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.

About the Book

Buy the book

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

This Chair Rocks is a 2016 Foreword INDIES Winnerin 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

Readers are encouraged to distribute, remix, and tweak this material! Please credit This Chair Rocks/
Ashton Applewhite

Recalculating . . .

A funny thing happened on the way to writing this, and coming up with a title reminded me of something my sister used to laugh about. When she moved to New York City, she worked for a visiting-nurse program and her clients were strewn across all five boroughs. The job came with a car and a navigation system, and every time she made a wrong turn, which was often, it would somberly intone, “Re…cal …cu…lating.”  My sister called it her Higher Power. These days, I’m calling on it too.

This was supposed to be a pleased-as-punch announcement of Ageist? Sexist? Who, Me?, Old School’s new guide to starting a consciousness-raising group, this one around the intersection of ageism and sexism. It’s very good. As an older woman, there’s no intersection I inhabit more fully. As a writer, there’s no intersection I know more about. I’ll go to my grave proud of the fact that my first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, earned me a place on Phyllis Schafley’s Eagle Forum Enemies List.

The guide contains a section I’m especially pleased with, called Learning from the Women’s Movement. It’s about how the movement has centered whiteness and failed to address issues faced by more marginalized women, and how middle-class white women need do to better. I invoked it at length last month at the inaugural meeting of The Biddies, a group convened by Old School to bring ageism into the many emerging conversations around women and aging. Yet the attendees were overwhelmingly white, cis, older women. Called out by allies of color—special thanks to Mariann Aalda for doing so during the Zoom and to Alejandra Garcia for offering to reach out to Latinx and college groups—and realizing that to proceed would be to perpetuate the very system I hope to help dismantle, I am recalibrating.

We (the three co-founders of Old School) are starting with a meeting that a small group of women of color have generously agreed to attend, to talk about making our work more relevant to their communities. We’ll listen hard and hope to emerge with next steps for diversifying the Biddies, or whatever the group becomes, and for applying those lessons to the anti-ageism movement as a whole.

I know you can’t retrofit diversity. I’ve been talking the talk for a long time. But when it came to walking the walk, I screwed up. I’m fine with admitting that, but tongue-tied and miserable when the screw-up involves blindness to my own white privilege. “It takes practice,” says my colleague Ryan Backer, a long-time anti-racist activist, both encouraging and gently admonishing me. I’m lucky to have Ryan, and many other non-cis, non-white, non-straight, non-old friends and allies. Stay tuned to see where this takes us.

One place it’s already taken me is into a radical reconsideration of whether our consciousness-raising guides are the best tool to catalyze intersectional activism. Can we do better? What might that look like? More to come on that in Recalibrating, Part Two.

Happy International Olders Day!

In 1990, the United Nations made October 1 the International Day of Older Persons. It's a big deal in ageland, but especially this year, because it's the day the World Health Organization's six-week Ageism Through the Ages campaign kicks off. (I'd have called the campaign Ageism Across All Ages just like I'd dub October 1 International Olders Day day, but I quibble.) It's a fantastic campaign designed to expose the effects of ageism on everyone, starting with olders and ending with the way it harms kids and young people. Follow this link for dozens of ways to get involved—whether you're a storyteller, a scholar, an organization, or a budding age advocate—and all the tools you need.

To mark the day, Australia's EveryAGECounts campaign has created the first ever Ageism Awareness Day, with the unbeatable slogan "Ageism. Know it. Name it’

Because achieving equal rights across the lifespan, and around the world, means dismantling ageism. Talk to someone about ageism today.

