I recently saw a news story that caused two disparate reactions.
The first: “Good for her!”
The second: “That is so ageist!”
The story was about an unidentified Australian woman who reportedly was in a pub, celebrating her birthday. Her purse was on the table, and a guy grabbed it and ran.
The 45-second video appears to have been taken by a security camera. There’s no audio, and the quality is poor:
Here’s what happened:
The woman chases the man on a sidewalk, and as he turns into a parking lot, she grabs him by the arm, swings him around, and they both fall to the ground.
She wraps her arm around his neck – a chokehold – and grabs her purse with her other hand. As he struggles to stand, she has her purse in one hand and grabs his shirt with the other. His shirt is sliding off, and as she’s holding on to her purse and his shirt, and he starts dragging her across the pavement.
Now shirtless, he breaks away, heads to his truck and gets in. She pulls herself into a sitting position, and by about 33 seconds into the video, she’s on her feet, purse in hand. She keeps her eyes on him as she heads back to the sidewalk, and walks back in the direction they came from:
The would-be purse snatcher drives away, and the news stories said he’d later been arrested.
It’s easy to understand my “Good for her!” reaction. Her courage in chasing the thief, the tenacity in her pursuit, her determination to thwart him, and her success are all so impressive.
As to my second reaction – “This is so ageist!” – here’s the reason for that.
I read a number of articles about this event, and it appears the January 19 story was broken by 7News.com.au in Australia on February 21. Here’s the online headline:
How did 7News.com.au know the woman was a “grandmother”?
There’s nothing in the print story to indicate the woman self-identified as a grandmother.
There’s nothing in the video to indicate the woman self-identified as a grandmother.
Yet the 7News.com.au print and video versions refer to the woman as a “grandmother,” “gutsy grandmother,” “no-nonsense nana,” “nan,” “ninja nan,” “feisty nan” and “super-gran.”
The story was picked up by U.S. media coast to coast, from ABC News in Los Angeles:
To the New York Daily News:
And even internationally – here’s Great Britain’s Daily Mail:
And without exception, every story I saw also referred to the woman as a “grandmother,” or some variant.
It appears that the TV station in Australia started it, and without bothering to verify it, the other media outlets repeated it.
And that’s ageist.
Yes, it appears that the woman is older than her 20s or 30s or 40s.
But why did they assume that she’s a “grandmother”?
Because it’s an easy, older-woman label to slap on someone, rather than going to the trouble of ascertaining its accuracy.
The woman appears to be older, so she is, therefore, a grandmother.
And the implication is, “Look at what this old lady did!” As though a person of a “certain age” is too slow or too feeble or too mentally incapacitated or too something to tackle a purse snatcher, get him in a headlock, and retrieve her purse.
This all has to do with labeling people based on their appearance, and I realize labeling people based on their appearance is a much bigger issue than one woman in Australia.
But c’mon, folks: