From a young age we are put into a world where many of the experiences we have are based on social constructions. For example gender is a social construction. Society influences the things females and males should do. The problem with that is society also just generally thinks of two genders, when there are so many others. For now we will just talk about male and females. Men are taught to be masculine and hide their emotions. If they do show emotions they get called a “pussy” or “faggot”. Women are raised to believe that they should be feminine and submissive. They should worry about looking pretty, taking care of the house, raise the kids and serve their man. Sometimes at a very young age we start seeing how sexuality is perceived based on gender. Women are seen as sexual objects, and if they sleep around they are slut shamed and called “whores” or “sluts”. Men are taught that it is okay to have more than one woman at a time and it is important to have stamina and sexual drive. These are things that women and men deal with throughout their lifetimes. However, once people start to get older, we see ageism at play, with that we start seeing sexuality as a problem too, even though it still remains different for women and men. In this paper I will analyze how gender and sexuality intersect with ageism using two youtube videos. All human bodies naturally age. However as we age there begins to be limits to what an older person can or cannot do or rather what society thinks older people should not do. Of course there are things that we cannot control such as our health and being discriminated against for being older. As we grow older we become less independent because we cannot do many things we once could. So older adults start to become a burden for society. Historically older adults were seen as a source of wisdom and knowledge. Now we have created nursing homes and assisted care facilities to store away older people who are no longer useful. “In most prehistoric and agrarian societies, older people were often held in high regard. They were the teachers.
By virtue of their age and greater experience, they were regarded as wise and they were the custodians of the traditions and history of their people.” (Nelson pg. 208) Two changes in civilization caused a drastic change in the way we view and use older adults. The first was during the printing press. Since stories could now be replicated at fast rate and distributed widely people no longer saw a use in going to an elderly for stories or advice. The second occurred during the industrial revolution where the requirements for jobs was a capability to move very often and very intense labor, something older adults were not able to do because their bodies could not handle it. The seniority of people in these jobs did not matter if they could not perform their jobs. Then came the era in which new advances in medicine allowed a longer life expectancy. With this now there were more older people to deal with, thus it became a burden to have old people around so then society began to associate older people with being a burden. This has not changed as today there are many cases in which older people are discriminated against. (Nelson)
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Of course we have many factors that affect ageism such as race, gender and class. But we still see a lot of ageism in many areas of society such as media, workplace, and educational settings just to name a few. Then there are things like sexuality that suddenly becomes taboo as we age. Collectively older people experience ageism but it still is different for men and women. In a study done on young adults and their implicit and explicit views of sexuality in the elderly, they found that younger adults had a less favorable perception of sexuality in older adults. To find this out the researchers used the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Based on a few factors, younger people were more likely to explicitly show approval of sexuality in older adults but with the IAT combined with a few other methodologies, they found that implicitly they had more bias towards ideas of sexuality, especially among older adults. (Thompson et. al) Gender is intersecting with ageism. The way in which women experience ageing is obviously different than mens. The way in which we perceive both genders as they get older is different too. As we mentioned women are conditioned to be passive, submissive nurturing caretakers that also have to worry about their sensuality and femininity. When women get older they experience menopause which is when the body stops having the ability to reproduce.
People commonly see this as a bad thing. They see women who have gone through menopause as less feminine because they are not able to have children anymore. Heather Dillaway found that women actually see menopause as a “good old”, specifically for women who have been taking contraceptives. Women said they were more abe to enjoy sex now because they did not have to worry about preventative measures. “Menopause is a reproductive experience first and only an aging experience second.” (pg. 413) Women are pressured into having a family by a certain age. If by a certain age they have not fulfilled having a family they are seen as a workaholic. “Ageing women are stigmatised and marginalised both by ageing and by being ageing women.” (Westwood pg. 3)Women who are older and do not have children or are married or women who are divorced or widowed are labeled by society as either a cougar or a MILF. These representations of women can also be found in movies, TV shows etc. “specific representations of “cougars” or other colloquial references to older women’s sexuality (e.g., MILF—meaning literally “mother I’d like to fuck”) found in the media are frequently tainted with negative connotations.” (Alarie and Carmichael pg. 1253) The whole idea of older women dating younger men is by society a way in which women need validation to feel young again. (Alarie and Carmichael) In this clip of How I Met Your Mother (https://youtu.be/8WzVKcfs5g4) we see Barney and Marshall peeking in on an older professor played by Jane Seymour. Barney sets up a whole scenario about her and how to approach her to get in bed with her. By the way Barney is speaking you feel as if you are watching a show on animal planet of a predator preparing itself to attack its prey.
