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Dr Louise Pendry of Exeter University talk to Ceri Wheeldon of Fab after Fifty on how we are influenced by stereotypes of ageing, and how our impressions of ageing are formed from a very young age.
Her new book Grandmas Can’t Trampoline is written for young girls , to help combat the normal stereotypes they already have when it comes to negative perceptions of ageing.
Although written for children – the book has been well received by adults.
A lively discussion on a topic that affects us all!
Scroll down for a full transcript
Transcript: Interview with Dr Louise Pendry on Challenging Perceptions of Age and her New Book Grandmas Can’t Trampoline
[00:01:08] Hello. And today, I’m so pleased to have with me my guest, Dr. Louis Pendry, who is a senior lecturer in psychology at Exeter University, and who specializes in stereotyping and prejudice. Hello, Louise, and welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:23] Hello and thank you very much for having me.
[00:01:26] Can you expand a little bit on the sort of a study that you do and the lectures that you give,
[00:01:34] Well, over the years, I have been looking at a general topic of stereotyping and prejudice, and it was the subject of my p_h_d_ many years ago. Now I’m looking at when people stereotype, why they stereotype and how to overcome stereotyping. And over the years, I’ve done that looking at lots of different stereotype groups. So things to do with gender, ethnicity, age to some extent. But I think it’s only in the last few years as I’ve got older myself that I’ve started to focus in a little bit more specifically on the issues around ageism and age stereotyping. And I think because I’ve just recently hit 50 myself, it’s just become a topic of interest to me at a personal level as well as at an academic level. So now I’ve refined my teaching somewhat and then I’m moving more towards teaching a little bit more on the issues around getting older and the positives, the negatives around getting older and what we can all do to age positively and well, I suppose. And just understanding that the issues that my students who are only age 18 are facing already with a negative view of an age that they’ve kind of grown up in internalized over many years. And that’s the sort of dialogue that I want to have with them right now.
[00:00:02] I understand Louise that you’ve just written a book which has just been published.
[00:00:12] I have, a bit of a departure for me, although I do quite like writing in my job as an academic. This is a children’s book, which is nothing like I’ve ever done before. So it’s just coming out this month. Basically,it’s available. Why did you decide to write a book for children. Well, that’s a good question. So it’s something I haven’t ever done before. I think it’s come out of the fact that I’m having conversations with my students. Obviously, they’re not children. They are 18 plus increasingly about getting older and ageism and age stereotyping, prejudice, a very big part of what I teach and research and what becomes apparent when I talk to my students and I notice from the research anyway, is that even at that tender age, they have already got a negative perception about getting older. And it’s it’s mainly because that’s the way we’ve been brought up. It’s we internalize these negative stereotypes because ageism is everywhere in our environment. It’s there every time we walk down the greetings card on our local supermarket. And we see that the milestone birthday cards that are just having a pop at how dreadful is to get old or every time we see anti-aging language being used to advertising market products that hold back the years and banish those wrinkles or just the way that older people are represented in TV and film, that somehow being I guess invisible or frail or just mattering less than when they were younger. And my students acknowledge and we discuss that they’ve already internalized all of these negative stereotypes without necessarily wanting to. It’s just part and parcel of what they’ve been exposed to. So what I wanted to do was go go even further back and talk to an even younger audience, because I’m aware that kids, even as young as 6 have quite negative views about growing old.
[00:01:57] And I find that amazing that even though they’ve already formed those views, yes, it is quite shocking.
[00:02:04] But there is definitely research out there to support that, that essentially it’s not great to get old. You know, it’s become boring, frail, grumpy, ugly, afraid of change. And we just don’t matter as much. And these sorts of negative perceptions are. Yeah, they are they are found even in our younger people. So I think what I wanted to do was to create a story where a little girl was going to experience contact with an older person and watch and track the relationship that develops with that with that older person. And also not just that person, just not not one person on her own. It’s her grandmother, but also all the other people that she gets exposed to during a trip where she could go. She goes abroad and spend some time with her grandmother and the people that she’s exposed to, all different kinds of people. And I think one of the things that I’m really keen to dispel is this notion that there’s a kind of homogeneity, a similarity about all people, that they are all the same and probably not very positively, all the same as well. So in the book, there are different characters and there are different points of view made. Whilst the grandmother character, Nancy, is a very feisty WOKE kind of woman who’s physically very active seems to be quite fit. She’s also very well aware of the fact that that is not the case for everybody. And so she puts the points of view of all different kinds of age of age people in the conversations that we had.
