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, lifelong, powerful 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 have a Q & A blog called 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.

About the Book

Buy it here.

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

This Chair Rocks is a
2016 Foreword INDIES Winner
in Adult Nonfiction!

Smart, sassy and oh so wise.

AARP

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


Blog

Silo-busting, take two

In my last post, I wrote about the regrettable tendency to act as though older people and people with disabilities form two separate groups. When groups within companies don’t share information or knowledge, it’s called a “silo mentality.” It reduces efficiency and compromises the culture. Siloing is just as damaging in the social justice sphere, where it fosters disconnection and marginalization.

Swapping silos for intersectionality

The antidote is to think and act intersectionally—a clumsy word for a powerful idea. Black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in the 1970s, to address the ways that different forms of oppression—like racism, sexism and ageism— interact and combine to undermine us all. It’s also a way of thinking about the relationship between identity and power: how people and institutions use identity—old, for example, or disabled, or fat, or Muslim, or crazy—to confer or withhold advantage. In Crenshaw’s words, in an article called “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait,” “intersectionality isn’t just about identities—race, gender, class—but about the institutions that use identity to exclude and privilege.”

These relationships explain why the poorest of the poor, everywhere in the world, are old women of color. Add disability to the mix, and vulnerability increases even more. It’s why, as Crenshaw wrote, “We simply do not have the luxury of building social movements that are not intersectional, nor can we believe we are doing intersectional work just by saying words.”

Many humanitarian efforts leave people with disabilities behind.

A vivid example came my way this week in an eloquent article by Kate Bunting, the CEO of HelpAge USA called “Putting inclusion into practice.” A term that came out of disability rights, inclusion means giving people with disabilities (PWD) full access to society, whether it means providing closed captions or building wheelchair ramps or simply inviting PWD into the conversation.  Inclusion is core to HelpAge’s mission to improve the lives of the world's poorest olders, and Bunting wants it to be a mainstream humanitarian priority.

We’re not there yet, because we don’t collect much information on older people and what data we do collect isn’t broken down by age or disability. Without data, we can’t design programs with those populations in mind. “What this translates to in practice,” she writes, “are distribution centers reachable only by those who can walk there; food only for those capable of digesting it; and emergency warnings understood only by those who can see and hear.” During wartime or emergencies, this makes PWD, many of whom are older, the last to receive resources and the first to die.

The global discussion of gender-based violence omits older women.

Guess who else is underrepresented in data collection? Older women (because they face both sexism and ageism—hello, intersectionality). “Women over 50 have long been ignored both statistically and anecdotally —as if there is a magical age that means a woman is no longer vulnerable to violence and discrimination,” writes Bunting in another powerful post called “#MeToo has no age limit.” No longer reproductively useful, women over 49 are systematically excluded from studies of gender-based violence and health. Again, the lack of information makes it impossible to create interventions that address their needs, even though violence against older women— physical, sexual, and emotional—is an urgent health and human-rights issue. As Bunting points out, women over 50 make up nearly a quarter of women around the world, their share of the population will only grow, and many live in developing countries where social or legal recourse is inadequate or nonexistent.

Governments and organizations are beginning to heed the HelpAge call: “Remember to include older women. Remember them in your work. Remember them in your policy objectives. Remember them in your development programming,” Bunting writes. “They have said, ‘Me too.’ We just haven’t been able to hear them because we never asked.”

None of us are free until all of us are free.

What can the rest of us do? Bust out of our silos. Ask honestly whether we’ve been reaching out to those with less privilege, to people who don’t look like us, or live far away, or don’t seem to have much in common with us. At heart, there’s only “us.” I used to say that ageism was the only form of discrimination that affects everyone, but in fact all oppression burdens us all. Like the T-shirt says, “None of us are free until all of us are free.”

A movement against ageism is underway. If we want it to leave no one out—to be genuinely inclusive—it has to engage people at the margins of society, the ones that people in power deliberately overlook because they can get away with it. It’s no surprise that queer women of color are leading the charge. They’re the ones, in the words of Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper, “who meld race, gender and queer politics into an expansive, inclusive, and just vision of the world.” That world is better for all of us. It’s the world I want to inhabit and that I’m learning to work towards. As a white woman of privilege not used to abandoning her comfort zone, I have a long way to go.

