This Chair Rocks

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

About the Book

Buy it here.

From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing, and old people useless. Author and activist Ashton Applewhite believed them too—until she realized where this prejudice comes from and the damage it does. Lively, funny, and deeply researched, This Chair Rocks traces Applewhite’s journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical, and in the process debunks myth after myth about late life. The book explains the roots of ageism—in history and in our own age denial—and how it divides and debases, examines how ageist myths and stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, looks at ageism in the workplace and the bedroom, exposes the cost of the all-American myth of independence, critiques the portrayal of olders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and concludes with a rousing call to action. Whether you’re older or hoping to get there, this book will shake you by the shoulders, cheer you up, make you mad, and change the way you see the rest of your life. Age pride!

Wow. This book totally rocks. It arrived on a day when I was in deep confusion and sadness about my age—62. Everything about it, from my invisibility to my neck. Within four or five wise, passionate pages, I had found insight, illumination and inspiration. I never use the word empower, but this book has empowered me.

ANNE LAMOTT, New York Times best-selling author

Along comes Ashton Applewhite with a book we have been waiting for. Anti-ageism now boasts a popular champion, activist, and epigrammatist in the lineage of Martial and Dorothy Parker. Until This Chair Rocks we haven’t had a single compact book that blows up myths seven to a page like fireworks.

LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

Vibrant, energetic, fact-filled and funny, This Chair Rocks is a call to arms not just for older people but for our whole society.

KATHA POLLITT, poet, essayist, and Nation columnist

Sometimes a writer does us all a great favor and switches on a light. Snap! The darkness vanishes and, in its place we find an electric vision of new ways of living. I want to live in a world where ageism is just a memory, and This Chair Rocks illuminates the path.

DR. BILL THOMAS, founder of Changing Aging

This Chair Rocks is radical, exuberant, and full of all sorts of facts that erase many of the myths and beliefs about late life. As Applewhite defines and describes ageism, new ways of seeing and being in the world emerge, empowering everyone to see things as they really are.

LAURIE ANDERSON, artist

A knowledgeable, straight-talking, and witty book that briskly explains to anyone how-wrong-we-are-about-aging. There’s radical news here to enlighten the most “done” starlet, and
tart turns of phrase to captivate the most expert age critic: ‘All aging is “successful”—not just the sporty version—otherwise you’re dead.’ This pithy primer ought ideally to be given to every American adolescent—to inoculate them against the lies and stereotypes that can spoil the long life course they will all want.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Aged by Culture and the prize-winning Agewise and Declining to Decline

Ashton Applewhite is a visionary whose time has come, tackling one of the most persistent biases of our day with originality, verve, and humor. Her magic formula of naming and shaming may just shake all of us out of complacency and it into action. Whether you relate through being older now or recognize that aging is in your future, this is one of the most important books you’ll ever read.

Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Life Stage Before Midlife

A smart and stirring call to add ageism to the list of ‘isms’ that divide us, and to mobilize against it. Applewhite shows how ageism distorts our view of old age, and urges us to challenge age- based prejudices in ourselves and in society. An important wake-up call for any baby boomer who’s apprehensive about growing old.

Pepper Schwartz, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington and AARP’s Official Love & Relationship Ambassador

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

Let’s get intergenerational

A century ago Americans didn’t need programs to connect the generations: homes and communities housed people of all ages. But as people started living longer and moving into cities, we started thinking differently about people at both ends of the age spectrum. Schooling became mandatory, child labor was outlawed, and Social Security and Medicare made a secure retirement possible for millions. The benefits were significant, but so was the downside: the natural order of things was subverted, and the generations lost contact. Our society is now acutely age-segregated.

What’s the harm?  According to I Need You, You Need Me: The Young, The Old, and What We Can Achieve Together, a terrific new report from Generations United & the Eisner Foundation, age segregation:

  • Gives rise to ageism.
  • Makes social solidarity more elusive.
  • Perpetuates racial, ethnic, and political divides.
  • Wastes taxpayer money
  • Denies old and young crucial opportunities to learn from and help one another.

I’m glad to see ageism top the list, and I’m excited the way initiatives to connect the generations are cropping up. Generations United has been at this a lot longer than I have, although I learned about their work early on in this project, when Executive Director Donna Butts spoke at a seminar for journalists in 2008. “Thomas Jefferson said the web of relationships between generations is essential to civil society,” she said. “Why do we keep trying to unweave that web? Because it’s easy to default to intergenerational conflict mode than to deal with the real problems.”

