Tired of research, I decide to take a break to go through a box of stationery my mom gave me a while back. She found this box while she was visiting my granddad. I try to write him at least a letter a week (although I must admit I have been woefully relaxed about this as of late), and since he is not one to write, he generally saves stationery he is given or finds to give to me.
My mom had previously found a letter written by my grandmother in this box, addressed to a still-living person [she said to me, “I feel that I should send it.” To which I replied with an enthusiastic, “No!” I think that if I were elderly I would not want to receive a “How’re you doing?” note from a person nearly a decade gone.], and I had assumed she’d gone through the whole box and had only found the one written note. So, when I find two short letters and two “We’ve Moved!” notices in my grandmother’s hand, I am shocked. They all make me want to cry. Only one of the cards displays the handwriting I remember from my youth—thin ballpoint pen; neat, looping cursive; amiable and straightforward in text and type. The rest seem like echoes and forewarnings.
I admit that I did not begin to understand ageism until fairly recently. I understood it conceptually, but really, that means nothing. Conceptual understandings are red herring cloaks of superiority and invincibility—they make the owner feel good but mean absolutely nothing. “Action” stripped of letters until it is just “I.”
I was sitting in a gender studies class, when one of my classmates said, “I feel that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become invisible.” Another classmate (the only other student who was also older than the teacher) agreed. I did not think anything of it at the time [Do you see the extent of her invisibility?]. I’d been talking to a different professor outside of class about a book she was thinking of writing on aging, and I’d accepted everything she’d said about aging passively, lazily, without any real thought.
I had falsely equated the invisibility of aging with the invisibility that I felt that I faced as a young, Asian woman.
This is part of the problem of U.S. American feminism that Womanism, Third Wave feminism, and countless others before, after, and in between sought to correct: self-righteous egocentrism that denies the autonomy and reality of the other.
It is only now that I feel that I am beginning to understand the extent of my privilege. How would I know how often I am being ignored relative to an older woman? I think I am ignored often enough to make most people with more privilege uncomfortable (I do not know how many times a white person has told me that I am not being ignored when I recount an experience in which I feel I was blatantly disregarded). But, really, I cannot say how many times my young face and goofy smile and miniskirts and high heels have made me one of the noticed.
Humility is a lesson I hope to keep learning and never forget. It is a blessing to see illuminated all of the things I do not know.
Ageism is a real problem. This has become more evident to me as I become more aware and see it in the peripheries of my life and in myself. To treat someone as if they don’t matter or are incapable because of how we perceive them is the opposite of care and respect.
So, I entreat you, dear reader, to begin your interactions with humility, care, and respect. I know that there are many times that I fail in this, but it doesn’t make my successes any less of a success.