Thursday, August 3rd, 2017 03:24 pm
I keep seeing people modelling ageism towards the young with a simplistic privileged/marginalised dichotomy, and while there is a huge power differential between adults and young people(*), I think this kind of model is really unhelpful.

I mean, simplistic privileged/marginalised dichotomies are a flawed way to describe anything. But there's cases where it at least kind of works, and age isn't one of them.

Consider, by contrast, gender. While non binary and other trans people are non-negligible edge cases, the majority of people divide neatly into Men (privileged) and Women (marginalised) and tend to stay in the same category their whole lives. Women can organise long term, and mentor each other, and dedicate their lives to feminism. Simplisticly treating All Men like The Enemy is unfair, and complete separatism is impractical, but women can find joy and support through pride in their womanhood and solidarity with other women their whole lives. Meanwhile, cis men can just accept that women are the experts on sexism. There are huge issues with white straight cis etc women acting like they have ownership of The Universal Experience Of Womanhood, and with everyone erasing or belittling trans experiences, but the Men vs Women model still mostly works most of the time.

Now consider age. It's all edge conditions. Instead of two fuzzy edged but obvious sets of Privileged vs Marginalised, we have a smooth continuum with no obvious place to draw a line(**). Instead of people mostly staying in one set, literally everyone shifts up that continuum at a steady rate their whole lives. Specifically, they shift from marginalised to privileged (and then, if they live long enough, back to marginalised again)

On an individual level you can use the rough rule of thumb that more age = more privilege (up to a certain point). The problem is when people try and divide groups of people into "the ones with age privilege" and "the ones without", and act like this is an immutable trait.

Any form of organisation or solidarity either includes adults or forces kids to lose their support once they reach a sufficient age. If a kid sees adults as The Enemy they will eventually see themselves as the enemy. All adults have experienced being a kid, and most of us are still processing those experiences. Ignoring the opinions of adults means you're stuck with the fresh but unrefined opinions of people still finding their feet, and silencing those people after only a short window.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be awareness of the power differentials between adults and young people. I'm just saying that it can't be treated as a simple divide into two or more discrete groups. The power divide between a 37 year old like me and, say, a ten year old is pretty straightforward. But what about me and a 27 year old? Or the ten year old and a five year old? If I met someone when I was 20 and they were 10, and we kept in contact for the next 17 years, at what point would we have gone from adult and child to two adults? Would my power dynamic with them be different to that with a 27 year old I met today?

Treating adults like an enemy to be ignored and excluded is most harmful in marginalisd communities. Imagine being a queer teenager who's finally found community with other queer teens, and is told to completely avoid adults and adult social spaces. What happens when that teen hits adulthood? They're now A Gross Grownup everyone in their youth focussed community is told to avoid, but they have no connections to adult queer spaces because until now they were told to avoid them. Where do they go? How do they feel about themselves and their sexuality?

There absolutely is a place for age segregated spaces. But only as part of a broader, more diverse community. Kids can form community amongst themselves in youth spaces, but also connect to people of wider ages in other spaces. (I mean if an individual young person wants to avoid adults, and as an adult just hangs with their similarly aged friends, then that's fine! But it's not a very good universal model)

I'm actually working on a post about how to ethically navigate mixed age spaces as an adult, because it's a really complex problem and the discussions I've seen about it tend to be pretty unhelpful. But suffice to say: it's a serious and complex issue, and I don't mean to gloss over it.

I'm also not saying adults should be treated as the experts on childhood. Sadly, while we do have personal experience with being children, we're generally too blinded by nostalgia and our acquired privilege to be objective. But we have different flaws in our perspective than younger people, so we need to all compare notes and listen to each other.

And in that vein, if anyone has other perspectives on ageism towards young people I'd be very interested to hear them! And yes, that includes young people :) I haven't resarched this very deeply, I'm mainly working from thoughts I've had during conversations about age in fandom.

Also, couldn't find a better place to put this, but: one of the problems with discussing privilege that applies here as much as everywhere else is the complex interactions with gender, disability etc. For example: Adult women overall have privilege over young girls(***), but sexism affects adult women in unique ways, it's not just "like being a young girl minus ageism". Girls don't get attacked with Old Woman sexist tropes, and sometimes thoughtlessly use these tropes without thinking about how harmful they are. Meanwhile the personal sting of Young Girl tropes have worn off for older women and they often use them gleefully. Thinking of this as a simple privilege1+privilege2 algebra misses the complexities.

