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.
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 post is by Jessica Orkin, a President of SYPartners, where she helps people see new possibilities – for themselves, for their organizations, for society – and then create the strategy, experiences and platforms needed to support ongoing transformation and behavior change at scale. For the last four years, she has partnered with AARP and its visionary CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins, to challenge outdated beliefs on aging. This post first appeared on Fox News Opinion.Recent media coverage has begun to highlight the ageism that is prevalent, but largely unacknowledged in Silicon Valley. Yes, Silicon Valley is ageist. But the truth is, we all are. Even you. Even me. Ageism is one of the last "isms" so embedded into our culture that we rarely recognize it in our daily lives. Every day, we draw conclusions about other generations. Boomer employers want to solve the “Millennial problem.” Millennials want the older folks to get with the new program. My deep desire is to end this generational standoff. It is not doing us any good. It hurts us personally as we unwittingly limit the things we go after citing our age as a reason. It hurts us as a society as we limit the ingenuity and innovation that comes from age-diverse workplaces. It is time to tap into the value brought by bringing generations together, rather than focusing on the differences that divide us. Consider that a 10-year-old in the U.S. today has a 50 percent chance of living to 104. The implications of this are staggering for how we live, how we learn, and how we work. Ten thousand people in the United States turn 65 every day — and yet, most of the technology and tools at the frontiers of innovation are designed for and by young people. This gap represents a huge opportunity. The tech industry has the opportunity to lead the way by taking on two major blind spots: 1. The value of designing for the entire age spectrum: Human-centered design is great, but let's make sure some of those humans we are designing for are older people. There's money in it. The annual economic activity generated by people 50+ account for $7.6 trillion in the US alone. And, bringing the best of design and technology to edge cases can drive unexpected innovation. Consider that Oxo Good Grips created an entire market category - high end, stylish, user friendly kitchen gear designed for people with arthritis but used by everyone. 2. The value of the intergenerational workforce: Scott E. Page's research has proven that teams of people with diverse backgrounds find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone. We often consider gender, race, ethnicity as contributing to diversity. But rarely do we include age. Yes, we protect against age discrimination, but we don't yet value age diversity as a thing to strive for. The companies that figure out how to make the most of intergenerational teams will unlock huge competitive advantage. There are more older people, living longer than at any other time in human history. We need more solutions for this new reality. And the first step is to take on our own ageism. I came to this realization at age 40, through my work with AARP and its visionary and straight-talking CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins. She has invited us all to challenge outdated beliefs about aging and to spark solutions so people can choose how they live as they age. This work has changed my life. It has changed how I see age and aging. It has changed how I am parenting my 12-year-old son, as I look ahead to helping him lead a purpose-driven, adaptive, resourceful 100+ year 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. 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 was invited to speak at TED2017, the mainstage event in Vancouver—a perfect fit with the theme, The Future You.
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. (Clip here.) 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.
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
Founders Lecture & Luncheon, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
Where: Penn State York, York PA
When: May 3, 2017 03:00 pm
Keynote, Baltimore County Dept. of Aging BCDA Senior Solutions Conference
Where: Martin’s Valley Mansion, 594 Cranbrook Road, Hunt Valley, Maryland 21030
When: May 4, 2017 08:30 am
talk at Brookline Senior Center
Where: 93 Winchester Street, Brookline, MA
When: May 4, 2017 06:00 pm
Talk at VA Brockton Healthcare Systems
Where: 940 Belmont Street, Brockton, MA
When: May 5, 2017 12:30 pm
More info: This talk, "Old ≠ Sick," is about the medicalization of old age.
book talk, Springfield Free Public Library
Where: 66 Mountain Ave, Springfield Township, NJ 07081
When: May 20, 2017 10:30 am
AARP Master Class
Where: Washington, DC
When: June 5, 2017 11:30 am
talk at Coming of Age
Where: 65 Broadway, 12th fl, NYC
When: June 8, 2017 05:30 pm
Keynote, National Inst. of Senior Centers national conference
Where: Oak Brook, Illinois
When: June 15, 2017 09:00 am
Conference on Radical Aging
Where: Chattanooga, TN
When: July 13, 2017 09:30 am
Monadnock Summer Lyceum
Where: Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church, Peterborough, NH
When: August 20, 2017 11:00 am
More info: Monadnock Summer Lyceum "presents world class speakers on social, political, educational, cultural, scientific, economic, environmental and artistic topics." Presentations are free ~ donations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking is available next to the church courtesy of People's United Bank. Reception following the presentations in the Parish Hall.
plenary, Florida Council on Aging Annual Conference
Where: Caribe Royale Hotel, 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando, FL
When: August 28, 2017 12:30 pm
More info: Register here.
Ashton Applewhite—3rd Act: Saying “No” to Ageism, Vital Presence podcast
April 5, 2017
Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 2
March 24, 2017
Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 1
March 16, 2017
Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC
February 17, 2017
4 Minutes with Ashton Applewhite – The California Health Report
February 13, 2017
Busting Ageism: The Life of Ashton Applewhite – Women Over 40 podcast
February 6, 2017
Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast
January 26, 2017
Listen here. The discussion of ageism starts at 36:25; I come on at 41:06.
Ashton Applewhite Responds to the Election
December 28, 2016
From 17 to 103: We Asked Disruptors What Their Very Best Year Was
December 21, 2016
Yo, Is This Ageist? with Ashton Applewhite
November 18, 2016
video interview with the Wisdom Factory
HelpAge International also makes two guides available:
- 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)
- Ageism in America by the Anti-Ageism Taskforce at the International Longevity Center, 2006
- Gauging aging: Mapping the gaps between expert and public understandings of aging in America by Lindland, E., Fond, M., Haydon, A., & Kendall-Taylor, N. Washington, DC: FrameWorks Institute (2015).
- The Old Woman’s Project
- Changing Aging
- Silver Century Foundation
- Senior Planet: Aging With Attitude
- The Radical Age Movement: Leveraging the Power of Age
- Yo, Is This Ageist?
- The Pass It On Network
- Midcentury Modern
- Time Goes By: What It’s Really Like to Get Old
- HelpAge USA: A Global Movement for the Rights of Older People
- Positive Aging in Action
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.