Ageism in Silicon Valley has been all over the news lately. The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story titled “Silicon Valley's Youth Problem.” Male engineers in their twenties are getting botox and hair transplants before key interviews. “The Brutal Ageism of Tech,” a feature story in the New Republic, described a swelling cohort of “highly trained, objectively talented, surpassingly ambitious workers” sidelined “for reasons no one can rationally explain.”
Disability rights activist Simi Linton’s memoir, My Body Politic, shook up my thinking on topics ranging from sex to suicide, and got me comparing ableism and ageism. We act as though old people aren't disabled and disabled people never grow old, despite the fact that one third of disabled Americans are sixty-five or older, and that the same medical advances that have swelled the number of people with disabilities are keeping more and more of the rest of us alive long enough to join their ranks.
A university where I’ll be speaking in September is lining up co-sponsors, one of whom had a question for my colleague there. “He asks whether you present ageism as similar to racism and sexism,” she wrote me. “He mentioned that the seniors with whom he works are proud (of being senior citizens?), and I think he may be worried about the presentation making them feel like victims of prejudice. Have you run across this type of concern in your audiences?”
A recent wedding announcement in the New York Times recorded the happy pairing of a couple that met through “America’s Test Kitchen.” He founded the TV show and hired her ten years ago. He’s 62; she’s 37. The announcement ended with this paragraph: “Both say they have never really given much thought to the difference in their ages. ‘Others may have concerns, but we don’t,’ he said.
How Old is Too Old To Have Sex? was the title of a Huffington Post Live Blog that I took part in on June 14th. As I pointed out during the exchange, the question itself is profoundly ageist. We don’t ask whether people age out of singing, or eating ice cream, so why even pose the question when it comes to making love?
After my talk last month at for the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York, a woman with a wonderful face handed me her card and mentioned that she'd been collecting birthday cards for years. Would I like a look? Yes I would. We got together last week, and I've posted a select and quease-inducing selection on the This Chair Rocks Facebook page.
This public project is the brainchild of Rachel Levy, an associate professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, who was tired of hearing people say stuff like, “Just explain it like you would to your grandmother” or “That’s so easy my grandma could get it.” Levy started it “to counter the implication that grannies (gender + maternity + age) might not easily pick up on technical/theoretical ideas.” In other words, to challenge the mindless, ageist and sexist meme that older women are technically inept.