What role does age segregation play? If the generations have little opportunity to get to know each other, it’s easier for “us vs. them” ways of thinking to get a foothold.  Zero-sum reasoning doesn’t just distract us from the underlying issues and pit us against each other. It’s unethical. We know it’s not OK to allocate resources by race or by sex, so why should it be acceptable to weigh the needs of the young against the old? Look, for example, at the way generational revenge is being invoked to marshal the youth vote in the upcoming UK General Election. Or how the latest Republican budget is being framed as benefiting olders at the expense of the poor—as if no poor people were old and Social Security didn’t buttress millions of families. In nearly half of those families, grandparents are helping raise grandchildren.  That’s according to a 2016 survey by Encore.org, which found that Americans have little appetite for a “generation war” and view intergenerational interdependence as a source of unity and mutual benefit—especially in these difficult and divisive times.

The synergies are obvious, especially as the number of Americans over 65 swells. Many are keenly interested in supporting and guiding those who come next. “Why not match talent with need, tap experience for youth, connect supply with demand? Why not activate this solution hidden in plain sight?” asks Marc Freedman, the founder of Encore, which launched the Generation to Generation campaign last November to mobilize a million people over age 50 “to help young people thrive and unite all ages to create a better future.”

Another indicator of more cross-generational thinking?  The emergence of “all-age-friendly” (as opposed to “age-friendly”) community-planning initiatives is. As this smart post about the "All-Age-Friendly City” observes, “building trust between generations” is key to creating safe, green, accessible, communitarian living spaces. Here’s an actual sign, the name of a joint healthy aging initiative in South Orange and Maplewood, NJ, where I spoke last Thursday.

And here’s a list of intergenerational programs in healthcare, infrastructure, and education.

Remember the old brain teaser about the man and his son who are in a bad car accident? The father dies and the son is rushed to the hospital. The doctor on duty blanches and says, “I can’t operate on this boy—he’s my son!” Who is the doctor? Answer: the boy’s mother. Women doctors aren’t rare any more, but this stumped me when I was a kid. Fast forward to last summer, when two friends of my daughter Morgan struck up a conversation with my friend Cory in a B&B upstate—all hip NYC lesbians in their early 30’s, as it happens. Morgan’s friends figured out the connection, but not without a jolt of surprise when they realized that it was through me, Morgan’s mom. That’s because it’s so unusual to be friends with people more than 10 years older or younger than ourselves. Won’t it be great when such friendships are as ordinary as women doctors?  That’s the world all these great commonplace are working to bring about.

 

NY Times to older people: Get off social media

Would the New York Times make the same case when it comes to women? Or Muslims, or Latinos? They shouldn't get away with it when it comes to olders either.  Let's hope they print the letter I just submitted:

To the Editor:

In “Social Insecurity? Internet Turns Boomers Into Twits,” [May 5, 2017], Future Tense columnist Teddy Wayne urges older people to get the heck off social media. His position is both ageist and clueless, not to mention downright nasty. The problem isn’t that Trump is tweeting, it’s what he’s tweeting. Sure, Cher’s post is dopey; who cares? Like love, social media can make fools of any of us. The same day’s “Modern Love” column describes a college student trapped by her carefully cultivated Instagram persona.

Like everywhere else, the internet needs to be a place for all ages. Yes, millennials led the development of social media, but they stood on the shoulders of those who invented the internet and consciously brought it online in 1964 as a way to connect people. Generational divides aren’t just contrived, they undermine a thriving and equitable culture.

Ashton Applewhite

According to TED, I "burned the house down"

Yay and phew, in equal measure. Luminaries at TED2017 in Vancouver last week included athlete Serena Williams, grandmaster Gary Kasparov, megastar Shah Rukh Khan, entrepreneur Elon Musk, and, oh yeah, Pope Francis. High point for me? When fellow speaker (and my predecessor as Next Avenue Influencer of the Year) Atul Gawande congratulated me on my standing ovation. "Let's make it happen!" I ad libbed to the crowd before leaving the stage. Yes, let's.

 

photo: TED2017 Instagram feed

There’s more

Bio

I didn’t set out to become a writer. I went into publishing because I loved to read and didn’t have any better ideas. I had a weakness for the kind of jokes that make you cringe and guffaw at the same time, my boss kept telling me to write them down, and the collection turned into the best-selling paperback of 1982. I was a clue on “Jeopardy” (“Who is the author of Truly Tasteless Jokes?” Answer: “Blanche Knott.”), and as Blanche made publishing history by occupying four of the fifteen spots on the New York Times bestseller list.

My first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed me on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. It also got me invited to join the board of the nascent Council on Contemporary Families, a group of distinguished family scholars. I belonged to the Artist’s Network of Refuse & Resist group that originated the anti-Iraq-invasion slogan and performance pieces titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War.” As a contributing editor of IEEE Spectrum magazine, I went to Laos to cover a village getting internet access via a bicycle-powered computer. Since 2000 I’ve been on staff at the American Museum of Natural History, where I write about everything under the Sun.

