This Chair Rocks

People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. The vast majority of Americans over 65 live independently. The older people get, the less afraid they are of dying. Aging is a natural, powerful, lifelong process. So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that depression, diapers, and dementia lie ahead? That the 20th century’s astonishing leap in life expectancy is a disaster-in-the making? Underlying all the hand-wringing is ageism: discrimination that sidelines and silences older people. So I’ve written a book. I blog about it. I led the team that developed Old School, a clearinghouse of anti-ageism resources. I am the voice of Yo, Is This Ageist? (Go ahead, ask me.) I’ve written a consciousness-raising booklet. And I speak widely. All tools to help catalyze a movement to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other kind.

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

Defeating the Pandemic Means Confronting Ageism and Ableism

This article was first published by the PBS site NextAvenue, which named me their Influencer of the Year in Aging in 2016--and which deleted the last paragraph after it was posted.

Why is coronavirus spreading across the US? Not because a virulent virus jumped from an animal into a human. Not because of China, or selfish youngers and clueless olders. COVID is spreading because the virus is new and contagious and because we live under a system that picks profit over people at every turn. The pandemic has exposed our shredded social safety net as never before, and a hospital system crippled by decades of cost-cutting, underfunding, and chronic understaffing by underpaid workers to benefit profiteering corporations.

This is playing out nakedly on Twitter at the moment. The hashtag #NotDying4WallStreet is trending as people recognize the implications of President Trump’s calls to end the lockdown soon, which infectious disease experts strongly recommend against. #GrandparentsShould is trending too, in response to the suggestion that grandparents should sacrifice themselves for the good of the economy. (Sample tweet: #GrandparentsShould stop voting for Nazis who want to kill them off to give the stock market a boost.)

Never have
ageism and ableism been so glaringly exposed.

We olders are more at risk from COVID19.  That’s biology, not bias. Our immune systems
are weaker, our lungs less elastic, and we’re more likely to have underlying
conditions—such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes—that make us more
vulnerable to other illnesses and slower to recover. This doesn’t mean that the
day someone turns 65, they're at higher risk. It also says very little about
what any given individual is up against when it comes to getting sick or
getting better. Underlying health plays a much bigger role than age does. And
while older people do have more health issues, plenty are in excellent health
and plenty of young people are immune-suppressed and/or live with chronic
disease.

The most dangerous manifestation of ageism during the pandemic is the suggestion of an age limit for medical treatment, so it won’t be “wasted.” A public health emergency can indeed make it necessary to allocate resources by health status. That’s triage. I wrote earlier, “Allocating resources by age, under any circumstances, is not triage. It is ageism at its most lethal.” I've since come to understand that when hospitals get completely overwhelmed, as has happened in Italy and is likely in the US very soon, people on the front lines have to make hideous decisions, very fast, about which of the many people in dire condition are likely to benefit most from getting, say, the only available ventilator. These decisions involve a complex ethical calculus, delineated in this Ars Technica article and this GeriPal podcast. Age is way quicker to assess than health status, and advanced age is a clear disadvantage under these circumstances.  Boom. Such decisions are tragic, horrible, wrong, and—under these conditions—sometimes necessary. I sure don’t envy the heroic people making them in hospitals today.

In every other context, it’s
up to the rest of us to push back against every form of social bias. Are
testing and outreach prioritizing men over women, white people over people of
color, youngers over older, cis people over trans? Are we including the most
exposed—not just olders
but people with disabilities and those who are homeless or incarcerated—in our
efforts? We are engaged in a
massive collective experiment to protect the vulnerable, whoever they turn out
to be. It’s high-stakes, and it’s as intersectional as it can get. We are truly
all in this together.

Let’s also ditch the
generational finger-pointing
and place the blame where it belongs. If we didn't have a government
controlled by corporate interests like Big Pharma and insurance companies, and
it had invested in decent healthcare for all, supported public hospitals, not
fired the scientists trained to deal with outbreaks, gave a damn about the most
vulnerable, and not ignored the coronavirus threat for months,
there might be enough ventilators to go around.

Ditch the generational finger-pointing!

I don’t know which person in this video is more annoying, the college kid saying, “If I get corona, I get corona. I’m not going to let it stop me from partying,” or the 93-year-old dissing  the partiers: “They think they know it all. They think they’re better than children were years ago.” Both are foolish. The people protesting that it’s Gen Z crowding Florida beaches aren’t much better. “We Millennials are not at Spring Break. We’re at home yelling at our Boomer parents,” who won’t stay home because:

  • they have “faith over fear;”
  • they only watch Fox News and think the epidemic is a hoax;
  • they’re not “elderly” and need to prove it by going out and
    about. (Let’s hear it for age denial of the lethal variety!)

