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Currently I am awaiting the examiners comments on my thesis. There won’t be much difference in my plans after that except that if I have the title ‘Doctor’ in front of my name it will give more credibility to what I say, particularly among researchers into ageing and the public at large. Whichever way the verdict goes I feel as though as an older person I have a split personality, my past and my age (now 75), and the two tend not to be compatible in the eyes of society. I often worry about people in old people’s homes (under whatever up-graded title these places now operate!) who are assessed on their wrinkles, not for the brains behind them. The concept of ‘old and senile’ is hard to change.

I have just been reading the work of people like Friedan and Butler, which applied to the situation of the ageing in the US. Like so many academics in this field they operated in a ‘sheltered workshop’ in which they were able to continue on with their work which largely meant mixing with younger people and the realties of life for other older people was not something they encountered. This seems to apply to the many older people who are able to continue with their work long past retirement age, including the older Australians I was privileged to interview for my thesis. It is the majority, the ones who retire without being able to replace work with something comparable, who are the visible sign of the ageing in the community.

These are the people who society groups as useless and a burden on the community. This is what I want to change by giving older people a belief in themselves and their capabilities. As I have pointed out before, this ageism attitude has parallels with sexism and racism. It seems as though society has to have a pecking order. If we can abolish ageism the world (and older people) will be much better but will society need to look around for another group to put at the bottom of its pecking order or will it learn to manage without such a hierarchy? We need to be alert for this but let’s get rid of ageism first.

 

As I wait for the examiners of my thesis to come up with a verdict I am trying to move forward to the next stage of my life. I am still intending to write a book about my research but this time I want to aim it at older people. In my last attempt I tried to write something that would appeal to this group and to academics from the field of gerontology but the two groups have little in common. The latter seem to be established in the ‘publish or perish’ world of academia which seems to have little to do with the real world of the ageing.

I have presented papers at several international conferences, as well as here in Australia, but I’m beginning to realise what I am saying has fallen on deaf ears. The academics attending them know what they want to hear, which seems to have little to do with real life ageing, and are deaf to all else. I realised this after I presented a paper at a conference on ageing, jointly organised by the gerontologists and the aged care providers. The response to my talk was much more positive and I was invited to present it at the state conference of the care providers who are the real workers at the ageing coal face. I have also been invited to speak at the annual dinner of a group of care providers. This seems to be where the real action is.

As a result of all this it has occurred to me that if we want change it must come from ourselves, the older cohort. Unfortunately many of us are no longer capable of chaining ourselves to garden railings and marching through the streets as the suffragettes did to reverse sexism so I realised that I was going to have to follow my own advice and go on-line to unite us. Fortunately our local Writers Centre, which is very pro-active, is running short courses on such things as using Facebook and twitter to promote our writing and interests so that should give me a boost up. In theory, older people across the developed world are suffering from the same problem (ageism) and are treated as second class citizens so that we should be able to unite through on-line media and achieve a better deal, not only for ourselves but also for our countries and the world. With all our knowledge, wisdom and experience we have a lot to offer. If we step back and look at the present world it definitely needs all these attributes.

Meanwhile the on-line field is one where I am definitely wearing ‘L’ plates. I need to work my way up quickly. What enormous strength and influence we could have if the many millions of older people in the world were to unite through this means under the common banner of better conditions and respect for ourselves, our countries and the world in which we all live. If you doubt what I am saying watch the news tonight and listen as though you are not part of the world being described; watch and listen as an outsider. The polluted world and its often warring inhabitants are not a pretty sight are they?

The world has been a much better place, and smarter, since women in many countries united and presented a common front to achieve their rightful place in the world. Now it is time for older people to do the same, using the internet to overcome any physical problems we may have. We have a unique opportunity to work towards the type of world of which we can be proud.