[00:03:31] She has a Nancy causing it to just question the degree to which. We don’t necessarily think about variety in older people and some of the isolation and loneliness affects older people. Is it brought out in the book? So it is definitely it’s not painting at a universally happy, positive view of getting older. I like to think it’s tinged with the reality that there are many different ways that we grow old and not show positive, but we can have a sense of agency about some of the ways that we do grow old. And there are things that we can do to make our aging processes as good as they can be, I suppose. And that’s the story that I want to tell. And it’s through the eyes of a little girl. So it’s very much tracking the shift in her own perceptions because she starts out extremely negative about the whole prospect of spending summer with her grandmother and her elderly friends. And by the end, she comes home having had a quite a conversion experience and realizing that actually the older people can be every bit as varied as younger people and as much to like about them as well. And so we have much more in common with them than we don’t have in common with them. It’s just about finding that overlap and finding the things that we can accept are similar and then working on those together.
[00:04:44] And that’s key, isn’t it? The diversity in all of older people and I use the term very loosely. I found certainly when I set up the Fab after Fifty website, I had meetings with all sorts of people who basically lumped everybody 50 into one category and essentially we all sat in rocking chairs and did knitting. Yes. And so with no perception of any sort of individuality or that you can be as different in your 50s, you know, to the person sitting next to you as you were in your 20s and 30s.
[00:05:14] Exactly. Exactly. And I think one of the images that one of my students shows, because they do presentations on this topic in my seminar, they showed this image of the different ages of life kind of thing. And so you had the toddler, the young child, the teenager, the student, the mum, the career person. And then there was just one person to represent the older person, the older woman. And it was a frail person with grey hair bent over using a walking stick. And it’s almost like when you get to that stage, there is only one portrayal and it’s going to be stereotypical. And so this book is about challenging those stereotypes and allowing an understanding of diversity in older people that I think is often missing and in so much of what we see in society.
[00:05:59] Yes. I mean, and I stress in my workplace discussions that, again, you can have a really ambitious 60 year old, but equally, you could have a less ambitious 22 year old. Exactly. And I was just just very sort of drivers in that respect.
[00:06:17] No, I think the stereotype suggests that that they do. But of course, that that that’s what the stereotype is. It’s an overgeneralization. And within each of those age groups, there will be variety. And it’s just important to notice that variety and not to gloss over it and just assume, because I think stereotypes are an easier way of getting about life. You know, if we can just assume people are the same, then life is much easier. We haven’t got to make allowances for people being different. We can just make judgments based on the fact that they’re probably going to not like to be very active. For example, they’re probably not going to go out very much. And all of these things just makes life easier. We like to be able to predict our environment stereotypes do that for us, but obviously not all very successfully when they gloss over individual differences that are what make older people unique.
[00:07:02] Actually, I came under criticism by some initially. I didn’t say my parents very often. I like that so well. Why don’t you make time for them? There’s not that. They haven’t got time for me. I had to catch them between cruises, between been golfing trips, between bridge nights, between running photography classes. I mean, they do so much. It’s not that I haven’t got time for them that they just making the most of every single day that they have.
[00:07:27] Yes. And I think there are many more people doing that than it used to be the case. And the more that can be done to show that variety is going to be helpful. But if my parents are exactly the same, that never in the same country for more than a few weeks at a time, it seemed to me in their later life. Yes.
[00:07:42] Why do you think that youth is perceived as positive and being older. It’s perceived as negative.
[00:07:50] Well, we are conditioned to prefer everything that is youthful, and it’s just everything that’s around us. So sells youth as a time of positivity, a sign of possibility, I suppose. I think the correlates of being probably in better health then when we;re older in which to some extent may be true, that’s not be universally positive about the fact that there are certain health issues that are more likely to happen to us as we get older. But basically youth is portrayed as everything that growing older isn’t. So it’s a time of thriving rather than receding and failing. And that’s got to be a more, more appealing sell, I suppose for people. They are. They’re not going to want to go for the one that talks about failing to thrive. They want to go from one that’s talking about thriving. So it’s and it’s just everywhere. We reward youth. You know, in the workplace, while you’re rewarded for doing odd jobs and getting on at a younger age and being ambitious and the perception that as we get older, these sorts of things sort of fall away. Not necessarily true at all. But these are the sorts of things that we are just conditioned to think.