(*)I was going to link to a simple description of all the ways adults have power over children but I can't find much. So here's This chapter on Feminist Parenting by bell hooks and a post about 'adultism' in youth workers. Everyday Feminism is irritating but here's 20+ Examples of Age Privilege about ageism against old people. Maybe the fact that ageism is so fuzzy is one reason there isn't much decent discussion of it?
(**)Sure, you can use "legally an adult" etc, but asides from a few specific circumstances where the legal distinction does make a big difference, this is entirely arbitrary. For example, the power difference between a a 17 year old and someone who just turned 18 is much less than that between a 14 year old and a 17 year old, or an 18 year old and a 21 year old. And unless you create some sort of complex function involving relative ages, social position etc there's no easy way to compare or equate these differences. Also, the significance of these differences changes drastically over time.
(***)I originally had "younger women" instead of "girls" but as someone pointed out that's not unambiguously true.
Thursday, August 3rd, 2017 08:05 am (UTC)
I will be interested to hear your further thoughts on the topic.
Thursday, August 3rd, 2017 08:19 am (UTC)
I mostly agree (surprise!) but I am wondering about this: Adult women overall have privilege over younger women

Do you mean that adult women have overall privilege over girls? Or that older women have privilege over young women? The first seems true in many ways (that is, the ways that adults generally have privilege over children), but the latter is a lot more questionable to me. There's an obsession with young women which is certainly a double-edged sword, but—the same way that most pressures on women are (say, beauty standards—which it's connected to ofc). For many, it can be difficult to escape the impression that young women (roughly... ~17-26, I'd say) are the only women of any social worth at all. Obviously the reasons for this are terrible, but they usually are.
Thursday, August 3rd, 2017 01:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I don't know that it's a privilege matter at all except possibly insofar as minors vs. legal adults due to the, well, legal structures around that. Funnily enough the first thing I think of @ "ageism" is hiring discrimination... against older candidates. Which is inextricably linked to the very corporations-as-people, humans-as-resources kind of environment that pervades much of the world today -- I would say "and not some kind of standalone thing", but I suppose what ever is.
elf: Smiling South Park-style witch with big blue floppy hat and inverted pentacle (Witchy)
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Friday, August 4th, 2017 03:22 am (UTC)
I tend to think of adults-vs-minors age discrimination as related to ableism: minors have substantial physical and social/mental limitations; an ethical society absolutely does not give them free choice over what to do with their lives - but we lack a lot of good models for how to treat someone like a person with a limited scope of rights, rather than an object that someone else owns and directs.

(The actual age or experience-level at which someone can reasonably make their own life decisions is debatable. I believe we can all agree that age is not 10, no matter how intelligent or socially agile the 10-year-old is.)

We don't have a legal structure that allows for kids to make their own decisions as practice as they grow up - parents may allow them some leeway, but for those who don't, there's no penalty. And for other adults - teachers, shop owners, etc. - there's likewise no requirement that they treat kids as anything other than property owned by their parents.

Some anti-elder discrimination falls in this category, especially for those with disabilities, but some falls under the weird glorification of young-vibrant-pretty adults, wherein the Best Age is ~25 and the farther you get from that, the less important you are.

I did a roundup about adult privilege some years back; one of your posts is in it.
elf: Computer chip with location dot (You Are Here)
[personal profile] elf
Sunday, August 6th, 2017 04:47 am (UTC)
Related: I was recently pointed to a Kickstarter for The Phone Addiction Cage for locking up teenagers' phones. Setting aside that every school I've dealt with has a "no phones; no electronic devices" rule that means "keep it in your pack on airplane mode at all times on campus or we take it away" - I can't imagine any setting in which this is tried on adults who are having problems staying focused on work.

(There's also the issue that school is not comparable to adult jobs, which are at least hypothetically voluntary. If nothing else, an adult always has the option of seeking a different workplace; children in school have no choice about where they attend.)

The whole k'start seems to consider children to be something like unruly puppies to be punished with various levels of denial and humiliation. There's not even the concept of negotiating with students.
Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 09:51 am (UTC)
Well said and thought out.