 

Shared stigma, separate silos—more on the intersection of ageism + ableism

People with disabilities come in all ages, and almost all of us encounter some change in physical or mental capacity as we grow old. Yet, as I wrote in this substantial post, “We act as though old people never become disabled and disabled people never grow old.” Academics and policymakers approach disability and aging as separate fields, as Ann Leahy observed in this post for the International Network for Critical Gerontology (daunting name, terrific resource). Why? Because people in the aging field are understandably leery of seeming to equate aging and disability, and because, as Leahy noted, disability activists tend to be younger and mainly focused on issues that affect people of working age. Because we’re short-sighted and we’re all prejudiced.

This does none of us any favors, something I want to address in a new talk I’m working on. Here’s the passage-in-progress. Comments and critiques very welcome.

Ageism feeds ableism (prejudice against people with disabilities), and vice versa.

Disability and aging are different. They also overlap in important ways. Both olders and people with disabilities encounter discrimination and prejudice. And both groups face stigma. Many olders refuse to use wheelchairs or walkers, even when it means never leaving home. My uncle wouldn’t use a white cane even when he grew completely blind, preferring to rely on the kindness of strangers and taxi drivers. After breaking a bone in her foot, a not-yet-forty-year-old friend likewise declined a cane, deferring to crutches because they signal “injured,” not “old” or “disabled.” Cognitive impairment is even more stigmatized.

Being older or having a disability doesn’t keep us from being ageist or ableist. Age cooties! Handicapped people make me uncomfortable! That’s how prejudice works: it frames the other group—what we think of as the other group, that is—as alien and lesser than ourselves. This defies common sense, because people with disabilities come in all ages, after all, and most of us, if we live long enough, will encounter changes in physical or mental capacity. Ignoring the overlap also rules out collective activism.

We have a lot to learn from the activists who in the 1970s and ‘80s reframed the way we see disability. They changed it from an individual medical problem into a social problem—bingo!—and then demanded integration, access, and equal rights. We share the same goal: a culture that rejects narrow definitions of “productivity” and attractiveness, finds meaning within limitations—the bull looks different—and takes a realistic and inclusive view of what it means to be human. Let’s join forces.

Less ageism = less Alzheimer’s. It's that clear.

What affliction do Americans fear most? Alzheimer’s disease. I’m one of them, unless so many bones give out that I have to be carried around in a shovel. But facts comfort me. Abundant new data shows that our fears are way out of proportion to the threat—and that those fears themselves put us at risk.

Fact #1: Dementia rates are falling.  As I reported last April, the likelihood of you or me developing dementia has dropped—significantly—and people are getting diagnosed at later ages. That’s despite a surge in diabetes among older Americans, which significantly increases the risk. Numbers remain high—an estimated four million to five million Americans currently have dementia—but that number pales in comparison all the people who are worried about getting it, and about aging in general. Why is that important?

Fact #2: Worrying about dementia—and about getting older—is itself a health risk. We've known for some time that attitudes towards aging affect how the mind and body function at the cellular level. New research published on February 7th in the prestigious Public Library of Science journal confirms that finding, reporting that people who associate old age with becoming useless or incompetent are more likely to develop dementia than people with a more positive outlook.

Scientists consider a gene called ApoE to be the primary genetic risk factor in late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, yet many who carry it never develop dementia. How come? Could environmental—and therefore modifiable—factors play a role?  The new study, led by Yale’s Becca Levy, worked with a group of 4,765 people over age 60 who were dementia-free at the start, more than a quarter of whom carried the gene. Levy and her team interviewed them regularly over the course of four years, asking them to rank their feelings to prompts such as, “The older I get the more useful I feel.” They found that people with more negative attitudes were twice as likely to develop dementia. In other words, positive age beliefs confer protection against cognitive decline—even among people who are genetically predisposed to the disease.

