What Is Ageism?

Two OLOC MembersAgeism is a social disease.


Do you consider “young” a compliment and “old” a derogatory synonym for ugly, decrepit, out-of-date (“You don’t look your age.”)?

Do you speak/do for an Old Lesbian instead of letting her speak/do for herself and assume she needs help?

Do you view an Old Lesbian either as a burden or an icon, rather than as an equal with whom a reciprocal relationship is desirable?

Do you patronize a courageous Old Lesbian by trivializing her anger as “feistiness?” (Would you call Superman “feisty?”)

Do you categorize an outspoken Old Lesbian as “complaining,” “difficult,” or “crotchety?”

Do you assume that an Old Lesbian is asexual?

Are you unsupportive of an Old Lesbian looking for a partner, or disrespectful of an Old Lesbian’s choice to be single?

Do you refrain from confronting ageist remarks because they are “not really meant that way?”

Ageism by Mary M. Morgan, born 1925

  • OLOC Members having coffeeThe systematic discrimination and oppression of people solely because they are old.
  • The belief and practices that equate youth with health and old age with illness and disability, youth as beauty and old as ugly and aging as a disease and anti-aging as possible and necessary at any cost. Aging is not a disease.
  • Every living being is aging. Anti-aging is as impossible as anti-gravity. We all age at the same rate, one day older for every day lived.
  • Ageism creates a universal market for products, potions, and surgery. Ageism is cruel, affects employment health, self-esteem, income.
  • “You don’t look your age,” is not a compliment. The best age is the age you are.
  • Isn’t everyone older than someone? Old is spelled O L D, not B A D.
  • Ageism fosters distrust between age groups.
  • Most birthday cards reinforce ageism.
  • “Aging gracefully” aids passivity, discourages activism, promotes invisibility.
  • Ageism diminishes us all. Fight ageism, embrace longevity.

Ageist greetings, remarks, responses and questions that are all too common in U.S.A.

  • Good afternoon young lady, I’m Doctor Brown.
  • You are in pretty good health for your age.
  • Age is really just a state of mind.
  • You aren’t old. You’re young at heart.
  • You may be 72 but you still act young.
  • You must be very lonely at your age.
  • You don’t still drive your car, do you?
  • Have you thought of including our group in your will?
  • Social Security is going to bankrupt the country.
  • To feel young again try this: (products, exercises, recipes, meditation, etc, etc.)
  • To stay young keep thinking young and associate with young people.
  • Oh, I know with all your experience you must be a really good cook.
  • I must be having “a senior moment”.
  • I’m so glad you spoke up at the meeting. I like a feisty woman.
  • You certainly don’t look like you’re 68 years old.
  • You’re only as old as you feel.
  • Don’t call yourself old.
  • You are very youthful.
  • You are young in spirit.
  • You shouldn’t call yourself old. It’s so depressing.
  • No one wants to live with just old people.
  • The Senior Center plans to hold a course named “Growing Old Gracefully”. (Gracefully is a euphemism for invisibility, silence, docility, self-supporting, free of illness.)
  • You’re not an old woman—you’re youthful, fun and young in spirit.
  • Here’s an exercise that will keep you young. First, raise your arms…
  • Learning new things is more difficult for us as we get older.
  • When you were in your prime it was probably done differently.
  • Now that we are getting older we need to be more safety minded.
  • There is no excuse for gray hair these days. Clairol does an excellent job.
  • Blonde is the new gray.
  • All of the “still” questions: Are you still swimming, still dancing, still playing bridge, still cooking, still gardening, still writing poetry, still giving blood, still politicking, organizing, etc.?

Responses, Corrections, Rejoinders, Education to Combat Ageist Concepts  

  • Old is not a 4-letter word.
  • “You don’t look your age” is an ageist comment.
  • I do look my age.  This is what 74 looks like.
  • Old is O.K.  I’m fine with it.  I hope you get to live a long time too.
  • I’m not trying to “pass” as young. I’m old and really quite fabulous.
  • It’s been a long time since I was young. Now I’m glad to be old.
  • OLOC is named Old Lesbians Organizing for Change because we embrace our oldness and we combat ageism wherever we find it.
  • Serenity is not my goal. I accept challenges daily.
  • I am not a “young woman”. I am an old woman and I expect to be treated with respect and recognition of my many years.
  • Isn’t everyone “older” than someone?
  • Do you know any child, man or woman who is not getting older?
  • If you “didn’t really mean it that way” how did you mean it?
  • I’m not middle age now. Been there—done that.
  • Growing old is a privilege granted to few women in this world. I am deeply grateful.
  • Ageism creates an ever-expanding profit-making market of “staying-young” products for people who fear getting old.
  • Aging is not a disease. It is a natural component of being alive.
  • Every living being ages.
  • Good health and youth are not synonymous.
  • Orthopedists set broken bones for more patients under the age of 24 than they do for patients over 65.
  • I am a very old woman and I cherish every year that I have been privileged to live. I do not want any years taken away from me pretending that I am young.
  • Anti-aging is a denial of life force. It is a quite dehumanizing concept.
  • Labeling us a “model” or “an idol” or a “wise crone” is a way of distancing old women from women of different ages, making us “the other”.
  • Don’t assume we need help. Being available if asked for assistance is real sisterhood.

Add originals of your own:

Battling the “Oil of Old Age”
Mary M. Morgan, age 80* (written in 2005)

When did it happen? How did it take over our lives? It’s in the lion’s share of birthday cards. It is nearly hourly on the TV. Glossy ads arrive in the mail warning that the next birthday brings with it some dread symptom, some disability, and some disfigurement that will repel our loved ones. There is no escape—it is everywhere. Old is no longer spelled O L D. In a constant barrage of advertising we are told that old is now spelled B A D.

Ageism is pervasive in American society. Millions of dollars are spent on an ever-increasing number of products that will “keep us youthful”. We’re supposed to be pleased when we are told, “you don’t look your age”. That can only be a compliment if we have swallowed the brainwashing that beauty, health and worth are attributes only of youth. Healthfulness has been wrongly equated with youthfulness, denying the evidence that there are many, many diseases and troublesome health conditions that affect children and young people far more than they do older people. (Broken bones are one such example—ask an Orthopedist what age s/he works on more than any other. Don’t overlook the skateboards, the motorcycles, ski slopes, the toddler who found the stairs.)

Ageism is the belief that one chronological age is superior, more valued, more worthy, than any other age span. And in the United States this age is youth and it prevails. This belief can be held by individuals but it becomes extremely destructive when an entire society is indoctrinated and buys into it.  Although ageism also affects men, women experience it more acutely precisely because our physical beauty, our sex appeal, our childbearing ability and our capacity to serve others are alleged to be our greatest assets. As each of those attributes diminishes, so does our value, our ability to find employment, our ease in finding companionship, and our reason for living. This damage is especially great for women who are already marginalized by racism, poverty and physical impairment.

Ageism impoverishes us all. By deprecating the experience of older people as irrelevant, boring or behind the times it cuts the next generation off from its own history. Those birthday cards are not humorous. They are oppressive, cruel and oftentimes downright disgusting. Rage against them. Rejoice in the privilege of a long life—a privilege granted so few people in the world.


*The author, Mary M. Morgan, participates in a national movement to end ageism. Its members always give their age when they write or speak.
Mary M. Morgan was born September 10, 1925 and died January 30, 2015.


Mary M. Morgan, age 81
Ohio OLOC, 3-5-07