My— latest newsletter—no one's complaining that I'm flooding their inbox—with news from Australia, Silicon Valley, Forbes magazine, the Washington Post, and some pictures just for fun.
This Chair Rocks
People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. The vast majority of Americans over 65 live independently. The older people get, the less afraid they are of dying. Aging is a natural, powerful, lifelong process. So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that depression, diapers, and dementia lie ahead? That the 20th century’s astonishing leap in life expectancy is a disaster-in-the making? Underlying all the hand-wringing is ageism: discrimination that sidelines and silences older people. So I’ve written a book. I blog about it. I led the team that developed Old School, a clearinghouse of anti-ageism resources. I am the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist? (Go ahead, ask me.) I’ve written a consciousness-raising booklet. And I speak widely. All tools to help catalyze a movement to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind.
From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing, and old people useless. Author and activist Ashton Applewhite believed them too—until she realized where this prejudice comes from and the damage it does. Lively, funny, and deeply researched, This Chair Rocks traces Applewhite’s journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical, and in the process debunks myth after myth about late life. The book explains the roots of ageism—in history and in our own age denial—and how it divides and debases, examines how ageist myths and stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, looks at ageism in the workplace and the bedroom, exposes the cost of the all-American myth of independence, critiques the portrayal of olders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and concludes with a rousing call to action. Whether you’re older or hoping to get there, this book will shake you by the shoulders, cheer you up, make you mad, and change the way you see the rest of your life. Age pride!
Wow. This book totally rocks. It arrived on a day when I was in deep confusion and sadness about my age—62. Everything about it, from my invisibility to my neck. Within four or five wise, passionate pages, I had found insight, illumination and inspiration. I never use the word empower, but this book has empowered me.
ANNE LAMOTT, New York Times best-selling author
Along comes Ashton Applewhite with a book we have been waiting for. Anti-ageism now boasts a popular champion, activist, and epigrammatist in the lineage of Martial and Dorothy Parker. Until This Chair Rocks we haven’t had a single compact book that blows up myths seven to a page like fireworks.
LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS
Vibrant, energetic, fact-filled and funny, This Chair Rocks is a call to arms not just for older people but for our whole society.
KATHA POLLITT, poet, essayist, and Nation columnist
Sometimes a writer does us all a great favor and switches on a light. Snap! The darkness vanishes and, in its place we find an electric vision of new ways of living. I want to live in a world where ageism is just a memory, and This Chair Rocks illuminates the path.
DR. BILL THOMAS, founder of Changing Aging
This Chair Rocks is radical, exuberant, and full of all sorts of facts that erase many of the myths and beliefs about late life. As Applewhite defines and describes ageism, new ways of seeing and being in the world emerge, empowering everyone to see things as they really are.
LAURIE ANDERSON, artist
A knowledgeable, straight-talking, and witty book that briskly explains to anyone how-wrong-we-are-about-aging. There’s radical news here to enlighten the most “done” starlet, and tart turns of phrase to captivate the most expert age critic: ‘All aging is “successful”—not just the sporty version—otherwise you’re dead.’ This pithy primer ought ideally to be given to every American adolescent—to inoculate them against the lies and stereotypes that can spoil the long life course they will all want.
Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Aged by Culture and the prize-winning Agewise and Declining to Decline
Ashton Applewhite is a visionary whose time has come, tackling one of the most persistent biases of our day with originality, verve, and humor. Her magic formula of naming and shaming may just shake all of us out of complacency and it into action. Whether you relate through being older now or recognize that aging is in your future, this is one of the most important books you’ll ever read.
Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Life Stage Before Midlife
A smart and stirring call to add ageism to the list of ‘isms’ that divide us, and to mobilize against it. Applewhite shows how ageism distorts our view of old age, and urges us to challenge age- based prejudices in ourselves and in society. An important wake-up call for any baby boomer who’s apprehensive about growing old.
Pepper Schwartz, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington and AARP’s Official Love & Relationship Ambassador
Smart, sassy and oh so wise.
Finally, a take-down of the last acceptable prejudice. Applewhite eloquently and expertly exposes the structural discrimination that makes growing older so much harder than it should be—not just for the white, affluent, healthy, and able-bodied, but for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and poor people. Full of treasures, This Chair Rocks should be required reading for everyone in aging services, to help us confront ageism in our personal and professional lives and join forces against it. As Applewhite writes, ‘It’s time for Age Pride.’