Both experimental and longitudinal research show that stress, which links to dementia, may be the mechanism. Levy's team found that positive attitudes about aging can reduce stress and help us cope with ageist messages that bombard us from the media and popular culture. People assimilate cultural beliefs from early childhood on, and as these stereotypes become more relevant over time, we tend to act as though they were accurate, creating self-fulfilling prophecies. (More here about Levy’s theory of stereotype embodiment.) Positive beliefs (e.g. late life is inherently valuable, old age is a time of growth and development, olders contribute to society) help keep us healthy by buffering stress and prejudice: the effects of ageism. Negative beliefs (e.g. it’s sad to be old, old people are ugly, aging means becoming a burden) make us vulnerable to disease and decline.

It’s time for an anti-ageism public health campaign.

We’re stuck with our genes, but not with our behaviors or attitudes. Interventions work. Last year New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata described the decline in dementia rates as "what seems to be a long-term trend, despite researchers’ failure to find any effective way for individuals to protect themselves from Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.” That is no longer the case.

Reputable researches are careful not to overstate their findings, but the scientists behind this new study note that that their findings have far-reaching social implications. In personalized medicine, for example, education could bolster positive attitudes in people at higher risk of developing dementia. On a broader scale, as Levy points out, the research “lays a foundation for creating a public health campaign to beat back against ageism and negative beliefs about aging.” I’ve been making this case for years.

No matter how you feel about the longevity boom, or just about hitting that next big birthday, everyone wants olders to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Imagine the benefits to health and human potential of replacing negative stereotypes about age and aging with more nuanced, positive, and accurate portrayals. The 65+ population of the US is expected to double by the year 2030. Let’s get cracking!

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

A Stigma Rooted in Denial: On Ageism and “Aging Thoughtfully”

A Stigma Rooted in Denial: On Ageism and “Aging Thoughtfully”

November 2, 2017

Link here.

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon

October 12, 2017

Article in the New York Times

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

July 13, 2017

Article in Neo.life

Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well

Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well

June 15, 2017

Book published by HarperCollins, 1997. Reissued in 2017 with new preface by the author.

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch

September 3, 2016

Article in the New York Times

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more

Appearances

Part monologue and part consciousness-raiser, This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life is a 40-minute talk that uses stories and statistics to dispel myth after myth about late life. It’s fierce and funny, and it changes the way people envision their futures. Let’s Rock This Chair: Say No to Ageism is a shorter and more activism-oriented talk that shows how ageism makes aging in America so much harder than it has to be. I also speak about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and the effects of ageism on women’s 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.

Senior Planet

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

Upcoming Appearances

opening keynote, Environments for Aging Conference

Where: Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, Savannah, GA.

When: April 22, 2018 08:45 am

More info:

keynote, annual conference, National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE)

Where: George Vari Engineering & Computing Centre, Ryerson University, 245 Church St., Toronto, ON

When: April 30, 2018 09:00 am

More info:

Wake Health Invited Lecture

Where: Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

When: May 3, 2018 04:00 pm

More info:

NY County Judicial Committee on Elder Justice, NYC

Where:

When: May 15, 2018 02:30 pm

More info:

"The committee is tasked with raising awareness of elder abuse and developing programs, policies and protocols to address the court system’s handling of the ever growing number of cases involving older litigants in both civil and criminal matters."

featured speaker, Age Justice Rally

Where: Union Square, New York City

When: May 15, 2018 05:00 pm

More info: Organized by the Radical Age Movement

“Aging While Female” talk sponsored by UC Santa Barbara

Where: Santa Barbara Public Library

When: May 18, 2018 03:00 pm

More info: Talk to be followed by audience questions /free community session.

lecture sponsored by UC Santa Barbara

Where: UCSB Campbell Hall

When: May 19, 2018 03:00 pm

More info: Open to the public; followed by audience questions and a book signing.

“Coming of Age in Aging America” panel, Brooklyn Public Library

Where:

When: May 30, 2018 10:00 am

More info:

Central Library, Dweck Aduitorium. Discussion of "Coming of Age in Aging America", a Re-imagining of Aging initiative from Terra Nova Film, followed by a panel discussion with experts in tackling ageism and changing perceptions and attitudes toward older people.  Free; no registration required; light refreshments will be served. 

