Labels & Gender

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.

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

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