pushing back against ageism—which affects everyone
This Chair Rocks
People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. Only 2.5% of Americans over 65 live in nursing homes. Older people enjoy better mental health than the young or middle-aged. Dementia rates are falling, fast. 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
“Ashton Applewhite is the Malcolm Gladwell of ageism.”
-JAMES BECKFORD SAUNDERS, CEO, Australian Association of Gerontology
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
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.
This week’s Sunday Magazine features photographs of the city’s reopening taken by people age 25 and under ("The City Awakes,” 6/13/21). The introduction to the print edition explains, “We wanted to see all this from the perspective of the city’s younger residents, whose lives have been most upended by the past year and who will be the most profoundly affected by the renewal and rebirth of the next decade."
Featuring young people’s work is fine, but your rationale for doing so is flawed. As your reporting has made abundantly clear, the people whose lives were most upended by the pandemic were the poor. It is their economic circumstances that will shape New Yorkers’ next decade, not their ages.
Don't miss this month's Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse May newsletter. We've added tons of new resources on topics that range from cyberbullying to intergenerational solidarity to age privilege, including Io, Un Ageista?—our guide to starting a consciousness-raising group around age bias now in Italian! And we're hosting more activities than ever: two Movement-Builders Convenings, a free screening of the documentary film Duty Free (meet the star and the filmmaker), and our first Ageism and the LGBTQ+ Experience workshop!
This guest post, which first appeared on Medium, is by Jennifer L. Riddell, a museum specialist and writer whose work involves engaging people with the visual arts. She is interested in how shifts toward a more caring and inclusive organizational culture can positively affect the experience of museum visitors.
Ageism is everywhere, yet it is the most socially ‘normalized’ of any prejudice and is not widely challenged — like racism or sexism. - World Health Organization, 2016
Museums have stepped up when it comes to engaging older audiences, from lifelong learning opportunities to programs for those experiencing memory loss, institutions are making note of the continued growth of the demographic in their visitorship. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people, including older art enthusiasts, have benefitted from the increased availability and accessibility of online programs. The American Alliance of Museums also has recognized the importance of older museum visitors and cultural consumers, and the need to extend the reach of programs tailored for them. Yet AAM’s stated aim in this arena, “How museums can foster curiosity, growth, and social connections among people ‘fifty-five and better,’” leaves the subject of ageism in the museum workplace unspoken.
There is a dissonance between the institutional support for such public-facing programs for older adults — and the aspiration toward public service that museums represent — and the lack of support, or even acknowledgement, of age bias and discrimination that exists within the museum and cultural institution workforce. Successful and inclusive creative aging programs may, in fact, obscure the presence and recognition of internal issues.
In the meantime, museum workers are increasingly asking for a culture that is externally and internally consistent with the values of diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI) — and cares about visitors and staff equally. Greater institutional self-awareness of these issues has come with the ongoing crises of racial injustice and social inequality, intensified by the pandemic.
Recently instituted and often publicly available museum DEAI policies, alongside executive-level positions to support them, admit culpability for largely race-related biases and propose actions and remedies. The Getty’s statement of January 2021, for example, states frankly, “racism has stained all of our institutions, including museums and Getty, and must be confronted and eliminated.”
As a baseline and perhaps starting place, DEAI policies usually itemize the list of the seven legally protected employment statuses– race, gender, disability, religion, ethnicity, genetic/medical information, and age (over 40). Workers who believe that they have experienced discrimination may pursue remedies through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While legal and civil rights are fundamental, they do not always protect individuals from the structural imbalances and implicit biases and conditions in the work environment. What DEAI policies can do is address that gap by bringing awareness, education, empathy, and action to creating a more just workplace. Yet, right now, most of these policies are fundamentally silent on age bias and discrimination. Why does ageism continue to be overlooked in DEAI?
Age Bias — Are We Still in Denial?
Age discrimination achieved legal recognition 54 years ago. Even then, and certainly since, there has existed a societal resistance to acknowledging its effects and pervasiveness. President Lyndon Johnson fully intended that age be enumerated in Section VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: It was Section VII that included the establishment of the EEOC and outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, sex (later expanded to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy/childbirth), religion, and national origin. Age was omitted. Instead, a skeptical Congress commissioned the Labor Department to study the matter. The resulting 1965 report was unequivocal: it found that fully half of U.S. employers stipulated in job postings that those over 55, or in some cases, over 45, need not apply. These blatantly discriminatory conditions led directly to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), made law in 1967. The ADEA’s explicit purpose was “promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age [and] prohibit arbitrary age discrimination.”
Harassment can include, for example, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s age. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision.
“Simple teasing and offhand comments?” The language essentially ratifies a concise, present-day description of microaggressions that would be unacceptable in practically any other context with respect to gender, race, or religion.
