On Ageism and Social Justice: An Introduction, and Women That Are Doing It Right

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

by KATIE E

I recognize the general mouthfull-ness of the title, but trust me, it’s all in here.

How often do you think critically about ageism? How often do you think about how it intersects with other forms of oppression? How often do you consider it one of your privileges/things that oppress you, and, to bloggers, how often do you write about it? How often do you refer to comment trolls as “acting like a bunch of children” as an insult, and how often are you amazed that something written here/The Fbomb/Zero at The Bone/Teenagerie/any other young woman’s space was written by a teenager?

I think about those things a lot. I suppose it’s inevitable. I don’t want this series to be all about me and my experiences, but I’m sixteen, I write for a medium-ished sized social justice and feminism blog that aimed at young woman, and I frequently read and participate in discussions on various womanist, feminist, and gender/social justice blogs. I am completely open about and own up to the fact that I am, by all legal and dictionary definitions, a child. I’ve seen ageism happen. I don’t think it is the biggest issue affecting the social justice (I’m still talking about all of the types of blogs I’ve listed before, but for the purposed of the series, I’m going to abbreviate it to social justice. This does not mean I don’t care about and want to acknowledge all of the varieties of social justice out there, it means I have mild carpal tunnels syndrome) by a mile. There are a few posts I’ve read and gone “Wow, that was completely offensive to teenage girls like myself, or to age group X that I don’t belong to,” but ageism does show up in the SJ blogosphere, and I see it typically manifesting in three ways:

1. Word and Phrasing Choice

2. Silencing

3. And, most importantly, Neglect of Issues

I plan to begin a series addressing these matters, from the viewpoint of a ver young woman. Ageism is a unique form of oppression in that no one is really immune. It is not 100% an us vs. them thing. For example, a thirty-five to forty-year-old woman will have her opinion respected than a lot more of other woman of much younger or older ages, but if she chooses not to be married, she will face ageist attacks. A forty-five to  fifty-year-old man will be treated like he has a lot of valuable life experience, whether or not he truly does, but will be attacked if he chooses to act or dress in a typically “young” way.

However, I will not deny that there are factions of ageism that are an oppressed vs. oppressors kind of thing, and this series will focus on the fact that people under the legal age of majority are oppressed, and the ones doing the oppressing are the adults. I do plan to write about how younger people oppress older people eventually, but for the time being, I am choosing to write about something that has deeply impacted my life, opinions, and writing.

I’d like to begin this series on a positive note. I’m going to share with you five posts by social justice bloggers who wrote about teenaged women in a respectful, positive way. These are all by legally adult women, as seeing a grown-up person write in this manner is much rarer than seeing a young person do so, and I offer my greatest thanks to these writers, and I hope they will continue to write in this manner. I’m sure there are many more, and I’d greatly appreciate links in comments, these are just five posts I remembered reading recently.

Teen Pregnancies on The Rise for The First Time In Over A Decade, by Miriam, Feministing.

Despite what the title might make you think, this is not your typical “let’s prevent this horrific tragedy” moral panic piece. Miriam does an excellent job actually acknowledging that some teenagers want to be pregnant, especially when there are class and/or racial issues involved, and that they, along with pregnant teens in other situations, deserve our upmost respect. She also states, and I quote “I don’t think being young makes you a bad parent,” which should not be even remotely considered a radical statement, but in our society, unfortunately is, and I applaud her for making it and sticking up for it, despite the extremely ageist remarks in the comments section.

It’s Not About Me, by Guest Blogger Jay, Feministe

Five beautiful words: Parent denying ownership of child. Thank you Jay, for reminding us that nobody is entitled to anyone else’s uterus, even when the uterus in question belongs to your nine-year-old daughter.

Bill Cosby Tells Black People Off Again, by Renee, Womanist Musings

This post is not entirely about ageism, or even mostly about it-and that’s 100% fine. I commend Renee for pointing out the ageism in a statement made by Bill Cosby, along with many other problematic things about it that are correct, something that many bloggers may have ignored. She acknowledges that young woman are affected by slut-shaming in a completely different way than older woman, something that, again, I frequently see ignored.

Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project: A Counter Response, by Ms. Jacks, The Bitter Buffalo

This is a brilliant argument supporting point number two about ageism: silencing. Young women’s voiced are so often cut off in favor of what older people think they should feel, and Ms. Jacks points out to use that we need to cut that out if we want to be effective social justice advocates.

Teenage Girls and Internalized Sexism, by Rachel McCarthy James, Deeply Problematic

Beautiful. I love this post. Someone acknowledging that they have thought negative things about teenagers and is trying to stop is, again, something that shouldn’t be radical, but is. This is one of the few posts I’ve seen a self-identified feminist adult write entirely about ageism, and it may be the only one confronting personal ageism. An internet standing  ovation for RMJ, who is probably my favorite social justice writer.

I really hope you read these posts, and think about the questions I asked in my opening paragraph. Coming up soon will be part two, on how language and phrasing choices can promote ageism.

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