serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

Labels and Gender

Posted by Jim Selman on 11/28/06

Most of the attempts to categorize people who are older (“temporally challenged”, seniors, golden oldies and so forth) are usually attempts to find a label to make a state or condition that most people relate to as ‘negative’ seem nicer. Ronni Bennett has some interesting thoughts about language and how our labels often reveal a lot about how we observe and relate to others and the world in general. I agree with her that most of it is nonsense, and I like the term Elder.

en talk about people who are growing older or aging to speak of those of us on the ‘back nine of life’. The problem with Elder is that, as I have said in other postings, it is more of a role, rather than entitlement of years. I don’t mind the term ‘senior’, though it is often used in a somewhat patronizing manner. At the end of the day, you can call me whatever you like. As long as I know who I am and don’t get hooked into society’s attempts to put me in a slightly pejorative category, it won’t be a problem for me personally.

The attempt to categorize me does, however, say something about our culture (a topic I will leave for another conversation). For now, let’s stick with Elder as a positive, non-judgmental label for those over 60 or so—for both men and women.

Some of the women I have spoken to have noted that the term seems inherently masculine; however, in matriarchic cultures, the institution of ‘elderhood’ is predominantly feminine. Whether a society is patriarchic or matriarchic matters only in terms of which values will be dominant in the elder consciousness. For example, values relating to relationship, nurturing, community and networking might be more easily embraced by elders in a matriarchic culture, while values of solidarity, strength and honor might be more appropriately held within a patriarchic context.

Gender need not be a distinction among older persons in terms of their roles and contributions to the larger community. No matter what the predominant value system in a society is, all elders can be responsible for the continuity of the culture and for generic goals for living (such as health, love, happiness, self-expression and being valued).

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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