I don’t know when was the first time I heard the term «ageism,» but in my notes, I had written down, «ageism and gender.» I suppose it was related to some discriminatory headline I had read or to conversations I sometimes have with my eldest sister, Teté, who as an engineer in her fifties has much to say about the «isms» she’s faced in life.
The North American gerontologist Robert N. Butler (1927-2010) coined the term «ageism» in 1969, defining it as the «systematic discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish with skin color and gender.» Butler’s concept spoke about stereotypes regarding age, and about the existence of this kind of discrimination not only at an individual level but also at a social and institutional level.
Perhaps one of the most painful lessons of this crisis is precisely seeing how these kinds of discrimination, so present in our aging society, are invisible for those who don’t experience them daily. The news about the impact of coronavirus in homes for the elderly in Spain fills us with helplessness and seeing that the problem is systematic, that it is happening in all communities, is perhaps even sadder. Discrimination is a powerful virus that sometimes kills in a violent way and sometimes in a silent manner. Reflecting as a society about other kinds of silent discrimination that will assail us in the coming days is an exercise as painful as it is necessary, but we cannot allow sadness to dampen our spirit of solidarity so we can continue to fight for the rights of those heroes and heroines who never asked anything in return: our elderly.