Gender, Ageism and the Media

Chapter 36 in the Media Literacy Reader explores the idea of how older women are represented in the media. The chapter talks extensively about the way in which our society does not value older woman as shown by their portrayals in the mainstream media. Often these older women are seen either as a mother and a grandmother or as linked to disease, isolation and worthlessness. This chapter really resonated with me because I know how rare it is to see older women represented positively on television shows or even on reality television shows. As the chapter also notes, when they are actually present in the mass media, they are rarely ever portrayed in a positive light.

This chapter also examines the link between ageism and sexism and how women experience a certain type of ageism in which they are not seen as attractive anymore. I think this link between ageism and sexism is really interesting. The pressure on females to live up to the unrealistic beauty standards of the media is clearly intensified as women age. The following video shows actress Marina Sirtis, who is most famous for being on Star Trek: The Next Generation, speaking about the ageism that she faces in Hollywood. This reinforces the argument of the chapter which is that there are limited opportunities and representation of older women on the television.

Furthermore, while some students are aware of sexism, racism and classism, it is rare that ageism is ever talked about within the classroom. I think ageism is an incredibly prevalent form of discrimination and oppression in our society and it is especially important to talk to youth about this because they sometimes can buy into ageist notions. One example of ageism seen in our society recently could be the treatment of John McCain in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Many newspaper and other forms of news media ridiculed him for being too old to be President. The picture below is an example of a picture that was ageist and made fun of McCain for being too old to be President of the United States.

An interesting example of the intersection between sexism and ageism could be seen in the treatment by the National Post of Dolores Claman who was in a fight with CBC over the theme song for Hockey Night in Canada. The National Post inserted a line about how “it is puzzling that a major media company would have left itself capable of being outfoxed thus by an elderly lady.” This shows how the author of this article found it not only surprising that a female could “outfox” a major media company but found it especially surprising because this was an “elderly lady.” Below is a picture of Claman.

As a future teacher, I think it would be really interesting to examine ageism with my class. Perhaps we could use magazines to cut out pictures and make collages of how the media represents elderly people. We could also discuss the types of older people we know in our own lives and some of the qualities that they embody and compare this to the stereotypes that are perpetuated in the media. In addition to this, I did some research to see if there were any other resources that had ideas on how to combat ageism and found this website that gives some tips on how to move past ageism. I also found an article that further discussed the intersectionality between ageism and gender. Through exploring these ideas I think we could dispel some commonly believed stereotypes of older people especially women.

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