I belong to an online discussion group that’s currently debating the use of the word “senior” as in Senior Citizen and debating if this term, which has long been used, is acceptable and desirable to the people it encompasses.
My answer? NO!! This term, along with so many others, is a perfect example of ageism at its best. Any word that separates a group of people, labels them, differentiates them, and is discriminatory.
During the course of this discussion group, one of the posters made the comment that ‘senior’ can have good connotations, as in a ‘senior’ partner in a business. Absolutely – that’s a great word to describe a business leader, because there are Junior Partners also. See? The term describes the hierarchy within the company; it has a counterpart to describe all levels within that company. But have you ever referred to your 40-year-old neighbor as a “Junior Citizen?” Me neither.
I think that the difference between the term Senior Partner and Senior Citizen is vast and has a totally different image and perception attached to it. A Senior Partner is a label that connotes power and influence. Senior Citizen? Not so much!
This poster goes on to say she believes the boomer generation does not like the prospect of getting old or being viewed as old. Huh? Am I missing something here? My take on the boomer generation (MY generation) is that we’re embracing the prospect of aging and the opportunity it allows us; we’re pioneering the new face of aging to include discovery, learning, mentoring and continuous forward motion. We’re finding the gift in aging. Big time!
Finally, the poster shoots herself in the foot when she refers to boomers, seniors, as ‘these people’. Please. Could she make discrimination more evident? Her suggestion of the term ‘Privileged Citizen’ rivals ‘Golden Ager’ as an inappropriate euphemism. You can fill in all the other ageist terms you’ve heard – there are lots!
All labels paint with a broad brush, usually labeling each group with poor connotations – ‘oh, she’s just a blonde’, ‘oh, she’s just a clerk’, ‘oh, she’s just a mother’, ‘oh, she’s just a senior’. Even if you remove the word ‘just’ from those sentences, they all convey a kind of negativity, don’t they? And they all paint with a broad brush, usually labeling each group with poor connotations. At the very least, isn’t it a small put down? At the very most, isn’t it discriminatory?
When I turned 60, I got a tattoo on my collarbone. Yes, it was a kind of in-your-face action, a kind of shattering the typecast image of a 60 year old. Because I thought that being 60 didn’t need to mean that I wasn’t hip. And now that I’m 66, I’m looking for something else equally radical, even shocking, in order to make others see that I am not a number. I am not a group. I am Marcia who happens to be, but cannot be defined by, the age of 66.
If labels describing heritages are racist and discriminatory; if labels describing religions are intolerant and discriminatory, if labels describing the opposite gender are sexist and discriminatory, then why don’t we realize that labels about older people are ageist and discriminatory? Why? Why?
We need to erase labels from our vocabulary. We need to start referring to older people as………older people.
Because this is Where We’re Going.
© Marcia Barhydt, 2009
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Celebrate Age! www.willowtree.ca