Language about older women
The words we use about people not only reflect how they are seen in society, but can also reinforce stereotypes about them to. Age Platform Europe have offered guidance about non-stereotyping ways to speak about older people, while the Centre for Ageing Better has recently produced guidance about how to refer to older people in positive ways.
However, there is little, yet, specifically about how to use affirmative language about older women. One exception is the World Health Organisation’s ‘Quick Guide to Avoid Ageism in Communication‘ which advises stopping referring to older women as ‘grannies’. This project will, hopefully, come up with some new suggestions.
Images of older women
Images have a powerful impact on the ways in which we think about people. Many images of older people are negative and disempowering (the road sign of stooped people with sticks, youthful hands holding old wrinkly ones, etc). The Centre for Ageing Better has recently launched a free image library of positive images of older people. This includes a few positive images of older women, although they are sadly rather limited and seem to involve a lot of younger older women and grey haired women doing gardening. The problem is, if the images aren’t there, then even a fantastic resource like the Centre for Ageing Better’s library, cannot stock them.
The press often uses negative language and images in articles and news features about older people. Heléna Herklots CBE, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, has recently written a blog about the need to change news media portrayals of older people. In it she refers to a new research report she commissioned which ‘found two-thirds of the news stories analysed portrayed older people in a negative way, painting a picture of older people as being in ill-health, being victims, or being a burden on society’.
Heléna Herklots CBE recommends the following:
- “The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) updating its Editors’ Code of Practice to include age under clause 12 on discrimination.
- The NUJ, whose Code of Conduct already includes age, looking at how it can work with its members to highlight the damaging effects of ageism and bring to an end the negative stereotyping of older people and ageing.
- Working in partnership with other organisations such as the Centre for Ageing Better, Universities and Ofcom, to raise awareness, and develop new guidelines for all news and broadcast media to use including a call for new images to be used”
We urgently need the press to get onboard with these issues.