[00:08:53] That’s how the world is.
[00:08:55] And what sort of reaction are you getting so far,I know the book has not been available to buy yet. But in terms of people who read the proofs, etcetera, or pre-publication copy. What sort of reaction are you getting?
[00:09:09] Well, it’s it’s interesting, actually. Certainly, I’ve had a number of kids and adults read and comment on drafts as it’s been going through the phase of creation process. And I certainly think the market, the target market seems to be younger girls, probably eight to eleven, sort of pre secondary school age because the protagonist is just on the cusp of going to secondary school herself. And so I think from that perspective and it’s a little girl that’s something that’s going to appeal to that market is a gentle story, but it’s quite a powerful story about a relationship. What’s become apparent is having had a number of adults read it to male and female is the women in particular are saying that it’s really making them think about how we’re all complicit in our own ageism. And they’re really enjoying this understanding of ageing as a more positive process and that there are benefits that can accrue as we get older. And so many of us, we just we get lost because we are conditioned to not think that’s the case. And just having a moment to reflect and to talk, have conversations with your children about these sorts of issues is really important. Men who’ve read it have said it’s because it’s not just about the experiences of an older woman. There are men characters in the book as well. They have also said they’re finding it really, really perception shifting, if you like, in terms of making them think more about the variety of what it is to be elderly. So I think I think understanding that ageism, which I think in the words of Todd Nelson is prejudiced towards our feared future selves is something that we are all complicit in. And realising as they read this book that they hadn’t necessarily thought about that, but they are, too. It’s really unhelpful to have that negative attitude. So I’m really keen to target the kids. But I also think that the parents and the grandparents will find this book helpful as well.
[00:11:06] So it sounds like a really lovely book that perhaps know grandparents and grandchildren could read together.
[00:11:12] That’s exactly how I see it. I think I would love to be the case. And I’ve got a number of people who have read the drafts and have said right, that’s it, I’m buying it for my for my granddaughter because I want to read it with her. And I want to have this conversation about what it’s really like to get older and and just to kind of understand also that stereotypes can change. And the fact that we have internalized these negative views, it doesn’t mean it’s set in stone and that we can challenge them unthinkable getting older in a different way. Certainly that’s the case of the protagonist in the book, just the little girl. By the end of it, she is a very much more a pro-age activist, I suppose, and wanting to get involved in her her local care home and getting her school friends involved as well, visiting them and doing activities together and just basically realising that it’s important to have this intergenerational contact. It really matters. It makes a huge difference for everyone benefit. I think that’s the thing as well. It’s not just a case of older people benefit younger people and older people benefit from getting together and realizing what makes us unique and celebrating that.
[00:12:17] What I have always found interesting is when you meet individuals, they’ll say, well. Well, for instance, if I meet somebody in a PR department, they’re normally relatively young and we’re talking about products or services for women over 50. And they’ll say, oh, yes, that my mother wouldn’t use this because she’s not a typical 50 year old. And I have to say, well, she probably is. So we all know people who aren’t the stereotype you perceive and the fact that wasn’t it with a group of quite a large number of young women in a marketing department and they all said that their mothers didn’t make didn’t meet the typical stereotype of a woman in her 50s. I think you’ve got 15 people here and you will all say your own mothers buck the trend, so to speak. Yeah, it may be that your perception of a stereotype is wrong and it was almost a penny dropping moment.