The catalyst for Cutting Loose was puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce (visualize depressed dame on barstool) so different from the happy and energized reality? A similar question gave rise to This Chair Rocks: why is our view of late life so unrelievedly grim when the lived reality is so different? I began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July, 2012, which is also when I started the Yo, Is This Ageist? blog. During that time I’ve been recognized by the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism and named as a Fellow by the Knight Foundation, the New York Times, Yale Law School, and the Royal Society for the Arts; I’ve written for Harper’s, Playboy, and the New York Times, and I speak widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations. My book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, was published in March, 2016. Later that year, I joined the PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging as their Influencer of the Year.  In 2017 I was invited to speak at TED2017, the mainstage event in Vancouver—a perfect fit with the theme, The Future You.

Yo, Is This Ageist?

(Go ahead, ask me.)

There’s more.

Appearances

Part monologue and part consciousness-raiser, This Chair Rocks: How Ageism Warps Our View of Long Life is a 40-minute talk that uses stories and statistics to dispel myth after myth about late life. It’s fierce and funny, and it changes the way people envision their futures. (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.

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

AARP Master Class

Where: Washington, DC

When: June 5, 2017 11:30 am

More info:

talk at Coming of Age

Where: 65 Broadway, 12th fl, NYC

When: June 8, 2017 05:30 pm

More info:

Keynote, National Inst. of Senior Centers national conference

Where: Oak Brook, Illinois

When: June 15, 2017 09:00 am

More info:

book talk

Where: Concordia University Chapel, River Forest, IL

When: June 15, 2017 07:00 pm

More info: Free and open to the public; book signing to follow.

keynote, Embrace Aging Forum

Where: Chattanooga, TN

When: July 13, 2017 09:30 am

More info: Link here.

keynote, Pioneer Network Annual Conference

Where:

When: August 2, 2017 12:00 pm

More info: Hyatt Regency Hotel, O'Hare Airport, Chicago, IL. Register here.

Organized Acts of Kindness - OAKS event

Where: Colonial Theatre, Bethlehem, NH

When: August 18, 2017 06:00 pm

More info:

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.

TEDxAcademy - Athens, Greece

Where: Athens Concert Hall

When: September 30, 2017 12:00 am

More info:

TEDxAcademy invites 15 exceptional thinkers and doers every September to contemplate and share perspectives that are insightful, thought-provoking and at times conflicting. Our overall philosophy can be summarized as follows: we can and have the duty to make our global and local communities and, even more so, ourselves, better. This year we take the bold step to invite thinkers and doers to discuss  “How we can be at our best?" We invite you to speak about “How ageing can bring out our best self”.

 

The event will take place at Athens Concert Hall https://goo.gl/8ikycz

Ithaca College Gerontology Institute’s Distinguished Speaker lecture

Where: Ithaca, New York.

When: October 23, 2017 07:00 pm

More info:

Past Appearances

Media

“Claim Your Age”: Ashton Applewhite Gets Fired Up About Aging & The Workplace

“Claim Your Age”: Ashton Applewhite Gets Fired Up About Aging & The Workplace

May 17, 2017

Link here. (Appeared in the Glassdoor blog)

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 3

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 3

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 2

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 2

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 1

Interview with Margaret Manning for Sixty and Me, Part 1

May 9, 2017

Link here.

Ashton Applewhite—3rd Act: Saying “No” to Ageism, Vital Presence podcast

Ashton Applewhite—3rd Act: Saying “No” to Ageism, Vital Presence podcast

April 5, 2017

Link here.

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 2

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 2

March 24, 2017

Link here.

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 1

Chronologically Gifted: Ashton Applewhite on How Aging Is Different for Women, Part 1

March 16, 2017

Link here.

Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC

Ashton Applewhite Deconstructs Assumptions on Aging — BRIC

February 17, 2017

Link here.

4 Minutes with Ashton Applewhite – The California Health Report

4 Minutes with Ashton Applewhite – The California Health Report

February 13, 2017

Link here.

Busting Ageism: The Life of Ashton Applewhite – Women Over 40 podcast

Busting Ageism: The Life of Ashton Applewhite – Women Over 40 podcast

February 6, 2017

Link here.

There’s more

Resources

Tools

 

HelpAge International also makes two guides available:

 

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

 

Books

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

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

Reports

Links

Video

Talk at the Library of Congress
25 October 2016:

Keynote address at the United Nations
6 October 2016:

On Vimeo:

On YouTube:

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.

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