“This way, girls,” said the restaurant hostess as she led my friend Barbara and me to a table. “And how are you two young ladies doing today?” she asked with a condescending smile and a voice you’d use to speak to a kitten or an infant.
“We two ‘young ladies,’”
I snapped back, “are old enough to be your grandmother, and we haven’t been girls since we were 12.”
My not-too-polite retort left the 30-ish woman looking confused and just a little hurt. (For the record, I politely explained the reason for my attitude to her before I left. She won’t be calling older women “girls” again.)
This wasn’t the first time I’d spoken up about being chronologically diminished in public. “Why did you do that?” Barbara asked.
“People have to learn that addressing us as ‘young ladies’ or ‘girls’ isn’t a compliment,”
I answered. “They might just as well be saying, ‘This way, you two old biddies.’” As far as I’m concerned, it’s just ageism plain and simple.
It’s not just women who are subjected to ageism. Men get their share. My friend Dan bemoans the fact that the grayer his hair gets, the more often he’s addressed as “young man” by servers.
Another sideways compliment that I don’t appreciate is, “Wow! You don’t look your age.” I never know how to take that one. People rarely tell a 20- or 30-something person that they don’t look their age. The way I see it, it’s just another way to point out to older people that they’re, well, older. When someone “flatters” me with this statement, I politely answer, “Well, you don’t look your age, either.” That doesn’t make much sense, which is exactly my point.
Ageism is also alive and well at doctors’ offices. I don’t know why most medical receptionists insist on addressing waiting room patients by their first name. No Mrs., Mr., Ms. It’s more than a bit disrespectful. When doctors address me with a cheery, “Hi, Karen, I’m Dr. So and So,” I greet them right back using their first name.
And if a medical professional ever uses the phrase, “Well, at your age …,” I stop them with the question, “So what treatment would you suggest for a woman of my age short of putting me out to sea on an ice floe?” That stops them cold (excuse the pun) and sometimes even leads to a less condescending and more intelligent discussion.
If I sometimes come off as a cranky old lady, that’s just fine with me. Most nations of the world respect their elders; some actually revere them. America, not so much. I frequently feel like I’m a lone voice speaking out against our youth-obsessed culture. But that’s okay. I celebrate my longevity every day, and I won’t be ignored, diminished, disrespected, or even benignly teased just because of it. I’m too old for that.