Donna Corrado, Commissioner, NYC Department for the Aging
An eloquent and well-researched exposé of the prejudice that feeds age bias, and a passionate argument to mobilize against it. This must-read book is also a fun-read for every age.
Stephanie Coontz, author, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap
To live agefully – what a wonderful word! With warmth, wit and clarity, Ashton Applewhite explains what it means, while never falling into age-denial or age-shame. This is a book packed with provocative and liberating ideas, to make you leap into the air with pleasure – even if your knees, like mine, are a little dodgy.
Anne Karpf, author of How to Age
This guest post is by Mica Wilson, a marketing and communications professional living in New Rochelle, NY, who has over 30 years of experience in corporate and non-profit organizations. Mica loves to travel around the world gaining perspective on other people’s cultures and struggles, especially those of women and girls. She is currently developing a cross-generational podcast that provides advice and insights for professional women. Please send any questions or comments to Mica at DameTalk4 [at] gmail [dot] com.
On any given day I may experience various forms of prejudice, or “isms”. I am Black, a woman, and looking for a job at 55. I have been inspired to share my personal story after reading Who me, ageist?” A guide to starting a consciousness-raising group around age bias: by Ashton Applewhite. I hope that what I share will motivate those in “power” to join the ageism movement. I define “power”, as those who can make decisions about who they hire, the stories that get told to us through the media, and the policies that are put in place to protect vulnerable and marginalized people. I call out those in power because they have the ability to accelerate change.
Ageism is a unifier because it affects everyone. You face it as a
young person when your thoughts and opinions are dismissed because you are “too
young” to know anything. Or you may be considered “too old” to add value in the
workplace or contribute to society. No matter your sex, race, religion, or
sexual identity, you will face ageism. History has shown us there is strength
in numbers. The civil rights movement would not have advanced in the same way
without the support of non-Black people, and the women’s rights movement was a
beneficiary. The ageism movement deserves the same momentum and support.
I must confess, I struggle with focusing on ageism because racism
and sexism play such a dominant role in my everyday life. I’m affected by not
just my personal experiences, but also by close friend’s experiences, and what
I see on TV and read in the news every single day. The stories are rarely
positive about people like me. Black man killed by police, Black man arrested
then tied to a rope and forced to walk down the street with policemen on
horses, Black women make 63 cents to every dollar white men make, there has
never been a woman president, NYC has never had a woman mayor, and it goes on
and on and on. Every day several stories in the news make me question my value
and worth in America. So, when I apply for that job and get no response is it
because of my skills, race, sex, or age? It doesn’t help that marketing and
communications is considered a “young person’s game”. Whatever the answer is I
have to continue living, working, and finding happiness like any other
As you get older, your network can make or break you in the job
market. To be considered for an opportunity, at minimum you need to know
someone who can send your resume directly to HR or a hiring manager. It’s
nirvana if you know someone at a senior level who can make the hiring decision
or influence it. In this scenario, who gets hurt the most? You got it, Black
women. Our network generally does not include enough senior level men or women
to help us get that job. When we do know someone, they aren’t always willing to
put themselves out there for us. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule.
In almost every job I’ve gotten, African-American women and men made sure I was
considered for the position. Interestingly enough, they were all in my age
group, which I believe speaks to how my support network was limited… Black
women and men my age.
It’s important to me that anyone I interact with feels respected and heard. Therefore, when I am around younger people, I make sure our communication is a two-way street. I impart my wisdom to help them avoid some of the minefields I’ve been through. But I also learn from them, whether tech tips, new music, or their perspective on what’s happening in the world today. This allows me to not get stuck in my pre-conceived notions. I’m not a fan of today’s hip-hop, but my nieces introduced me to Lizzo. Yes, while there is some profanity in her music that I prefer not to hear, she is about empowering young women. Her recent call to action was for people to drop the ageism sh**t for the 2020 election. Her lyrics have a powerful message, she speaks out against ageism, she gets it. I have respect for her and I’m now a fan.