Our daily life, language and behavior incorporate so much that is ageist that further normalizes it and makes it socially acceptable. Visual ageism refers to the ever-decreasing visibility of older people in society. Stock pictures of workplaces that would suggest, as existed pre-1967, that no one over 45 is employed. A collaborative project between the style media channel Refinery29 (changed to Refinery59 for a day) and AARP found that 61% of women surveyed did not see female aging represented in the media. Age denial is rampant in the promotion of an endless array of “anti-aging” products. Other actions like making assumptions about technology skills (the use of the term “digital native” is widespread in employment advertising, even though it constitutes age discrimination since it refers to a specific age cohort of people) or presuming that older workers are “stuck in their ways” and resistant to change and innovation are similarly insidious (despite the uncontested value of “lifelong learning”).
The steady drip that erodes the value, competence, and credibility of older people has concrete effects. These include decreased leadership opportunities and visibility in the workplace, and on a personal level, psychological harm from the tolls of stress, self-doubt, isolation, and even internalization of the very stereotypes others cast upon them. The association between aging and diminishment is so pervasive that people believe it is an intrinsic part of getting older. (Please let President Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Fauci and the spirits of pioneer activists John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsberg know.)
Evidence shows otherwise. The process and effects of getting older are as varied as the people experiencing it. Ashton Applewhite, an anti-ageism activist, notes that research demonstrates that people over 50 show more diverse physical, developmental and social traits than people under 50 (the younger we are, the more homogeneous we are). Instead, judge people on their abilities, not on stereotypes and prejudices — whether race, gender, age or any other marker of identity, visible or not.
Reality Check: Experienced Workers Add Value
The benefits that experienced workers offer are real, studied, and documented. Experience does matter — as does perspective and knowledge in navigating communication, strategy, and leadership — which makes it actually faster, not slower as many presume, to cut through workplace thickets. Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2018 research summarizes that “older workers represent a largely untapped opportunity . . . . The older labor pool represents a proven, committed, and diverse set of workers” who can be a valuable resource for training, a source of institutional knowledge and come to the table with “more knowledge, wisdom, and life experience.”
Numerous management and organizational studies underscore the benefits of age- and otherwise diverse work teams as being more creative and productive. Teams built around an in-group of generational peers, for instance, may provide its participants a greater comfort level, consensus, or affirmation of viewpoint. Such choices may read as benign sociality, however, in-group favoritism is exclusionary and ultimately, inhibits original thinking and creativity. The tendency to this form of favoritism declines as workers move through their career and generational experiences.
We can no longer continue downplay the real impacts of ageism or maintain dismissive and one-dimensional attitudes about age status. Ageing happens to everyone and ageism can occur at any time of life as a mutable set of generational biases and presumptions. It is in the interests of all to cultivate a greater understanding of why we need to collectively inform ourselves about age bias and make conscious decisions to act against it.
Larger Trends Demand Age Inclusivity
The demographic shifts that have prompted museums to recognize the value and needs of older visitors are the same ones that add to the case for clarity and urgency in addressing age bias internally, in the museum workforce. The 55+ cohort of the workforce and population is projected to increase significantly as birth rates decline and life expectancy increases — 1 in 5 Americans will be over 60 by 2030. This means that all people, and especially young and recent entrants to the working world, now will need to plan on underwriting more years in retirement by working longer, or in many cases, not retiring at all. The changes will skew the generational composition of the workforce older, as well as encompass a range of five generations in the workplace (which is already happening). In such a scenario, cross-generational recognition, support, and understanding will be key to a generationally non-adversarial work environment.
The economics and social impacts of age redistribution are a matter of global scale. The United Nations and World Health Organization has designated 2021–2030 a “Decade of Healthy Ageing” to drive public awareness, policy and structural change. The initiative’s platform includes combatting ageism, as well as community, long term care, and mobility supports for an increasingly older population. The benefits of structural improvements for older people are shown to benefit people of all ages, including families and people with disabilities.
Ageism in the Museum Field
The experience of museum and cultural professionals of age bias aligns with these larger issues and trends. I wonder if the tendency toward age-denial may explain museums’ avoidance of internal age bias issues, while practicing age affirmation within (safely) contained public programs. An informal survey that I posted to several networks for museum professionals showed that 81% of a sample of museum and cultural workers based in the U.S. and Canada have experienced ageism in their workplace. The survey is not age-delimited and includes responses from “under 30” through the “over 60” categories. For purpose of definition here, ageism or age bias can be experienced by people of any age, while age discrimination is experienced by people over 40 who are legally protected from it.
Making Progress against Age Bias
One way to make progress is to simply and explicitly acknowledge the value that older workers can bring to the museum, alongside the practices of affirmation and acknowledgement of diverse workers that are already developing and becoming, hopefully, commonplace.
