(Not at my own expense. The poking fun at elders that is sometimes not so funny.)
I have been called too sensitive in my life.
These days, when someone tells me that I am sensitive, I say thank you.
Because being sensitive is a gift. A gift that helps me connect with others. Helps me understand their pain. Helps me be with them. Helps me empathize.
It also makes me bristle at some of the ageism that I see around that is supposed to be funny. Ageism that makes fun of seniors, and that , in my opinion, does harm to our image. Externally and internally.
Yes, things about aging are funny. And a sense of humor is vital at this time of our lives. Laughter is often the best response. I laugh at myself and with my friends often. The memory issues, the joints that don’t work quite as well as they used to. The age related changes that come, that we must learn to cope with and deal with. It’s part of life and it can be funny at time.
But not when it is at our expense.
I see Medicare commercials that make me cringe.
The older woman, “Martha”, who is called “cranky” and is portrayed as stubborn and unwilling to see the benefits of what the narrator is trying to show her about the Medicare advantage plans. She yells, pouts, crosses her arms over her chest, and is the caricature of a cranky old woman.
The couple where the wife is yelling at her husband, asking why he hasn’t called Medicare to get the newest part C plan. She goes on to tell him of all the benefits of this new plan, what it covers, why they need it. My question is this. If this woman is so knowledgable and informed, I have to wonder what makes her incapable of making a phone call herself? Ageism and sexism team up here.
The two older women who are calling Medicare together and the younger woman on the other end of the call laughing at their antics and arguments with each other during the call. They are subtly portrayed as cute. “Cute” can be deadly. It can make someone less than the other, inferior, not to be taken seriously.
I may be told that I am being too sensitive. That I take things too seriously. However, when these portrayals, stereotypes and caricatures end up becoming the lens through which elders are often seen, there can be harm done here.
There is invalidation of the whole person, the life experience, the whole fabric of their being. It can end up protraying them (us) as a shadow and comic version of who we were. Something to be laughed at, indulged (like a child), tolerated and condescended to. Not a whole living being with a lifetime of experience and wisdom to share.
I think that we need to be aware of what we make fun of.
There is more awareness of the importance of not doing this to various groups these days, which is great. But elders still seem to be considered fair game.
There is a saying that we teach people how to treat us.
So let’s have the conversation more often about what these jokes and ridiculing may result in. It may be at the expense of a group of us that are already feeling pushed aside, invisible, no longer valued as productive members of society.
Sometimes there can be much hostility and passive aggressiveness in a joke, in teasing. There can be a fine line when that turns into ridiculing and devaluing, making someone less than.
And, sadly, these images can be internalized so that we begin to see ourselves this way.
Can’t I take a joke? Not so much anymore. I have taken far too many jokes in my life about various groups that I have belonged to. And I am tired of it. I have had enough.
We deserve better. And we deserve to think of ourselves in better ways as well. We are not caricatures. We are elders with much to offer. And we deserve to be seen, heard, and valued.