An expert's take on the standard definition of "ageism"

This guest post is by Toni Calasanti, a professor of sociology at Virginia Tech. She has long been passionate about fighting ageism, advocating for "our right to grow old in diverse ways without facing mockery, stigma, or exclusion, however grey-haired or wrinkly we become; and whatever care or support we need at any time.” Professor Calasanti generously served as an expert reader of Old School's forthcoming consciousness-raising guide to the intersection of ageism and sexism, Ageist? Sexist? Who, Me? In it, we relied on the dictionary definition of ageism as stereotyping, prejudice and/or discrimination based on age. Here's why she thinks we can do better:

"Personally, I would not include these all together; and I find it useful to take them apart. Stereotypes are just that, group-based generalizations that are applied to individuals; they can be positive, negative, neutral. And in and of themselves they are not problematic, i.e., stereotypes often are rooted in "reality" at least in terms of the majority. As a group, old people ARE weaker than are younger people, or are more wrinkled, or whatever. At issue is how we EVALUATE these stereotypes, which is how I think of prejudice--a negative assessment of those stereotypes. But this is also different from discrimination--i.e., exclusionary behavior. This latter is how I choose to define ageism, drawing on [Dr. Robert] Butler's work and even more, the comparison between ageism and other forms of oppression, such as sexism. So yes, old people are more marginalized; this is not because of stereotypes per se (or even prejudice; policies or laws can protect disadvantaged groups such that they can evade discrimination).

"These distinctions are important to me for the reasons implicit above; but also they do not allow us to get at the deepest level of ageism, i.e., what if a stereotype is true, or is true of an individual? What if they are frail, or wrinkled, etc.? Does this mean that they should be excluded/marginalized? If we are going to fight ageism, in my opinion we need to be able to validate those stereotypes in the sense of being able to say that a person is valuable regardless of the extent to which it fits them.”

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

Let’s Climb Out of The Generation Trap

Let’s Climb Out of The Generation Trap

June 29, 2021

Link here.

Reflections on the Plague Year From an Anti-Ageism Activist

Reflections on the Plague Year From an Anti-Ageism Activist

March 15, 2021

Link here.

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

March 26, 2020

Link here.

Beating age discrimination

Beating age discrimination

May 1, 2019

Article in The Big Issue

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

An Essay by Ashton Applewhite

March 14, 2019

Article on Books Inc.

There’s more

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more

Appearances

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.

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

keynote speaker, Hot Topics in Aging

Where: virtual

When: November 2, 2021 09:00 am

More info: University of Texas Health Science in Houston Hot Topics in Aging conference. Details here.

presentation, MAGIC (Minnesota medical directors) conference

Where: virtual

When: November 5, 2021 08:15 am

More info: Minnesota Association of Geriatrics Inspired Clinicians (MAGIC) Annual Conference. Details and registration here.

interview, Upside of Aging event

Where: virtual

When: November 10, 2021 05:00 pm

More info: Featured guest at Palos Verdes Peninsula Village. Register here.

speaker, SilverSource Fall Luncheon

Where: Darien, CT

When: November 17, 2021 10:30 am

More info: Details pending.

speaker, Future of Ageing 2021: Reimagining Ageing in a Changing World

Where: Wellcome Collection, London

When: December 2, 2021 09:00 am

More info: Speaker at the International Longevity Centre's annual Future of Ageing conference.Tickets available here.

speaker, Ambassadors for Aging Well meeting

Where: virtual

When: December 13, 2021 02:00 pm

More info: Details pending here.

keynote, Financial Planning Association retreat

Where: Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, 575 Hyatt Lost Pines Rd., Lost Pines, TX 78612

When: April 27, 2022 12:00 am

More info: Details pending here.

 

Past Appearances

Media

interview in Brazilian magazine, Viva Bem UOL

interview in Brazilian magazine, Viva Bem UOL

September 17, 2021

Link here.

Scoot Over podcast, Ageism; It’s About Time

Scoot Over podcast, Ageism; It’s About Time

September 12, 2021

Link here.

Power Purpose Play podcast, On Ageism

Power Purpose Play podcast, On Ageism

August 30, 2021

Link here.

The EndGame podcast

The EndGame podcast

August 28, 2021

Link here.

The Dareful Project podcast

The Dareful Project podcast

August 20, 2021

Link here.

There’s more

Resources



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.

Video

On YouTube

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

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. 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.

I am a founder of the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse.

My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was published in March, 2019 by Celadon Books, a new division of Macmillan, Inc.

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