Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rape is Rape, Even if She's Older

Do you consider this agism? Highlighting a rape victim's age in a headline  because she was 73? Would that have happened if she was 49?  20?

In a letter to the editor, a writer asks the New York Times why it didn't call the victim  the "Central Park Birder" -- much as the rape victim of decades ago was called the "Central Park Jogger."

Here's the letter:

And here's the original story:

And since you're now into it... here's a follow-up story.

(Both were written by former Inquirer and later Philadelphia Daily News writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Wendy Ruderman.)

Was age played up too much? At what age is rape shocking?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Slipping into the Stigma of Hearing Aids

Even as I have been ranting about the (mis)use of the word "elderly," gently, very gently, my former boss, Gene Foreman, pointed out a moment of ageism in my own writing. Specifically, the way I described former  U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, now well into his 90s, in a blog post and opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer last March.  
Gene Foreman, who set the gold standard for use of language, style and fact checking while at The Inquirer, and later for his journalism students at Penn State, wrote:
Dr. C. Everett Koop in March with wife, Cora

"I'd like to pass along a thought that occurred to me as I read your nice oped piece some months ago about Dr. C. Everett Koop. You wrote, 'Though he now wears a hearing aid, he appeared vigorous, with a full head of hair and his trademark Amish-like beard.'(Emphasis mine.) I think we should de-stigmatize the wearing of hearing aids, and journalists in particular should not assume that a hearing aid makes a person appear frail. Would a person be described as less than vigorous if he or she wore glasses or contact lenses? Why is hearing impairment more remarkable than vision impairment? Yes, I wear hearing aids now (though not as often as my family would like). The Army told me on my way out in 1957 that my time in the field artillery, in an era when soldiers did not wear hearing protection, had damaged my hearing acuity. This started becoming pronounced in my 50s. Thanks for listening--no pun intended."

Gene, also cited the history of The Inquirer's stylebook entry for the word "elderly,"  and agrees that it's time to ban the word.

"As I think we pointed out in the introduction to the stylebook, it is intended to be a living document that reflects evolving ideas. I remember the entry you cited in your blog, and it was composed by the style committee after a writer described a couple in their 50s as 'elderly.' I would agree now with your suggestion that 'elderly' ought to be banned as a descriptive adjective of a person; as you say, let the story speak for itself. Even the adjective 'feisty' could be seen as a pejorative, a condescending term conveying the writer's amazement about the actions and ideas of someone of a certain age. Again, let the reader decide whether this person is 'feisty.'Show, not tell.' "