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Ageism unconscious, pervasive problem, expert says December 10, 2006

Posted by C.A.R.D in Age Discrimination, Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Discriminate, Discrimination.

The couple in an advertisement for train travel smiled out at the viewer; their graying hair and the tag line, about having time to take trips, provided an indication of their ages.

A group of older Vermonters looked at a slide of that ad Saturday and debated whether it portrayed seniors favorably.

Marjorie Power, 65, of Montpelier said the image could be perceived as “well-to-do seniors swilling at the trough of public assistance.”

“I thought they were just going for a trip,” rejoined Barbara Hannon, 68, of Waitsfield.

The discussion was part of a morning lecture in Burlington about age-discrimination issues older women face. The participants, 13 women and one man, all seniors, listened intently and spoke animatedly during the hour-long presentation by University of Vermont Assistant Professor Fiona Patterson. Many in the group said they’ve dealt with discrimination, either direct and overt, or subtle and passive.

Power said clerks sometimes ignore her while she’s in line at a store.

“There’s an invisibility you get as a woman once you get to 50,” Power said, adding that she always fights back. “That doesn’t happen to me more than once with the same young person. You become an invisible person until you open your mouth.”

Patterson, 68, said discrimination shaped her career. She worked for 16 years in social work at a Pennsylvania hospital but was laid off during a reorganization in the late 1990s. After the firing, which she attributed to her age, she went back to school, earned a doctoral degree in social work and joined the faculty at UVM.

Her presentation Saturday featured dozens of slides of portrayals of seniors: cartoons, ads, news articles, photos. There’s no hate group that targets the elderly, Patterson said, so discrimination is based on stereotypes, including views of the elderly as sad and lonely, silly and foolish, useless or frail.

“It’s amazing how many ads for anti-psychotic medications use pictures of older women,” said Patterson, who teaches in UVM’s Social Work Department.

The presentation, delivered at the monthly meeting of the Green Mountain chapter of the Older Women’s League, came at a time when an age-discrimination lawsuit is pending in federal court in Burlington. Anita Petroziello, a former assistant vice president at TD Banknorth’s Williston branch, sued the Maine-based banking chain after she was fired in 2004 and replaced by two younger employees.

A federal judge ruled last month that Petroziello’s case should go to trial if the parties fail to settle.

Saturday’s discussion participants said older people sometimes adopt society’s stereotypes of themselves. Other times, younger folks don’t adjust their attitudes, even after meeting seniors who don’t fit perceptions.

“People don’t redefine their stereotypes, which is what they should be doing,” Power said. “They say, ‘Oh, you’re not old.'”

Patterson said attitudes behind age discrimination pose particular challenges to overcome.

“Ageism sort of seems to happen unconsciously. It’s simply automatic for most adults in our youth culture, most young adults,” she said. “Elders are a unique minority, because all those people who have age discrimination will become old.”

C.a.r.d {Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination} Source: Burlingtonfreepress.com

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