I work in a prominent Ontario theatre. With the exception of a few untoward ‘darlings’ and ‘sweethearts’ this theatre season, I have not experienced anything more than slightly unwelcome when it comes to sexually-derived comments from men. I have always felt confident that if a man were to say something terribly inappropriate, I could tell him off quite sternly. But what happens when the unwanted attention comes from an elderly man?

In the tourist industry, September tourists are known as the white wave (please note that this is a reference to hair colour and not race). School is back in session, and elderly travelers are out in full force.

On my night off this month, I attended a theatre production. At intermission, the elderly couple next to me decided to stay in their seats, so I got up and shuffled in front of them. In order to ‘help me along,’ the gentleman placed his hand on my waist while I walked by. I didn’t know what to do…so I did nothing. Not my proudest moment. When I mentioned what happened to my theatre companion, she answered with ‘ew,’ but nothing more was said. At the theatre bar, we picked up some intermission drinks. It was very crowded, so I attempted to back slowly away from the bar to find somewhere to turn around. I backed into an old man behind me, and he proceeded to grab my waist, then moved one hand down to my hip for a light squeeze. This was apparently an attempt to ensure I did not bump him. I felt slightly ill, but again did nothing.

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The following day, it was a similar crowd. I believe the house manager said that the average age of the audience that day was 85 – not a student in sight. As I was working behind the bar, I saw the house manager helping an elderly woman into her wheelchair. There was an old man sitting on the bench next to them, and as the manager was bent over the wheelchair, the man smacked her hard in the butt with his hand. She stood up shocked. Later, she told me that he had said: “I like it when you bend over in front of me, what do I need to do to get you to do it again?” His wife apologized, calling him a dirty old man, and the manager dismissed them, and left. He called after her “I’m not done with you yet.”

Why are we so quick to dismiss this behaviour when it comes from the elderly? I know my family is guilty of this too; my grandmother’s husband will often say sexist or racist things that make us all cringe, ‘but he’s 95’ so we don’t say anything.

What do we do? Do we wait for these old asses to die because, as the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? If a man doesn’t respect women by that age, can you change his mind? What worries me is, what are the younger generations learning from watching this behaviour go unchecked?

The media pardons older men too. Recently a 2006 recording of Hulk Hogan’s private conversation was leaked, and in it he uses the n-word to refer to his daughter’s boyfriend. While the WWE fired him, ABC gave him an interview in which he ‘apologized’ for his word-choice, but then totally tried to justify it.

“People need to realize that you inherit things from your environment. And where I grew up was south Tampa, Port Tampa, and it was a really rough neighborhood, very low income. And all my friends, we greeted each other saying that word.”

“Is it fair to say that you inherited a racial bias?” the host asked.

“I would say that is very fair, that was the environment I grew up in,” the 62-year-old said.

Really, people want to give him a pass for saying “I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking n****r” and “I mean, I’d rather if she was going to f*ck some n****r, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n****r”?

This isn’t the only example of an older celeb being let off the hook too easily. Look at Paula Deen (who also said the n-word) and Sean Connery (who believes beating women is a-okay)!

I guess the real question is: the next time an old man squeezes my hip, should I explain to him why it’s wrong (I’ll be prepared this time) or do I just punch him in the face?

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