 

keynote, Mid-America Institute on Aging and Wellness Conference

Where: University of Southern Indiana, Evansville IN,

When: August 9, 2018 03:00 pm

More info:

talk, Innovations in Aging Collaborative

Where: Chapman Foundations Recital Hall at the Ent Center for the Arts at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO

When: August 14, 2018 10:00 am

More info:

A "five-year celebration event on social inclusion and ageism”

Free and open to the public; register here.

keynote, Pioneer Network annual conference

Where: Denver, CO

When: August 15, 2018 09:00 am

More info: Talk + all-day anti-ageism workshop

talk, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Fresno State

Where: Fresno State University

When: October 19, 2018 12:00 pm

More info:

keynote, Bioneers Conference

Where: Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium stage, Marin Center, San Rafael, California

When: October 21, 2018 09:00 am

More info:

talk, Empowering Ethical Elders program

Where: Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th St. 5th Fl. Elliott Library, NYC

When: December 20, 2018 06:00 pm

More info: Free and open to the public, drinks and snacks provided.

lecture at i3

Where: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

When: January 7, 2019 12:00 am

More info: "Ideas that inform and inspire"

Past Appearances

Media

Appearance on NPR’s On Point

Appearance on NPR’s On Point

March 28, 2018

Link here.

Janice Tomich podcast

Janice Tomich podcast

March 20, 2018

Link here.

Interview on She Knows

Interview on She Knows

February 13, 2018

Link here.

Zestful Aging podcast (Nicole Christina)

Zestful Aging podcast (Nicole Christina)

February 11, 2018

Link here.

Museum of Modern Art (NY) R&D Salon: New Aging

Museum of Modern Art (NY) R&D Salon: New Aging

January 22, 2018

Link here.

There’s more

Resources

Tools

 

HelpAge makes two worksheets available:

 

LeadingAge offers a guide to starting a community dialogue about ageism and a short slideshow to raise awareness:

 

I Need You, You Need Me: The Young, The Old, and What We Can Achieve Together: a guide to reuniting the generations, with examples of intergenerational programs and initiatives, from Generations United and the Eisner Foundation.

 

Books

  • Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice against Older Persons by Todd D. Nelson (Boston: MIT Press, 2002)
  • Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America by Margaret Morganroth Gullette. (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
  • Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond by Meika Loe. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • The Denial of Aging: Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life, and Other Dangerous Fantasies by Muriel R. Gillick (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006)
  • The Fountain of Age by Betty Friedan. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993)
  • How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old by Marc E. Agronin (New York: Da Capo Press, 2011)
  • How to Age by Anne Karpf (Macmillan, 2014)
  • A Long Bright Future by Laura Carstensen (New York: Broadway Books, 2009)
  • Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture, and Aging by Margaret Cruikshank (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009)
  • Look Me In the Eye: Old Women, Aging, and Ageism by Barbara Macdonald with Cynthia Rich (San Francisco: Spinsters Book Company, 1991)
  • Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older by Wendy Lustbader (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011)
  • The Longevity Revolution by Robert N. Butler (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008)
  • Naked At Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price (Berkeley: Seal Press, 2011)
  • Overcoming Age Discrimination in Employment by Patricia Barnes (2016)
  • Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life by Bill Thomas (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014)
  • Treat Me, Not My Age: A Doctor’s Guide to Getting the Best Care as You or a Loved One Gets Older by Mark Lachs (New York: Penguin Books, 2011)
  • Women in Late Life: Critical Perspectives on Gender and Age by Martha Holstein (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)

These books helped me understand ageism. You can find a list of the best books on aging compiled by Changing Aging here and another good list compiled by Ronnie Bennett here.

Reports

Links

 

 

 

Video

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016:

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016:

On Vimeo:

What Is Ageism?

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.

Bio

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. Since 2000 I’ve been on staff at the American Museum of Natural History, where I write about everything under the Sun.

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, 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, Playboy, 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.

My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was published in March, 2016. Later that year, I joined the PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging as their Influencer of the Year. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver, and joined the fifth annual Forbes list of Forty Women to Watch over 40.

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