Ageism: Shrinking the Generation Gap by Blasting Stereotypes

Unlike past generations, younger women seem not to cubby-hole older women.

Posted Jul 15, 2019

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”  ~George Orwell


I guess I expected something else. Based on the way I used to think of women in their 60s and beyond, I braced my 67-year old self for young women to be polite, respectful, but dismissive toward me.

After all, when I was in my 20s and 30s and met a woman pushing 70, I had been taught to offer my seat in a crowded room or vehicle, say “yes, ma’am” and make pleasant chit-chat only if needed. She was, after all, my “elder,” and it seemed weird to engage her in any meaningful conversation. I mean, what would she know about my world?

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What I find, however, is that today’s young women are much less ageist in social situations. These millennial “snowflakes” are actually savvy young businesswomen who refuse to settle for the kinds of lives the women before them did.

Why? It could be because my generation raised them to do that. We were mad as hell about being cubby-holed into stereotypes, so perhaps we went a little overboard with our girls after all.

Many “older” women like me are not so far behind that they can’t relate to things like social media, pop stars, fashion trends, and business startups. Perhaps it’s because my millennial daughter tends to keep me involved, or perhaps it’s because I relate more to younger women, having not even started my REAL career (the one I am passionate about) until my 40s.

What this means is that 20 years later, I feel I still have a long way to go. So I engage. I participate. I ask questions. And huge revelations about how to make my life and my career easier surface like lovely water lilies at every turn. 

I have obviously thought about this topic a lot. In fact, I took a Facebook poll among my almost 1,000 connections there, as well as on the new networking platform, I asked other women (in both millennial age and younger and 60+ age groups) if they felt the communication gap had gotten a tad smaller between generations. Here is some of what I found.

Older women's responses: 

I think back then the older women stayed at home. They were expected to cook and take care of their families, following in their mother’s footsteps. Today’s grandmothers are outgoing. They have a lot more in common with younger kids and social media and technology, allowing us to be up on all there is to know.”

I think it may depend on the level of education — or at least the receptivity — either party has and whether the younger woman values some commodity that the older woman exhibits. It may also depend on the type of relationship the younger woman has (or had) with her own mother.

The younger women I know have only shown me friendship and treat me like any other girlfriend.”

It's been a mixed bag for me so far. Some fabulous, some as ageist as ever. Pretty sure that's been the case for most of the modern era.”

Younger women's responses:

I love connecting with people of all ages! I find I have a lot to learn from people who have lived life before me and I really admire their experiences. I also often feel I have a lot to share about my generation. As long as anyone older than me treats me with respect and appreciates my presence I often feel I can connect easily, but sometimes I do run into people who I feel automatically don’t care for me because I am young. In that case, I think I am less inclined to try to make a connection.”

The communication is different out of respect. I love connecting with older women so I can soak up their knowledge and wisdom to be able to learn from them.”

Being friends with authentic women of all ages is the best. SO much to learn, and still so much to connect about. We're all learning, growing, and experiencing life together at all ages.”

I shared office space with two older women for about a year, and although I felt a little intimidated by their experience at first, they made me feel so welcome. I learned a ton from both of them, especially because our roles and responsibilities in the office were quite different. I think of both of them as friends/mentors more than coworkers now!

What this told me was that it’s primarily about the people, the setting, and the opportunities in which both younger and older women place themselves. While I don’t see 60-somethings and 20-somethings hanging out at bars together on weekends, I do see a newfound interest on the part of both groups to learn from one another.

So when people my age say they don’t want to “bother” with social media (for heaven’s sake, Boomers stole Facebook from their kids) or learn how to use Instagram, I have to wonder just how insulated they prefer to be. While I respect that everyone has their own take on how to spend their “senior” years, how do you stop caring about what is going on right under your nose? 

Psychology Today’s Dr. Holly Parker, in her article about ageism, talks about how the phenomenon encompasses a jumble of biased ideas and practices related to a person’s age. “The especially slippery part about ageism is that we can witness it in action time and again throughout society, often without anything triggering our internal antennae that tells us ‘Hey, something is deeply amiss here.’” 

I attend female-focused events for entrepreneurial types because I can pick the brains of some of the smartest young women around. A few weeks ago I attended the Girlboss Rally at UCLA, where psychologist Dr. Lauren Hazzouri of NOT THERAPY got up on stage to animatedly talk to young women about finding and embracing their inner child. She is on a mission to educate the next generation of girls and women, explaining, “It took me a solid four decades to shed the impact of social norms, recognize my value, and stand in my power. The problem is that we’re socialized to focus on all that we are not, rather than all that we are. Without the proper education and tools to see ourselves clearly, becoming comfortable with our true selves can take a long time. The truth is that we’re  born with everything we need to get through life in a healthy and happy way. And, this next generation is pure power. Much of my own growth has been in an effort to be a good enough social model for them. They came knowing much of what I’d been trying to figure out for years. Bottom line—we need each other.”

I think all of us can relate to that. Younger women want instant wisdom. We older chicks look back and wish we could have spoken to our younger selves with the kind of conviction we have now. I think that is the key to closing the communication gap, as long as we can listen from and learn from one another no matter what our age. I don’t see anything unusual in feeling as if women my age are just getting started, just as younger gals don’t.

So is the surprising lack of ageism I am experiencing because of me, or because younger women have given us broader latitude? Is it about what we concern ourselves with, how we look, how we speak, where we spend our time or how we act? Because when someone calls me “ma’am” I guarantee you—I will be looking around to see what old person may be standing nearby.