Wed, Jul

Harassment … Sexism … Ageism … Everything ‘Old’ is New Again


MY TURN-Having just had a birthday, I must admit I am considered chronologically old. At this stage in life, we are happy to still celebrate birthdays but they seem to come around a lot faster than they used to. But I don't feel old! And therein lies the problem. Gail Sheehey wrote in her book, "Passages," that all of us are ten to fifteen years younger than our parents were at the same age. 

Recently, my ire was raised when critics complained about the age of our esteemed senior senator, Dianne Feinstein. This and sexual harassment issues currently in the news motivated me to share some thoughts with you because, along with many others in my generation, I have experienced both ageism and sexism. 

We tend to view issues through the spectrum of our own experiences. The United States and to a certain degree the whole western world, regard “seniors” with a rather condescending eye. But at what age is one now considered a senior? According to AARP it’s 50, but today, 50 is what 40 was two decades ago. 

Those of you in your fifties are going into your prime earning and career years. And now that child bearing years have extended into later life, many in this age group still have young children. There is nothing senior about your lifestyle. Of course, there are exceptions and not everyone ages in the same way. 

Consider Senator Feinstein. She’s 84 years old but in comparison to many of her younger colleagues she is one of the most accomplished and trustworthy Senators. Yet she faces a double whammy by being older and a woman. Think about all the old men who have graced the Senate and have fallen asleep in meetings but who aren’t taken to task. In politics, we see both ageism and gender issues collide. 

To the extent that ageism persists, there will soon be more potential targets of this form of discrimination. The number of Americans 65 and older is projected to double over the next three decades from 35.9 million to nearly 70 million, comprising 20 percent of the population in 2030 compared to less than 13 percent now. 

The 85-and-over population is the fastest growing segment — projected to grow from 4 million in 2000 to 19 million in 2050 as part of an unprecedented surge in longevity. Americans now turning 65 will live, on average, an additional 18 years. 

Some researchers believe that ageism, in the form of negative stereotypes, directly affects longevity. In a study published by the American Psychological Association, Yale School of Public Health professor Becca Levy and her colleagues concluded that old people with positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with negative images of growing older. 

Levy said many Americans start developing stereotypes about the elderly during childhood, reinforce them throughout adulthood, and enter old age with attitudes toward their own age group as unfavorable as younger people’s attitudes. 

“It’s possible to overcome the stereotypes, but they often operate without people’s awareness,” Levy said. “Look at all the talk about plastic surgery, Botox — the message is, 'Don’t get old’.” 

This doesn't mean I think only "mature" people should rule the world, although it would be nice to have some mature mature people in our current Executive branch. While our junior Senator Kamala Harris brings a different perspective and creativity to our California representation in the U.S. Senate, it’s Dianne Feinstein who has the seniority, the important committee positions, a reputation for integrity and smarts. People who complain that she is out of touch with her constituents have no idea what they are talking about. She knows how to get things done and has created a legacy of good government. This is the best of all worlds. 

Believe it or not though, I would vote for term limits for the Senate. Two six-year terms would allow for some historical knowledge with less burnout and cynicism. Having the House of Representatives run for election every two years is a massive waste of money. By the time someone gets elected it is time to start campaigning again. There should be three 3-year terms in the House and then time for someone new.  

The same is true for the Presidency. One six-year term would allow for much to be done without the worry of getting re-elected. Fortunately, California does have term limits for state and local elected positions. This at least it gives others a chance to run, although some politicians do go from political office to political office their whole lives. It’s interesting to note that our mayor, with an eye toward higher office, will not commit to serving out his second term. 

One of the real problems with elders running the world is they can become so enamored with their own power, they don't make room for newcomers or new ideas. This is one of the drawbacks with the Neighborhood Council system in which there are members who have served on their boards since the NCs were created by the Charter fifteen years ago. 

This is true also with other organizations that cling to the past. We need new, fresh approaches and we should encourage younger participation. But we don't need to throw out the seniors with the bath water. In fact, I don't think we use our senior citizens to full advantage. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience that could help to improve the lives of Angelenos. 

A couple of years ago, I suggested that we initiate a new position on the Neighborhood Council boards: instead of finding services to take care of seniors, why not utilize their experience and skills to make life better for our stakeholders? One of the reasons some feel "old" is not being needed. We are wasting so much talent and creativity that is readily available. Senior Centers are well and good to give services needed by older people. But they don't create projects for seniors to give back to their communities. How much Mahjong can one play? 

I even heard from one of the commissioners who served on the LA Commission on Aging who thought this was a great idea. Unfortunately, though, I never heard from him again.  

Those of us in the older generation were cautioned not to discuss politics, religion or sex with people we didn't know or, in the case of sex, never in mixed company.  

The spotlight this week has been on sexual harassment in "Show Business." The “casting couch" was literally and figuratively a factor when I worked for twenty-five years in the apparel industry. Sexual harassment was rampant. I imagine that most women reading this article have had to fend off sexual advances, regardless of the type of work in which they were engaged. When I was in my 20s and 30s we were subjected to innuendo and, unfortunately, outright assault. Sadly, we didn't talk about it. We just developed methods of diversion. 

I hope that the men being accused of this behavior now will be the last of the generation of dinosaurs. Perhaps I am being naive but I can't picture the young men in my family and their friends ever acting like these predators. 

As always comments welcome….


(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected]). Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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