In 2020, legal decisions regarding age discrimination with respect to two very large employers — IBM and the federal government — are positive signs. In one case, the EEOC found that IBM systematically forced the resignation of or laid off older, experienced workers to make way for younger hires, while at the same hiring back the older workers as contractors at lower pay rates. And, a 2020 Supreme Court decision, Babb v. Wilkie, was decided 8–1 in favor of a female federal employee claiming age discrimination. The case actually lowered the bar for evidence of age discrimination after decades of cases that imposed increasingly stringent standards on discrimination claimants. Justice Samuel Alito wrote that, “A personnel action must be “made,” namely, in a way that is not tainted by differential treatment based on age. Thus, the straightforward meaning of … the statute does not require proof that an employment decision would have turned out differently if age had not been taken into account. Instead, if age is a factor in an employment decision, the statute has been violated” (my emphasis).
Age is an inseparable part of our shared humanity alongside race, gender, ethnicity, ability, and the many markers that frame who we are. Perhaps we need to let go of our cultural obsession with naming, defining, and policing generational boundaries. The researcher Gina Pell has proposed an alternative term that can encompass people of any generation:
“Perennials … describe[s] an ever-blooming group of people of all ages, stripes, and types who transcend stereotypes and make connections with each other and the world around them.” They are, “People of all ages who continue to push up against their growing edge, always relevant, and not defined by their generation.”
Remediating Age Bias in Museums
My survey of museum and cultural workers, which encompassed respondents from under 30 through over 60 years of age, also show most supporting remedies for ageism. The following steps can increase understanding, awareness, and spur action around age-biased practices.
DEAI: Spell it out
Do all workers in your museum know what is meant by diversity, equity, access, and inclusion in your institution and how it applies internally and externally? The American Alliance of Museums advises that it often said that there are as many different definitions of these and related terms as there are people in the conversation. Developing written definitions of your terms can bring clarity and be a means of assessing who may still be excluded by the language you are using.
Adding descriptions of the forms that age bias and discrimination take to your institutional DEAI policy lends immediate legitimacy to the issues. Staff training in which age bias is integrated into discussion the multiple forms of discrimination and how they are experienced is key.
Multigenerational work and collaboration
Do you look up in a meeting and see a roomful of people representing a very narrow age range? Make an explicit assessment of the composition of teams, committees, and leadership in terms of diverse age representation and other qualities. Foster a multigenerational culture that recognizes ability regardless of age and rejects age stereotypes, just as it would reject stereotypes involving race, disability, national origin, religion, or gender. Stop policing and reinforcing generational definitions and boundaries.
Age 50 is an early “expiration” date to pin on people, but sadly, it is an age by which many begin to experience structural obstacles in the workplace that become increasingly difficult to surmount. Assess aspects of your organization’s culture, the association of specific organizational roles with certain age brackets, and anti-age practices or policies.
Tay K. McNamara, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Natasha Sarkisian, Elyssa Besen, and Miwako Kidahashi, “Age Bias in the Workplace: Cultural Stereotypes and In-Group Favoritism,” The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 2016.
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
keynote, Elder Justice Summit
When: June 30, 2021 12:00 pm
More info: Sponsored by the Monterey County, California Area Agency on Aging. Registration pending.
keynote, Creative Aging Institute
When: July 20, 2021 03:20 pm
More info: Sponsored by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.
keynote, National Service Coordinator Conference
When: August 25, 2021 01:00 pm
More info: Registration and further information here.
“Let’s Talk” for Yale New Haven Health
When: September 8, 2021 12:00 pm
The host brings in a different DEI speaker each month, and September is Intergenerational Awareness month.
Ageism from the Inside Out and the Outside In
When: September 21, 2021 12:00 pm
A conversation between Connie Zweig, author of The Inner Work of Age, and Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, facilitated by author, ethicist, and gerontologist H. R. (Rick) Moody. Co-hosted by Encore and PSS. Free and open to the public.
talk, Duxbury, MA Senior Center
When: September 28, 2021 07:00 pm
More info: Details pending.
presentation, MAGIC (Minnesota medical directors) conference
When: November 5, 2021 08:15 am
interview, Upside of Aging event
When: November 10, 2021 05:00 pm
More info: Featured guest at Palos Verdes Peninsula Village. Details pending.
keynote, Financial Planning Association
Where: Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, 575 Hyatt Lost Pines Rd., Lost Pines, TX 78612
You’ll find many more resources on Old School, a clearinghouse of free and carefully vetted blogs, books, articles, videos, speakers, and other tools (workshops, handouts, curricula etc.) to educate people about ageism and help dismantle it.
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.