[00:13:14] Yeah, I think we can all think of examples. Depends how extreme those examples are. I mean, sometimes we have got role models,we see our parents, our mums are really, really living life. Like you say, your parents are really embracing life as they’ve got older. When that’s our role model, that’s our examples, that’s our reference and our stereotypes may be somewhat different, but for many people that isn’t the case. And actually, even even when it is, even when we do have those sort of reference points, when they are some extremely disconfirming, a stereotype that’s getting older is actually a time of decline. Often what we do is we keep that negative stereotype in tact and we just have these people as exceptions to the rule. So we’re quite good at maintaining all stereotypes. What better way to challenge the stereotypes is to start to see role models who are a bit of everything. They’re not just necessarily extremely engaged and doing everything. Maybe they’re doing a bit of that, but they’ve also got some more stereotypic stuff. Maybe they sit at home knitting as well. You know, they can be anything really and quite trendy. Yes. Yes, it is true. I knit myself myself. So I think it’s just understanding that we can have a very, very skewed perception based on the people that we come into contact with. And that can make it seem that there isn’t a problem. I accept that. But equally, we can just retain that sort of perception if we just think that that person is just so atypical and they don’t represent what most older people are like. So we’ve just got to be careful that we don’t kind of pigeonhole these exceptions. And just leave our overall stereotype intact. I think this is not going to be a positive way forward.
[00:14:51] I’m not sure we’ve given the name of your book yet. Believe that the title, which I love, by the way, I haven’t.
[00:14:57] Well, it’s called Grandma’s Can’t Trampoline. And it’s it’s it’s a poignant title because it’s very relevant to something that happens within the story. And obviously, the book cover is featuring the little girl and her grandmother on the trampoline. And the little girl is looking somewhat askance at the fact that her grandmother is going quite mad on the trampoline whilst accept the fact thing that not everybody is going to be jumping up or down on the trampoline. I think it’s the point of it is just to try and get across that we can be we can be anything that we want to be really. And as long as we are capable of doing these things and we put the motivation, then age shouldn’t be a barrier to us.
[00:15:35] It’s all about saying as you can do anything at any age.
[00:15:39] Yes, I think so. And you can you can also not trampoline. I think you were saying that you didn’t like trampoline yourself when you’re in your twenties, you know. No, I don’t.
[00:15:58] So, no, I’m not trying to say that everyone should jump on the trampoline. Not. But but the point of it is. Well, as you’ll see if you if you read the story. The fact that her grandmother does go on trampoline on a trampoline park is a source of great embarrassment to the little girl, because that’s just you. She just you just shouldn’t do that because, you know, you’re an old person and at the end she ends up going with her to a trampoline park. And it’s quite a sort of groundbreaking moment when she realizes that she’s embarrassed to be seen with a grandmother, really embarrassed to be seen with a grandmother in a situation, even though she thinks that she’s moved on in that context, she just feels, oh, my goodness, my grandmother making an idiot of herself. So it’s quite a poignant moment. So, yeah, that’s it. That’s kind of central story throughout the book that we weave. We finish off at the end, I suppose, without wanting to give too much away.
[00:16:53] Now, that sounds really, really interesting. I do hope it goes well. I think people buy the book.
[00:17:00] Ok. Well, it’s going to be available on Amazon as an e-book or as a paperback. And I think it’s £1.99 for the e-book and £6.99 for the paperback. It’s also available on the Luli website as well. So just lulu.com. So I’m hoping that people buy it, read it with the kids and feedback would be really, really welcome.
[00:17:36] As I said, it’s a great book that different generations in the family can read together.
[00:17:41] Yes, that’s that is my hope that it really is going to make people think about their own prejudices. So it’s not just trying to challenge the prejudices of younger people. It’s a book that applies to many people.
[00:17:53] It could be a good book club suggestion. All I can say.
[00:17:56] Yes, I think so. Because of that. Because it is it is obviously it’s very, very easy reading. But it’s the issues are not easy. The issues are quite challenging.
[00:18:06] Well, thank you so much for sharing that with us. Pleasure. Again, the title of the book and your name in full if people want to Google the book and the author. Yeah.
[00:18:14] The title of the book is Grandma Can’t Trampoline. My name is Louise Pendry. The publisher is Publish Nation.
[00:18:23] All right. Well, thank you so much for sharing that today. Good luck. It is very much needed. The earlier we can start challenging those perceptions the better.
[00:18:32] Yes, I think so. Absolutely agree. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
[00:18:36] You’re welcome it’s been really interesting to learn all about it. And I hope the book does really well. Thank you. Bye bye. Bye.