not been active at anything effective. Yet a great deal of the work of the anti-war movement has been carried by older women. If not totally invisible, older women are depicted as destructive witches (another distortion of peoples' history), or they are patronized.
A lot of agism stems from the resentment that younger people feel toward the entrenched power of older people. Agism provides a way to avoid principled struggle over valid questions of class, power and leadership.
Every generation wants to believe that they hold the key to the "revolution," yet the ignorance of history and our inability to talk to each other across generations means that each generation starts out repeating the same mistakes. The expectations that older men will be powerful and older women nurturing makes it difficult for some older people to share and to learn. Agism keeps us divided, ignorant and ineffective
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