Agesplaining: Far More Annoying Than Mansplaining


As I mentioned once before, here’s an image I really hate. It gets trotted out from the photo bank every time there’s a story about a ‘senior’, a ‘granny’ or anyone else over fifty. It’s not that the young feel contempt for older people but that many have no feelings at all because they haven’t been part of a multi-generation family or community.

Reading the memoirs of the barrister Jeremy Hutchinson, I was struck by the way in which the young sought to learn from the more experienced, and the popularity of mentoring. I wondered how much it happens at colleges now.

Agesplaining has become endemic, but had its roots in a noble intention; to be more inclusive and draw in older people who had become cut off. It has now resulted in the ridiculously condescending presenter style adopted by the BBC and the call centre language used by service companies. Typical agesplaining came to me from the help desk of Sight & Sound, the esteemed BFI magazine, whose online interface constantly crashes. This ranged from a bad-tempered drone asking me if I’d tried TIOTIOA, to another one elaborately explaining that I needed to clear my cache (which I’d already done) as if talking to a dim five year-old.

Perhaps it was always like this; the young dismissing the generations above them – but this time around I can’t help thinking that the boomers have been there first and have had wider experience than the current generation. They’ve more communication skills and are more worldly, as well as being less sensitive to criticism. Technology is still new ground for some – but frankly, tech didn’t quite live up to its promise and is pretty easy to pick up (unless you’re my friend Maggie, who turns off her computer every night ‘in case it overheats’).

We’re now expected to work until 67 in jobs where we’re not considered to be ‘part of the team’ after forty. But the problem, as we’re slowly coming to see, is that age is not linear in the way it used to be. This is Chuando Tan, a Singaporean photographer. He’s 51 years old. He’s also got the muscle definition of a 25 year-old gym bunny (he doesn’t drink or smoke). Looking younger makes you feel better but must only increase the disparity; after all, you’re involved in a deception.

So Tan is an extreme example, but the agesplainers don’t realise that one person’s 70 is not another’s. Mental alertness relies on regular communication, good diet, exercise and continuous learning. Many younger people now work in cubicles with headphones on, and never develop verbal dexterity.

The most challenging mental workouts I faced in full employment involved being in a small office with four writers. The crackle of ideas buzzing about the room always kept you on your toes. So to have someone talking to me on the phone (they never do it to me in person) as if there was a sheet of thick glass between us drives me crazy.

It’s the last real stigma, and it can’t be removed. The state wants us to work later (not a bad thing) but human nature dictates that younger employees want to be with those born in their own decade.

There’s an argument that suggest the US’s so-called SJW employees must be young to overcome ingrained prejudices (Marvel’s writing team of young women have been getting stick for supposedly promoting a left-wing agenda and causing sales of comics to freefall), so does that mean older employees can’t be woke? Adaptability is often what older staff do best.

There’s one way to fight back; call out agesplainers and teach them a better way to communicate. If colours, creeds and genders can get equal rights, why can’t ages?




12 comments on “Agesplaining: Far More Annoying Than Mansplaining”

  1. David Ronaldson says:

    One of the problems is that older people have been young, but younger people have never been old. I can remember hearing older relatives saying that they were still “21 inside” or similar but it just didn’t resonate at the time. Now aged 55, such claims mean more to me. I recognise the “invisibility” Paul Theroux describes in his later travel writing. I walk a lot and had become used to making eye-contact with people going in the opposite direction, but I’m now invisible to younger people, who pass without a second glance. I was in a pub a few weeks ago and was sitting near a quiz machine; as the twenty-somethings clamoured for the answer to a music question before the time ran down, I suggested “Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine”; they looked unsure, but someone hit my suggested (and correct) answer just in time. I accepted the thanks, but was shocked at the level of amazement that the old git in the corner knew anything of music.

  2. Jan says:

    Depends on the job Chris. As I think I have said before on your blog any volunteers to be the oldest bricky, scaffolder on site or even carry on in occupations like hairdressing when the joints are arthritic?

    Policies are made by shiny bottoms for other people in shiny bottom occupations. Jobs which entail a large amount of labour are conveniently forgotten.

  3. Jan says:

    To be honest EVERY generation has found they are been talked down to and treated in a different way as they get older. I can remember my own gran moaning amount this!!!

    I ‘m not saying it’s right it’s just our turn this time. This photoshopped , hair dyed, gym toned Korean guy will get a bit creaky one day and think what I am worrying about? It’s part of life we go from being young overconfident and thinking we know everything to looking at youngsters and thinking they are just young, overconfident and think they know everything…..if we’re really daft we think we know a whole lot more. It’s life, it’s a bugger really.

    Think there’s more important problems to get your underwear in a tangle about.

  4. Denise Treadwell says:

    It’s just labels, I am interested in them.

