Last night I went to the preview of the Arts and Crafts exhibits at the annual Sydney Royal Easter Show. The Easter Show is ten days or so in which primarily agricultural and pastoral events and exhibits come to the city. There are sheep and cattle and horse events and wool and cats and dogs and fruit and vegetables and flowers and (everybody's favourite) woodchopping. And there are also several categories for knitting, among other craft competitions.
Some of my friends deservedly won prizes at the Show, and some of the knitting - an ever-so-fine shawl in particular - was inspirational. And of course there were the perennial occurrences of beautiful garments overlooked for prizes; garments or shawls poorly displayed or even displayed inside-out; and the valuing of technique over design or any notion of fit-for-purpose. Lots of judgements up for debate. But we all had a great evening poring over the knitting, chatting, drinking wine and eating the snacks provided.
I was, however, astonished to discover cases of both knitting and crocheting reserved for competitors over 70. I imagine they've been there in past years, but maybe as I age I'm becoming more sensitive about such matters. To state my response bluntly, as a person approaching this age, I feel insulted and patronised by such categories.
I live in a state where discrimination on the grounds of age is illegal in such areas as employment and the provision of services. There is no longer a compulsory retirement age from work. The community is meant to provide employment or services on the grounds of the individual's characteristics, abilities and needs; not their age. Some people at 70 will be unable to do some jobs because of the requirements of those jobs, but that is also true of some people of 30. We should not make assessments of individuals and their capabilities simply because we have stereotypes about age (or gender, or race).
One of the areas exempted from age discrimination provisions under NSW law is sporting competitions. All the wonderful sporting events conducted for 'seniors' and 'veterans'(sometimes as young as 35) within age groups are permissible. Perhaps the Easter Show knitting people have used this kind of 'veteran' competition as a justification for their 'over 70' knitting classification. If so, I think they have overlooked a major difference. There is clear evidence that physical ability and strength for such things as athletics, swimming and some team games declines with age. But it seems counter-intuitive to me to think that knitting ability declines with age - indeed, one might make an argument that knitting is a craft where experience can only build greater expertise.
I can't imagine why people over 70 cannot succeed in open competition with younger knitters. Some people over 70 may not succeed, but this is not because of their age - it's an indication of their ability.
Or perhaps I've got the whole thing back to front - maybe the over 70s competition is to give younger knitters a chance of succeeding when compared with the older knitters' additional expertise. Hmmm. I don't think so.
I still find these age-based categories patronising and condescending.