That was the take-no-prisoners title of this article, which ran in the Guardian newspaper on June 17th. I could have done without the focus on my hair, but it was damn exciting to make the front page.
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
Mary Pipher is a psychologist who specializes in women—adolescents in her first bestseller, Reviving Ophelia, and now those entering old age, in Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age. Published this January, it too became a bestseller, not only because Pipher is a gifted clinician and storyteller but because her message, like mine, resonates deeply with what our readers know: age confers voice, self-knowledge, contentment. We like being older. . “Contrary to cultural stereotypes,” writes Pipher, “most women become increasingly happy after age 55, with their peak of happiness at the very end of life.”
That’s despite having to contend with the misogyny, ageism, and
sexism that reduce us to sexless, voiceless, shapeless, and useless caricatures
of our richly textured selves. “Old women in America suffer a social disease.
For us, ageism may be an even more
serious challenge than aging,” Pipher writes (emphasis mine). Misogyny is dislike,
contempt, or ingrained prejudice against women. Pair it with ageism, which we
are just beginning to confront, and the full truth is immensely painful. But we
have choices, and ever-louder voices.
“What women mean when they say, ‘I’m not old,’ is ‘I won’t
accept the ideas the culture has about me,’” Pipher writes. If we have courage
and will, we have agency. In Pipher’s words, “Because our current cultural
stories about how we should behave are useless, we have great freedom to throw
off our chains and resist definition by the broader culture.” How do we do it? Pipher proposes three main steps:
- “First, we can take responsibility for educating other people about both the negative stereotypes and the reality of our lives. We can resolve not to criticize ourselves or other women or make negative remarks about aging or appearance …”
- “We can be advocates for women of all ages, working to create the institutions and policies we require to live healthy, social, and productive lives throughout the life span.” This can take all kinds of forms, from writing letters and lobbying to protesting and “grab[bing] the attention of the press” by using music, art, and theater.
- “Finally, we can converse with people of all ages …. Younger and older women working together is a great way to facilitate mutual respect, empathy, and understanding.” The goal is political change that will benefit the women that follow in our footsteps.
It’s no surprise my call to women, set out in this New
York Times opinion piece, covers
very similar ground:
- Tap into what we know: growing older enriches
- Learn to look more generously at each other, and
- Reject old-vs.-young ways of thinking.
- Come together at all ages and talk about this
Let’s not delude ourselves: this is the work of a lifetime.
We need to embark on it with others, and across generations. But none of this
stigma is “natural,” and none of it is fixed. A movement to end ageism is
underway around the world, and—again, unsurprisingly—women are leading it.
We have a choice: we can keep digging the hole deeper, or we
can throw away the damn shovel. We can move, if we have the will and the desire
and the vision, from competing to collaborating. We can turn it from a
conversation about scarcity and loss to one about empowerment and equity. And
we can take that change out into the world. The women’s movement taught us to claim
our power; a pro-aging movement will teach us to hold onto it.
Five weeks, eleven cities, fourteen book talks, nine media appearances, twenty-one regular talks, Phew. I got so tired it felt as though gravity was messing with me, or as if I’d been inexpertly inflated. Also exhilarating: a nationwide network of pro-aging activists came out to support me and spread the word—thank you thank you thank you. Also educational; I learned a lot.
- How to pronounce Buttigieg: Buddha + tszuj (as in “jujj,” as in “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”). Source: NPR’s age beat reporter Ina Jaffe, and she ought to know.
- African-Americans are two to three times likelier than whites to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “The disparities are explained by its association with poverty,” said USC’s Karen D. Lincoln, much of whose work focuses on educating African Americans about the disease.
- The best way to answer “how old are you?” Say, “I was born in 1952” (if you’re my age). The questioner spazzes because they can’t do the math. You’ve answered forthrightly. And without a number with
- without a number to peg assumptions to, the questioner is left to reflect on how much you’ve seen and done, free of any ageist connotations.
- Another problem with “agelessness”: I’m no fan of the word because of its inherent age denial. A woman at a reading in Seattle added, “I think saying you’re ageless is like saying you’re colorblind.” Boom. Because if you “don’t see race,” you don’t see racism.
- The anti-ageism movement is talking tactics. Ten years ago I spent most of my time explaining what ageism is and why it matters. Now all kinds of people—from librarians in Denver to Age-Friendly organizers in San Francisco to architects in Pittsburgh—are asking how to make their efforts explicitly anti-ageist. We pro-agers transitioning from talking to doing—and that’s exciting.
Beating age discrimination
May 1, 2019
Article in The Big Issue
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
How did old people become political enemies of the young?
December 23, 2018
Article In The Guardian
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
talk, Power Up 2019!
Where: Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick, Providence, RI
When: June 20, 2019 09:00 am
More info: Sponsored by Age-Friendly RI. Register here.
keynote, United Nations Stakeholder Group on Ageing, 2019 High Level Political Forum,
Where: United Nations Headquarters, New York City
When: July 9, 2019 01:15 pm
More info: Details here
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Conference
Where: Berkshire Community College,1350 West St, Pittsfield, MA
When: August 15, 2019 12:00 am
More info: Details here.
talk, SXSW me Convention
Where: Messe center, Frankfurt, Germany
When: September 11, 2019 12:00 am
keynote + workshop, Planetree International Conference on Person-Centered Care
Where: Orlando, FL
When: October 29, 2019 02:00 pm
More info: Register here.
plenary, Australian Association of Gerontology annual conference
Where: International Convention Centre, 14 Darling Dr, Sydney, Australia
When: November 6, 2019 03:50 pm
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
Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016
Talk at Future Trends Forum in Madrid
1 December 2017
Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016
1 December 2017
Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016
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/
Sign up to receive announcements for This Chair Rocks and information about my upcoming events.