Some young people are selfish and some are saints. The same, of course, is true of their elders. Many olders are healthy as horses, while many youngers are immunocompromised. Heroes of all ages are putting their lives on the line in clinics and hospitals around the world.  Ethics and education and circumstance and culture and countless other factors shape behavior far more than age does.  (See Helpful Diagram Below, the product of a fit of frustration earlier this week.)

Why is it so urgent to avoid old-vs.-young ways of framing this crisis?  Because finger-pointing undermines the solidarity we need now—more than ever before in human history—across age, class, and borders. As that Washington Post article points out, “What happens next depends largely on us—our government, politicians, health institutions and, in particular, 328 million inhabitants of this country—all making tiny decisions on an daily basis with outsize consequences for our collective future.” The future of the entire world, that is.

There’s more

Other Writing by
Ashton Applewhite

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.

Eight surprising facts about getting old in America

Eight surprising facts about getting old in America

March 10, 2019

Article in the New York Post

If you care about equality, fight ageism – just as you fight sexism and racism

If you care about equality, fight ageism – just as you fight sexism and racism

March 4, 2019

Article in the Independent

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

virtual panel, 3 Generations: Life in the Age of COVID-19

Where: Zoom

When: April 7, 2020 06:00 pm

More info: Tickets here.

POSTPONED: talk, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program at Community Service Society of New York

Where: 633 Third Ave., 10th Fl NY, NY 10017

When: May 14, 2020 12:00 pm

More info: Details here.

keynote, North Bay Ageism Summit

Where: Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

When: May 29, 2020 10:00 am

More info: Organized by the Marin County Health & Human Services Department, Office of Aging & Adult Services. Details pending.

Boston Public Library

Where: 700 Boylston Street (at Exeter), Commonwealth Salon

When: June 17, 2020 02:00 pm

More info: in collaboration with Beacon Hill Village; free and open to the public

talk, 2Life Communities

Where: Congregation Kehillath Israel, 384 Harvard St, Brookline, MA

When: June 18, 2020 03:00 pm

More info: RSVP here.

n4a 2020 Annual Conference

Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland, OR

When: July 12, 2020 01:00 pm

More info: Register here. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) represents America’s national network of 622 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs).

keynote, National Service Coordinator Conference

Where: Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, 201 Waterfront St, National Harbor, MD

When: August 31, 2020 12:00 am

More info: Details here.

keynote, The Upside of Aging

Where: Palos Verdes Golf Club, 3301 Vía Campesina, Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274

When: September 16, 2020 01:30 pm

More info: Sponsored by Palos Verdes Peninsula Village. Free and open to the public. Register here.

 

Sage-ing Institute Summit on Longevity

Where: ASB Waterfront Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand

When: September 29, 2020 12:00 am

More info:

keynote, American Alliance of Museums Creative Aging Convening

Where: High Museum, Atlanta, GA

When: November 5, 2020 12:00 am

More info:

public talk, High Museum

Where: High Museum, Atlanta, GA

When: November 7, 2020 12:00 am

More info: Free and open to the public. Details here

Modern Elder Academy

Where: Baja, California

When: February 14, 2021 12:00 am

More info:

 

Past Appearances

Media

podcast, Age against the Machine on Intersectionality Matters with Kimberle Crenshaw

podcast, Age against the Machine on Intersectionality Matters with Kimberle Crenshaw

April 3, 2020

Link here.

interview, Fighting Against Aging Stereotypes on Kiplinger.com

interview, Fighting Against Aging Stereotypes on Kiplinger.com

March 11, 2020

Link here.

article, Adelaide Sunday Mail

article, Adelaide Sunday Mail

February 25, 2020

Link here.

interview, Debating Europe ‘Should there be an age limit for voting?’

interview, Debating Europe ‘Should there be an age limit for voting?’

February 24, 2020

Link here.

article, Restless.co.uk

article, Restless.co.uk

February 20, 2020

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

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

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. I was on staff at the American Museum of Natural History for 17 years, where I wrote about everything under the Sun, quitting in 2017 to become a full-time activist.

The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. During that time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, the New Yorker, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, the Guardian, and the New York Times, and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. In 2017 I received a standing ovation for my talk at TED 2017, their mainstage event in Vancouver.

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

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