I will continue to do my part in the ageism movement. That means where I have influence, I will make sure you are heard and valued no matter how old you happen to be. To that end, I’ve started a podcast where four generations of women including a Millennial and a Gen Z have a seat at the table. Here is my ask to Millennials and Gen Z: join the ageism movement and make sure by the time you reach 50 you have done your part to raise the consciousness of those around you at work and home. My request to those who are in a decision-making position or participate in the hiring process: ensure that your pool of candidates contains at least one person over 50. If you’re in marketing and communications and the candidate happens to be an African-American woman named Mica Wilson…you just hit the jackpot.
Treating a patient slowed by Parkinson’s, geriatrician Louise
Aronson sings a chorus of “Happy Birthday” in her head to make sure they have enough
time to respond. I’d love a doctor this humane as I head into old age, not to
mention this expert. But she lives across the country and I’ll bet there’s
quite a waiting list, so I’ll have to settle for her as an ally—and what an important
ally she is.
urgent, eloquent new book, catapults her to the front line of those calling for
culture change around aging in general and healthcare in particular. It’s an
expertly argued takedown of a system that:
- makes it far easier for people to see doctors than get the social services that would improve their lives;
- punishes doctors, instead of rewarding them, for tackling the complex needs of older people in a humane, holistic fashion. Many burn out, including Aronson herself, a painful process she chronicles in the book.
- prioritizes the high-tech over the human, those in midlife over the young and the old, and curing over caring;
- typically treats the chronic conditions that accumulate over time without taking quality of life into consideration, making more years of debility more likely;
- makes a good death harder to achieve by forcing many people to go on longer than they would like. The list goes on.
Innovations are underway, but most medical schools have yet to question the profession’s entrenched bias and assumptions. Olders are either undertreated (deprived of treatment that would probably help them) or overtreated (with drugs and regimens that don’t take age into account). Both approaches, Aronson bluntly observes, “are forms of ageism.” So is the omission of older people from clinical trials, which Aronson calls “ridiculous,” likening age limits in osteoporosis studies to “ studying menopause in thirty-year-old women.” So is the lack of interest in why men live less long. Again, the list goes on.
Why don’t clinicians spend more time studying the people and
complex conditions that require the most medical attention—and healthcare
dollars? Because, Aronson explains “social forces and cultural rationales
determine what doctors study and value.” Left behind are not only the non-young
but the non-male, non-white, and non-“able-bodied,” and as she comments tartly,
“When people are defined by what they are not, we are in trouble.” Medical
advances have very different consequences in a world of much longer lives, yet most
institutions ignore those consequences. The result is vast waste and immense
What we need, Aronson argues, isn’t better medical science and
technology, but a profound shift in the underlying culture around age and aging:
Biology matters, but it’s only one part of a far more complex equation that includes attitude, behaviors, relationships, and culture. That’s a terrifying thought in a culture where ageism is more common than sexism or racism, and most people of all ages see old age through a window rendered dark and dirty by negative stereotypes. But there’s hope—beliefs have frequently changed through history, and for individuals, they can change at any age. And when beliefs about elderhood change, the culture and experience of old age, in life and in medicine, will change too.
For Aronson’s blueprint for the necessary innovative, structural changes to our healthcare system, read her book. (Read it also for the moving portraits and splendid prose; Aronson is also a gifted writer.) For the necessary shift in our attitudes and beliefs about aging, read mine—and look in the mirror. The culture change that both of us demand requires a grassroots social movement, like the women’s movement, to raise awareness of ageism and make it as unacceptable as any other form of prejudice. That change begins in each of us, as we confront our own internalized age bias, begin to unlearn it, and take that shift out into the world. For starters, if your or your parents’ doctor says, “What do you expect at your age?” call them on it—and find a new doctor.
Beating age discrimination
May 1, 2019
Article in The Big Issue
An Essay by Ashton Applewhite
March 14, 2019
Article on Books Inc.
Eight surprising facts about getting old in America
March 10, 2019
Article in the New York Post
If you care about equality, fight ageism – just as you fight sexism and racism
March 4, 2019
Article in the Independent
Age of distinction: Don’t believe the ageist myths. We only get better in our golden years.
March 3, 2019
Article in The Globe and Mail
My We Are All Aging talk explains the roots of ageism – in society and in our own age denial – how it divides and diminishes us, and ends with a rousing call to mobilize against it. This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life charts my journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical and proposes an alternative to all the hand-wringing: wake up, cheer up, and push back. Aging While Female, Reimagined describes how the double whammy of ageism and sexism makes aging different for women, and what we can do about it. I also speak about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and how to reframe the new longevity in order to make the most of longer lives. To book me for your event, please contact the Lavin Agency.
