Unlike women, as men age, there’s a tendency to stigmatize our awful attempts at humor by branding us “creepy” or “perverted” or “just gross.” Plant an unfunny line on a 20-year-old guy and a teenaged woman might giggle, while the same line said by a guy over 60, to the same young teen, begets the world breaking apart as the whole tone and timbre of the conversation changes to a perceived perversion.
Why is that?
Is there always some sort of unspoken sexual underpinning to every male-to-female interaction that cannot be denied or generationally negotiated? Why doesn’t the curse cut the opposite way against older women who are labeled creepy and perverted in the same condition?
I have been lucky not to fall into this reverse gender discrimination anti-aging agitprop — so far! — by trying not to joke around with women over 20 years younger than me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel for the poor older guys who outwittingly cause skeeving out in the more tender generations.
I am reminded of Jerry, a contestant on a past season of the television reality series, Big Brother. He was an older, grandfatherly, type who did not relate well to all the kids around him. One day, a twentysomething woman was in her bed completely covered by sheets and a bedspread and everyone was in the room with her on a production lockdown, and Jerry, tired, but in a joking mood, sat on the edge of her bed and made a comment about how cozy she looked. He was immediately razzed for that online; and in the house, he was gossiped about and backstabbed for what was a completely nothing statement.
I saw the whole thing unravel in real-time on the live feeds, and what Jerry actually said, and what he was later accused of saying, never quite meshed in the truth of it all, and Jerry was forever, and unfairly, condemned in the house as the dirty old man.
The other day, I was standing in one of those endless New York City lines, and an elderly gentleman in front of me offered his spot to an impatient, but beautiful, young woman at the back of the line. She gladly took his place, but gave him a dismissive glare that she was only doing this for herself, and not for him, and it was amazing to observe how a simple act of kindness was transformed into a sucker’s bet against an old man with a kind heart. I can imagine how that story was later retold from the Millennial’s angle of yaw.
Howard Stein warned us against this sort of crass behavior in 2011:
For sixty years now I have pleasured these dynamics on the golf course, and they have spilled over into my life and into the lives of our three sons, all of whom treasure the game. Recently I encountered a contradiction of that spill-over. I took the subway at 116th and Broadway downtown to Times Square. At 96th Street, a lady, considerably younger than I, got onto the subway car with some packages. I got up and offered her my seat. She accepted, and then said, “Thanks, Sucker!”
So, beware, you young men aging, not into wisdom, but of creepiness-by-contempt of gentility; there is an unintended perversion hovering for you where every wit and wiggle is waiting to be spun against you to teach you the generational lesson that you’ll never fit in backward, looking over your shoulder; and that you should really stop trying for acceptance, because age is a condemnation by right in the USA — if you’re over 60, you’re over and out — and it’s best to just keep your head down and keep your comments to yourself, because there’s nothing you could ever say to redeem who you are, or what you’ve become, against the fulsome, windy, promise of your youth. You’re just a tired, old, meme waiting to wake up from the national nightmare of becoming an old man in America.