Ageism: please don’t call me “dear”

Apparently it’s called “benevolent prejudice”, the tendency to see older people as “friendly” but “incompetent” and to treat them accordingly. And apparently, women encounter this phenomenon more often than men.

I remember my mother-in-law being treated like this, not infrequently, although always in the spirit of kindness. She lived to be nearly 97, with her full faculties until the end. She was a quiet and gracious woman, and always enjoyed being part of our social gatherings, of which there were many. During some of those occasions I would be taken aback when every so often someone would say, “Isn’t she wonderful,” expressing admiration for her ability, as far as I could gather, to converse. I knew people meant well, but it always struck me as patronizing. I realize that we’re not good at projecting ourselves into the future, but do people really think that they’re going to regress so much as they age that being able to continue to participate in life will seem deserving of special recognition? Sorry, but that’s not showing respect; without meaning to, you’re being condescending.

When she was in the hospital for the last time, still fully alert, some of the hospital staff would speak about her to us, right at her bedside, instead of to her or instead of at least including her in the discussion. It was as if she were invisible. And when she was addressed, it was often with the appellation “dear”.

You may be guessing where I’m heading with this. Fast forward a number of years and I find myself irked not on behalf of my mother-in-law, but – you got it – because people are starting to call me “dear”. (Granted, not people who know me well, who undoubtedly would not think that is a very fitting moniker for me!)

To date these interactions have most often been at the dentist’s office, the eye doctor’s office, or at a checkout counter, and so far always from women. I struggle with whether to say what’s on my mind or to stick with silently saying through clenched teeth, “I’m not your dear.” But I know they don’t mean anything by it – except that they think I’m old, i.e. friendly but incompetent. So I say nothing. But recently the dentist checking my teeth, a young woman I had not encountered before, spent more far time talking to the hygienist about me than to me, and when she did speak to me it was in a decidedly distracted and condescending way. Disrespectful.  I am seriously thinking of changing dentists – and explaining why!

We have been reminded in spades lately, thanks to all the “Trump talk”, that many men objectify women as sex objects, younger women that is. It appears that many people – maybe even more women than men – objectify old(er) women as being nice but not fully competent. And most old(er) women are too nice to remind people that they have had a lifetime of interesting experiences, thank you very much, and that their name is not “dear”.

As I mentioned earlier, my mother-in-law was a quiet and gracious woman. And she may not have always heard the comments I heard. Still, those well-intended people who spoke down to her, albeit without meaning to, got off easy. They were lucky that my mother never lived to be an old woman; she wouldn’t have responded so graciously. But watch out, world, because she left her daughter behind. And her daughter is not taking kindly to being spoken to as if she has lost some of her faculties. For starters, please don’t call me “dear”!

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9 Responses to Ageism: please don’t call me “dear”

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    Yes indeed. I suppose I was as guilty as any when younger. Then I realised that old(er) people were young once and lived full lives, probably fuller than most can imagine. In their (our) latter years that’s not to be forgotten and our seniors ought to be recognised, addressed and respected accordingly.

  2. jennypellett says:

    Jane – what an excellent post! Total agreement from over here!
    Back in the day, in my first career, I was lucky enough to work for a generally mild mannered boss. However, if something had caused his displeasure- watch out – and we’d always know the signs as he’d address us sarcastically as ‘dearie.’
    No one has called me ‘dear’ just yet, but I’ll be ready and waiting for when they do!

  3. alesiablogs says:

    oh dear!!! Wait! I better not say that….Great post. Seems to me we are going backwards lately with all that has happened right in our faces on social media….I have kept it off most of the time.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Alesia, do you think anything will change in that regard after your election, or that that the lack of civility will continue to grow as a concern? To be fair, I don’t think the people being patronizing to older people actually mean anything by it at all. They don’t see their words or actions as patronizing. The lack of civility we’re witnessing is another matter all together.

      • alesiablogs says:

        I hope we can have civility return in the world of our politics. I do not think we have had it for a very long time. Doing no work which has been the norm on Capital Hill is getting very old with many. Having said that I never vote for a person who habitually puts his /her own interests ahead of themselves. Now that is a loaded statement by me because both candidates have their own issues in this area. Having said that–I need to vote for the person I feel is best qualified and that falls with the person with the experience. You can guess who i mean by that. : ) Yes. I agree about how people treat the elderly. There is for the most part no disrespect meant, but I know that being in the health care field , I watched firsthand some medical professionals be disrespectful to our elderly who need a lot of help. I believe there are those who forget one day that will be them. Enjoy your day Jane!

  4. DM says:

    My wife (who is not yet even 60) has also run into some of this when she’s out and about shopping. She (like you) is 100% on her game and was taken back by it..I’ll have to ask her how many times it has happen.. I hear you on this one. You’ll never ever hear me talking to you like this…ever.. 🙂 to this day, when I run into former teachers from school I still call them Mr and Mrs. R E S P E C T has been drilled into me.. I appreciated this post Jane…I can hear your mothers voice in this one. 🙂 DM

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