Barney refers to Jane as the “cougar”. He talks about a few categories that define a cougar: the hair, the blouse, and the claws. In this we see how older women’s sexuality is portrayed as animalistic because Barney is talking about her as if she is an actual cougar. Women are also pressured by the beauty industry to maintain their youthful appearance. This we see all the time in television commercials and advertisements in magazines. The beauty industry makes lots of money pressuring women into looking good. Now we also have cosmetic procedures that allow women to look younger but with a very big price tag. Women undergo procedures to lift and remove wrinkly, saggy skin, make their breasts perkier and re-shape their bodies because society is so fixated on pressuring women into looking beautiful regardless of the natural process of aging. As we mentioned women are brought up to be nurturing caretakers we also see men being conditioned to be masculine and exercise their sexual desires. Throughout their lifetimes men cannot show emotion and must always be on guard of their masculinity. We live in a society where it is acceptable for men to have a wife, mistress and girlfriend and multiple baby mamas because we exercise this idea of masculinity. The moment a woman does something like that she is labeled a “whore” or a “slut”. As men get older it becomes harder for them to keep their masculinitty and sexulity when they can no longer perform due to health or physical issues such as erectile dysfunction. This can be seen as a threat to older men and their sexuality and so they look to medicine like viagra to ensure they are always able to perform.
The men interviewed in Sandberg’s study “understood sexual desire as something natural and positive that continued also in later life, in accordance with successful aging discourses as well as traditional masculinity discourses. However, these old men also expressed how sexual desire was not as strong and ‘‘fiery’’ as when they were younger and told humorous stories about themselves as very ‘‘randy’’ persons when younger.” (Sandberg pg. 205) Even though it is natural for sexuality to decline in older adults it does not mean it cannot exist. It still exists but it is not something that is widely talked about as people usually see older adults as incapable of doing much. It was hard for the men in the study to talk about their sexuality without laughing, partly because talking about sexuality is weird for some but also it is not something men are conditioned to talk about, they just do it. When older men are not married or have families it is not seen as problematic.
They are showcased as bachelors or hardworking. In this clip (https://youtu.be/gDqDbhu1A0U) we see Hugh Hefner a famous businessman who was known for PlayBoy. He had many partners, girlfriends and wives throughout his lifetime. He was known for having the playboy mansion and having sex with a lot of women well until his death at 91. A lot of young men looked up to him and wanted to be like him because of his sexuality, and it also put a lot of pressure on men who probably could not live that type of lifestyle at their age. We even see Hugh Hefner costumes being worn every Halloween by men to represent this masculine figure. In the video Hugh talks about his past girlfriends while sitting with his three current girlfriends. He does this while having both his hands over his girlfriends and caressing their legs to show dominance. But there are many aspects of sexuality that men must also take into consideration. Not just erectile dysfunction entirely but having less and less erections in the morning, not lasting long enough and not being able to stay hard. These apart from physical fitness are problems men face as they get older and they find it threatening to their sexuality. “Sexual desire is not something that needs to be constantly done but is more about retaining an imaginary possibility of sexual practice.” (Sandberg pg. 206) Older men and women are not represented well in the media.
We usually see them as being incapable of doing much. Common stereotypes of elderly people in the media are that they are forgetful, sleepy, or helpless. Recently we have seen the portrayal of elderly people as comical with actors like Betty White or movies like Bad Grandpa. When they are portrayed as sexually active we see a difference between the way men and women are portrayed as we saw from the two videos. “Comparisons of elderly men and women showed patterns of traditional stereotypes, with men more likely to be depicted positively on 7 of 9 desirable traits and women more likely to be depicted negatively on 6 of the 7 undesirable traits which showed a gender difference.” (Vernon et. al pg 55) The social construction of gender and the roles they play intersect with how we see sexuality specifically in older people. This acts “to support social inequalities between men and women.” (Heapy pg. 197) Human sexuality is something natural that happens and changes over time regardless if we want it to or not. With things like viagra and cosmetic surgery, older people are now able to feel younger and be able to actively participate in things they probably could not do or were too embarrassed to do before. However our ideas of sexuality in the elderly must be changed and we must accept this natural part of life. If we are free to explore our sexuality as adults we should not let ageism affect our sexuality when we are older. (Carpenter) We also saw the effects of gender roles and how they intersect with sexuality and ageism. To be able to equally reduce the effects of ageism collectively we must look at the way we treat men and women and stop having them fit into categories that society forces upon them.
An Argument Against Ageism In The Society
In developmental psychology, we learn that from birth to death we are continually maturing; meeting milestones, taking on new developmental tasks, and finding ways to help us cope with stressors. Much attention is paid to early human development, but as we increasingly age as a population, it’s important to focus on the other end. Today, aging itself is being redefined. What does it mean to be old, anyway? And how does America treat their elderly population?
Around the world populations are experiencing longer life spans due to increased access to healthcare and a better understanding of how to keep people living healthier for longer (Lachs, 31). According to statistics collected by the Administration on Aging, the United States went from having 3 million people over the age of 65 in 1900 to 35 million by the year 2000, and they estimate the by 2050 there will be 89 million people over the age of 65 (Halter, 566). This will continue to greatly impact our economy and our health and social services sectors.
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The longer people live, the more diseases and disabilities they are likely to suffer from. It is estimated that around 80% of people who are 65 years or older have at least one chronic disease or disability (Halter, 566). Such diseases or disabilities like dementia, impaired mobility, impotence or incontinence have a severe impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to function independently. Sometimes, our “golden years” tend not to be so golden.
