Age used to be one of those things you obsessed over as a child. Either you yearned to grow up and envied those slightly older than you or were desperate to remain a child, the darling of affectionate aunts. Songs have been written in favour of being older, or usually being younger. People go to vast lengths and expend vast sums of money on reducing the appearance of age.
I think we can all broadly agree (the first of many fabulous generalisations contained herein) however there is a certain grace period in which your age no longer really matters. I’m talking about between 18 and 30(…ish, forgive me please if this offends you I am just trying to make a point)
Now, why does it matter? I think it’s because age is so closely linked in to expectations, appearance and to your rights.
As for expectations, you acquire responsibilities. Society places a huge burden on you practically overnight on your 18th birthday. Will you get a job? Move out of your parents home? Go to university? Get married? It’s all suddenly expected of you whilst hours before you were allowed to wake up at midday and didn’t have to worry about taxes. These expectations from society are manifested in almost every way. You can’t act a certain way, you can’t hold the same opinions and you can’t even buy the same clothes. Age is ticking away and you’re expected to cling on to it as some sort of foundation from which to live your life. But… it’s just so hypocritical! Think of the storm of condemnation that flows from the media at the sight of an older woman with a younger man, but yet not at an older man with a younger woman, which receives knowing chuckles and worse, slaps on the back. How dare she think that it’s ok to do that? Why? Because society says so. Society is the infallible arbiter of what is appropriate for your age and you will conform.
You appearance is closely linked to this idea. Think of the derision poured onto people like Simon Cowell when he pulls his jeans up too high. Or when a parent dresses their daughter up in something ‘not fit for children’. Who says so? Should clothes come with a health or age warning? “This t-shirt has the potential to cause serious harm to your child” or “Failing to dress your 7 year old in Calvin Klein jeans will traumatise him for life, sincerely – Society” I heard the dreadful phrase used the other day (about a middle aged woman dressed in trendy but not revealing clothes) ‘oh look, it’s mutton dressed as Sienna Miller’… I must admit I burst out laughing, partially because the remark was quick witted but also for it’s searing cruelty. Why on earth can I not put on clothes I like? This idea of what is appropriate extends to all corners, from books to music and further.
As for your rights (if you’re a previous reader you’ll know this is a bit of a hot topic for me) they come and go with age. Well they don’t really leave you with age but your ability, realistically, to have them respected and acknowledged diminishes to almost nil after the age of 65 (once again, a staggering generalisation but it’s just for effect). Your right to dignity is like something slowly sapped from you by the sudden condescending tone that your treatment by society takes on. It’s not just for older people, young people have a complex set of rights that gradually phase in during their first 21 years. A veritable mine field of do’s and don’t’s and definitely don’t do that’s! This process of gradual phasing in of rights is completely arbitrary. Who says that at age 17 you are ready to drive a car? What qualifies you as being ready? Have your leg muscles reached their peak potential for brake-pressing? As for the acquisition of civil and political rights, the voting age at 18 is complete nonsense. What is it about the sudden age change from 17 to 18 that means you are aware of the power of your vote and will choose to use it, and wisely? Should we, heaven forfend (I am deeply, deeply disgusted by this idea), test people for their readiness to exercise this, most sacred and profound, of our rights to expression? Is there a biological switch that gets flipped at the exact moment, 18 years later, that turns on your voting mechanism? Maybe we should introduce a system that means that we are ruled by the decisions of the very intelligent? Paradoxically I would not advocate changing the voting age. Full stop. There is no age by which every member of our society can be expected to understand their vote and use it well. None. There are plenty of 14 year olds who are far more clued up on politics than people in their 50s. Lowering the voting age is a bizarre idea which doesn’t solve any perceivable problem, raising it the same. Either we reconsider every single situation where we use someone’s age to verify their readiness for something, (drinking alcohol, having consensual sex, donating blood) or we leave things as they are. So we are left with a situation where the status quo seems to be the only real answer. We can’t find a fair or better solution, let’s just leave it and see what happens. Which is interesting in itself, doubtless this problem has occurred to decision makers in the past, perhaps they went through exactly the same though process we did too?
And now for a funny cartoon to finish us off, this was not made by me.