What People Are Saying:
I was encouraged by the statistics you quoted, forced to acknowledge my own ageist thoughts, and ultimately fired up to fight them in myself and others. You are on to something big!
Sarah Meredith, painter
Why can’t we stop ageism? Good question. For some answers, start looking in the mirror and look around you. For a good dialogue on the subject, visit Ashton Applewhite’s website, This Chair Rocks.
Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs, AARP
Consciousness-raising at its sharpest and most useful.
David Watts Barton, journalist and playwright
This Chair Rocks confirms our knowledge that emotional well being is abundant in later life, challenges us to face our own internalized ageism, and inspires us to envision a future in which our society is released from age-related prejudice and discrimination. And it’s fun, too!
Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York
Holistic, deep, urgent, and also fun.
Lenelle Moise, playwright and performer
All practitioners working with older adults need to be informed about the pernicious influences of ageism. Nobody does this better than Ashton Applewhite. Her thinking is deep, her passion infectious, and her cogent message is spot on: we urgently need to have a national conversation about ageism to raise awareness about it and to stop it.
Risa Breckman, LCSW, Executive Director, NYC Elder Abuse Center
You have found a fantastic mission: raising consciousness that older is far better than the stereotype that enslaves us all.
Jennifer Siebens, producer, CBS News
Ashton Applewhite’s plenary address at the 2013 New York State Adult Abuse Training Institute was compelling and original, and really resonated with our 400 participants. She is an articulate and committed voice for an important cause: challenging the demoralizing shadow that ageism casts across society.
Jean Callahan, Director, Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging
Octogenarians are the fastest-growing segment of our population, yet most Americans are scared stiff at the prospect of growing old. [Applewhite’s work] is a welcome and important tonic.
Dr. Robert Butler, founding director of the National Institute on Aging, coiner of the term “ageism”
We need an anti-ageist movement, for sure. Ashton is already in it.
Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Agewise and Aged by Culture
A beautifully delivered, provocative description of how ageism clouds our vision of what life holds in store.
Sabrina Hamilton, director, Ko Festival for the Arts
Ashton Applewhite is on a crusade. A journalist and author, her mission is to raise awareness of ageism in America and get people young and old to join her in speaking out against it.
Thank you again for your terrific keynote yesterday. I heard from so many attendees that it affected them deeply. You are wise, funny, and provocative – a great combination!
Teresa Bonner, Program Director, Aroha Philanthropies
"Gender Equality; Leave No Woman Behind" Panel, Peoples Summit
Where: Church Center, opposite the UN, New York City
When: September 24, 2019 03:00 pm
More info: Details here. The two-day Peoples Summit, which occurs parallel to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals summit, convenes "representatives of civil society from around the world to give grassroots and marginalized people a voice."
keynote: Ageful Talent: Tapping into the Unlimited Potential of NYC’s Older Adults
Where: Community Service Society. 633 Third Ave .10th Fl, NY, NY
When: October 16, 2019 06:00 pm
More info: Four leading organizations (CSS: RSVP, ReServe, Coming of Age NYC and Encore.org’s Encore Fellowships) will showcase their resources at a Fall Forum with special guest speaker Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, and co-founder of Old School. Free and open to the public; register here.
keynote + workshop, Planetree International Conference on Person-Centered Care
Where: Orlando, FL
When: October 29, 2019 02:00 pm
More info: Register here.
talk, COTA Tasmania and WIcking Dementia Research & Education Centre
Where: University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania
When: November 2, 2019 02:00 pm
More info: Details here
address to the National Press Club of Australia
Where: 16 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600, Canberra
When: November 6, 2019 11:30 am
keynote, Australian Association of Gerontology conference
Where: International Convention Centre, 14 Darling Dr, Sydney, Australia
When: November 8, 2019 04:00 pm
keynote, Unthinkable Festival
Where: Carriageworks, Bay 17, Sydney, NSW, Australia
When: November 9, 2019 04:30 pm
Sponsored by the University of New South Wales' Centre for New Ideas. Book signings: after the event
TEDX Melbourne event
Where: Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton VIC
When: November 10, 2019 02:00 pm
More info: Details pending.
