The Gray Panthers are watching: gray women’s media activism in the 1970s and 80s

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Armed with the recently coined term “ageism” and experience organizing in both the old and new lefts, in the 1970s and 80s the women of the radical movement, the Gray Panthers, set out to intervene in the representation of old age in U.S. media. Mobilizing through their Media Watch Task Force and local committees, they monitored media for examples of ageism, conducted media literacy campaigns, and even produced their own media content to construct an alternative vision of aging. By the mid-1980s change was visible on TV: older women appeared as active, successful, sexual beings—like The Golden Girls—leading some to ponder whether there was a representational shift on TV, even a “waning devotion to youth.” Such positive reframing of old age overturned portrayals of the old as sick, poor, and dependent, and contributed to emerging discourses of an old age that could be “successful,” “active,” self-reliant, healthy, and even sexy. This denial of dependency, larger structural issues, and differences in old age, however, set standards and expectations for “positive” aging that reproduced dichotomies of good (virtuous) and bad (deservedly miserable) aging for older people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-280
Number of pages16
JournalFeminist Media Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Activism
  • Ageism
  • Media History
  • Old Age
  • Sex and sexuality
  • Television

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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