The average life expectancy in the United States is eighty-one for women and seventy-six for men, and the eighty-five-year-old and older population is now the fastest growing population in much of the developed world….[Magill’s]. This is a very good statement because with the growing population and health advances elderly people are living longer, As one elderly woman put it: “Chronologically, I’m an old woman. But physically I don’t feel old. Mentally, I don’t feel old” (Kofre, 343).
Charles Darwin, the English naturalist and major contributor to the theory of human evolution, would argue that death is the result of natural selection; a process that is expected and a natural happenstance when adverse events suffered outmatch the ability of the body to sustain life. [Magill’s]. Reading the articles I discover that there is a disconnect between the growing population and what should actually be done with our elderly.
The term ageism was coined by Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging. Like racism and sexism, ageism involves prejudice and discrimination directed toward a specific segment of the population.[ Evens Charles H]. There is a lot of negativity associated with getting older in the U.S especially when it comes to media. They portray elderly as healthy, attractive young adults laughing, dancing and playing sports. This gives younger people a sense associating older people in a negative light in the real world. When in actually elderly people need the help from the young, because of the health condition and poverty they experience.
It is becoming more common to talk about the elderly using the functional age terms young old, old old and oldest old (Feldman, 94). The functional age category of young old refers to people of chronologically older age who remain lively and in good health and spirits, the old old are those people who have a few chronic diseases and may have some mobility issues, and the oldest old are those who are very weak and can no longer take care of themselves (Feldman, 94).
Erik Erikson gave psychology an important theoretical framework to examine human development across the lifespan with. (Halter, 22). Erikson had studied under Freud but felt that Freud focused too much on childhood and sexuality (Halter, 23). Erikson believed that people continue to develop their personalities or egos and mature in different ways during their whole life (Halter, 23). He theorized that there are essentially eight stages of psychological growth and development: trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, generativity vs. stagnation, and ego integrity vs. despair (Halter, 500).
For Erikson, each stage is an opportunity to either thrive or fail when met with physical, emotional, intellectual or interpersonal challenges (Erikson, 129).
If a person can effectively meet the new challenges that come along with new developmental tasks and stages, then they can happily and successfully move on to the next developmental stage. If they are unable to adapt however, they can stay in the same stage for a longer time than their peers, become dissatisfied or depressed, and even regress to an earlier stage that they feel relatively comfortable at but that is developmentally inappropriate for their age (Halter, 500). Failure to overcome a maturational crisis may be caused by a person having a faulty support system of peers and family or no support at all, tragic life events like war or death of a loved one or the absence of good role models growing up and sometimes requires the intervention of a psychologist or psychiatrist to help a person get out of a rut (Halter, 500).
According to Erikson development continues across the lifespan, even the elderly have a psycho-social crisis to try to complete successfully (Erikson, 106). For older adults, the developmental task is to reminisce over their life and feel that it had meaning and purpose (Feldman, 295). The successful completion of this task is called integrity (Erikson, 106). With this outcome, a person would feel contented by what they had seen, done and accomplished over the span of their life. They may feel that they have learned and experienced a lot and would like to share their mistakes and triumphs with receptive younger generations who could learn from their experiences. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, many elderly are fending for themselves or in nursing home.
A person in Erikson’s final stage of human development who does not resolve the crisis of life meaning and purpose may fall into a depression, feeling like they have wasted their life and may fear or their impending death (Halter, 22-23). As Erikson wrote, the eighth stage of development may be one of mourning due to “autonomy weakened, initiative lost, intimacy missed, generativity neglected” (Erikson, 63).
They may feel full of shame and doubt when they can no longer make decisions for themselves or fully take care of themselves (Erikson, 108). Guilt may set in when an older person can no longer accomplish a long laundry list of all the tasks they used to do and may personally hold themselves to a standard that is no longer realistic (Erikson, 108). Inferiority may take hold if they can no longer do everything they used to do or fill all the roles they used to play (Erikson, 109-110). Isolation commonly occurs as a result of primary and secondary aging changes that limit mobility as well as a shrinking peer group due to the increased mortality rate that accompanies older age (Erikson, 111). Finally stagnation can be a defining characteristic when an elderly person is not viewed by society as contributing anything worthwhile once they stop working or require more care than they are physically able to give (Erikson, 112).
The psychologist Robert Peck explored success narratives of older development through a framework of three developmental
tasks:redefinition-of-self-versus-preoccupation-with-work-role,body-transcendence-versus-body-preoccupation, and ego-transcendence-versus-ego-preoccupation (Feldman, 294). The first task refers to redefining oneself after retirement by focusing more on attributes and hobbies, the second is about finding ways to overcome the physical changes and challenges that come with aging and the third is all about appreciating that while death is inevitable and impending, there are still contributions to society that can be made and it is important to reflect on and be proud of the contributions already made over a long life (Feldman, 294).
Looking back over the years as a way to connect with others, to find a means of continual contribution to society or as a way to find satisfaction with self is an important element of human growth and development in our later years.
The various ways in which we cope with challenges and meet milestones when we enter life’s “stage” have repercussions throughout our lives and continue to be no less important as we near our “exit” in old age. As world populations reach greater chronological ages in greater numbers, we will continue to evolve our notions of old age and hopefully find more and more ways to live up to the expectations of the “golden years”.