talk, Uniting Communities, ECH and COTA South Australia
Where: Adelaide, SA, Australia
When: November 12, 2019 12:00 am
More info: Details here
keynote, Griffith University
Where: Queensland Conservatorium 140 Grey Street, South Brisbane, QLD, Australia
When: November 19, 2019 06:30 pm
More info: Register here.
keynote, Age Friendly Australia National Forum
When: November 20, 2019 03:30 pm
More info: Details pending
keynote, Seasons Retirement 2019 Conference
Where: Whistler, British Columbia
When: November 26, 2019 12:00 am
More info: Details here
talk, Future of Ageing conference, International Longevity Centre UK
Where: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE
When: December 5, 2019 09:30 am
More info: Details here.
talk + panel, Rancho Mirage Writers Festival
Where: Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory, 71-100 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, CA
When: January 29, 2020 12:00 am
More info: Tickets are sold out.
keynote, Osher Institutes National Conference
Where: Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, Florida
When: April 21, 2020 12:00 pm
Boston Public Library
Where: 700 Boylston Street (at Exeter), Commonwealth Salon
When: June 17, 2020 02:00 pm
More info: in collaboration with Beacon Hill Village; free and open to the public
keynote, American Alliance of Museums Creative Aging Convening
Where: High Museum, Atlanta, GA
When: November 5, 2020 12:00 am
public talk, High Museum
Where: High Museum, Atlanta, GA
When: November 7, 2020 12:00 am
More info: Free and open to the public. Details here
interview, BBC Newshour radio
September 15, 2019
Link here. Segment at 45:00.
interview, Theonera’s Work. Passion. Fit. podcast
August 5, 2019
July 28, 2019
podcast, the Wendi Cooper Show
July 22, 2019
keynote, UN Stakeholder Group on Ageing
July 9, 2019
Link here. Segment begins at 6:00
Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. We experience it any time someone assumes that we’re “too old” for something—a task, a haircut, a relationship—instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of. Or “too young;” ageism cuts both ways, although in a youth-obsessed society olders bear the brunt of it.
Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look.
Stereotyping—the assumption that all members of a group are the same—underlies ageism (as it does all “isms”). Stereotyping is always a mistake, but especially when it comes to age, because the older we get, the more different from one another we become.
Attitudes about age—as well as race and gender—start to form in early childhood. Over a lifetime they harden into a set of truths: “just the way it is.” Unless we challenge ageist stereotypes—Old people are incompetent. Wrinkles are ugly. It’s sad to be old—we feel shame and embarrassment instead of taking pride in the accomplishment of aging. That’s internalized ageism.
By blinding us to the benefits of aging and heightening our fears, ageism makes growing older far harder than it has to be. It damages our sense of self, segregates us, diminishes our prospects, and actually shortens lives.
What are the antidotes?
- ¶ Awareness: the critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices about age and aging. (Download a copy of Who me, Ageist? How to Start a Consciousness Raising Group.) Then we can start to see that “personal problems”—such as not being able to get a job or being belittled or feeling patronized—are actually widely shared social problems that require collective action.
- ¶ Integration: connect with people of all ages. An equitable society for all ages requires intergenerational collaboration.
- ¶ Activism: watch for ageist behaviors and attitudes in and around us, challenge them, and create language and models that support every stage of life.
I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. I had a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time, my boss kept telling me to write them down, and the collection turned into the best-selling paperback of 1982. I was a clue on “Jeopardy” (“Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes?” Answer: “Blanche Knott.”), and as Blanche made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list.
My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. I was on staff at the American Museum of Natural History for 17 years, where I wrote about everything under the Sun, quitting in 2017 to become a full-time activist.
The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. During that time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, the New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times, and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver.
My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was self-published in March, 2016 and will be published on the inaugural list of Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc. in March, 2019.
HONORS & RECOGNITION
- Member of the 2018 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 100
- 2018 Game Changer Award, Lifetime Arts
- Fifth Annual Forbes list of Forty Women to Watch over 40 (2017)
- PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging — Influencer of the Year (2016)
- Salt magazine’s list of The World’s 100 Most Inspiring Women (2015)
- ¶ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- ¶ Twitter: @thischairrocks
- ¶ Facebook: www.facebook.com/ThisChairRocks
- ¶ Instagram: www.instagram.com/thischairrocks
- ¶ RSS: https://thischairrocks.com/feed/
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