  5. Denise Treadwell says:


  6. Peter Tromans says:

    Unless Korea is different from other parts of the far east Tan may be missing out. A friend of mine who worked in Malaysia reckoned that he gained a lot of undeserved respect thanks to his prematurely white hair.

    The whole issue of labelling people and then treating them badly gets seriously up my nose. It seems that the ‘normal people’ consider anyone older, foreign, wearing glasses, of a different sexual direction, having the wrong colour hair, or just being classifiable is not only a burden on the community but a serious danger to public health and security!

    If someone journalisticly classed as elderly causes a road accident, there’s an outcry for testing the abilities of everyone over 60. And that is in spite of this group being statistically the least likely to cause accidents. I read that some people have raised concerns about violence and aggression of people with Asperger’s because one person who has committed a violent shooting might have had Asperger’s.

    Let’s try some reduction as absurdum. Many American mass-murderers do not show evidence of Asperger’s. Can I suggest that all non-Asperger’s need to be reviewed for mental instability and tendency to violence?

    Recently in the UK, a 22-year old has been charged by police following a road accident with two deaths. Should all under 30 years be reviewed for their driving ability?

    The old can have their revenge. Back in the 1970s, the UK Dept of Transport decided to look at the safety of older drivers. They picked a few at random and sent out ‘testers’ to review their ability. One of the randomly selected was Sammy Davis; that is the English racing driver and journalist, not the American entertainer. Sammy achieved considerable success in sports cars in the 1920s and became a legend in 1927 for bringing home a Bentley to win Le Mans in spite of the car suffering a broken chassis along the way. In later years, he had lectured the police on high speed driving. Perhaps the 80-year old Sammy, also known for his sense of humour, was an (un)fortunate choice for testing. The tester explained that he was interested in Sammy’s ability to control a vehicle and speed of reaction. In Sammy’s words, he took the fellow out for a ‘quick spin’ around the country lanes in his little Austin-Healey. The ‘poor fellow lost his breakfast’ and Sammy never heard any more from the Department of Transport.

  7. Helen MARTIN says:

    Loved that story, Peter Tromans!
    I am sending this post from the computer room at the College for the Retired in Burnaby. It’s registration day for the spring term & as I’m a board member I’m helping out. We have several courses on using your computer – no patronising here- water colour and acrylic painting, a great drawing course, piano and ukulele playing, genealogy research, Spanish & French, and a handful of short courses for updating things like driver safety. There aren’t highly academic courses because the universities provide access.
    There is no reason why anyone should be dealt with at anything other than their level of competence and that is recognisable within the first minute of conversation. The professions deal with you professionally until you show signs of incompetence. Everyone should be dealt with the same way. Physical agility should be handled the same way. You’re competent until you aren’t.

  8. Peter Dixon says:

    The thing about age and intelligence is that older people remember, and have lived through, things that younger people don’t even know exist.
    The recent furore about the so called ‘gig economy’ and how people are supposedly self-employed amazes me. when I became self-employed in the 1980’s the rule was simple; if you do more than 60% of your work for only one client then you are not self-employed. You needed two, three or more customers or else you were simply avoiding employment rules. When did this legislation change? I certainly don’t remember it altering, yet nobody seems interested in the fact that its been illegal for over 40 years.
    Older people remember things, like employment rights and legal working conditions, that people under 30 don’t even know about. After WW2 we fought for rights (Trade Unions and workers rights) that have been forgotten or eradicated since Thatcher.
    Sad, sad, sad.

  9. Denise Treadwell says:

    I think you are right actually, in everything you have said . The government does want people to work longer before retirement. The young donot respect the older generation, they pass off our ideas, as old fashioned, and stupid, and white. I think we are living in dangerous times.

  10. jeanette says:

    Just turned 60. Asked for some music from an artist called Kwaye to be played. Person said ‘you know of Kwaye?’, with an incredulous look upon his face, person was in his late twenties. He then said he knew Kwaye and it felt like I should not know of an up to date artist. Well I love R & B/Dance music, why should my journey still not continue with this music being made now. It felt like ageism.

  11. James says:

    I well remember joking to a work colleague I was training: ‘ I can teach you, but I have to charge’ from the song by Kelis. I was about 60 at the time. The team erupted in amazement that I should know the song. But it never occurred to me to resent that amazement. It can be fun to shatter people’s preconceptions in that way.

  12. John Griffin says:

    Rather than horizontal classification I prefer to think vertical, in terms of open vs closed mindset. The passage of time tends to accentuate divisions present quite early on, in people’s late 20s onwards IMO, and hence younger people are either already closed (by most experiences being vicarious on social media, games etc or moving only in the same social milieu, be in a tower block or Eton) or simply not having had the time to open up. One of my wife’s nephews was very closed (computer games, monosyllabic) until he met a nice lass and they went travelling. He’s currently meeting up with a cousin in Thailand, on his second global jaunt. I tend to think of many in power as being of the closed persuasion BTW.

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