This Chair Rocks
A Manifesto Against Ageism
What if discrimination on the basis of age were as unacceptable as any other kind of prejudice? Ashton Applewhite is a leading voice in an emerging movement dedicated to dismantling ageism and making age a criterion for diversity. The author of This Chair Rocks and a TED2017 mainstage speaker, she reveals the untapped possibilities of late life—in our communities, at work, and in ourselves.
“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
Why is society’s view of aging so grim when the lived reality is so different? In her book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Ashton Applewhite declares that it’s time to dismantle the last acceptable prejudice; it’s time for age pride. Her manifesto is so popular that Macmillan launched its brand new imprint with it in 2019. In her candid talks—as she does on her blog, This Chair Rocks, and her Q&A Tumblr, Yo, Is This Ageist?—she debunks our culture’s most pervasive myths about getting older. And with her funny, straight-talking approach (showcased on the TED2017 mainstage—where she received a standing ovation), audiences realize the often-overlooked benefits of advanced age, championing the need for greater age-based diversity in the workplace and our institutions.
In 2018, Applewhite was named a member of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ “100” list. In 2016, Applewhite joined the PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging as their Influencer of the Year. She has been recognized by the New York Times, the New Yorker, NPR, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. She has written for Harper’s, The New York Times, and The Guardian. And she speaks widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations.
“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
Her first serious book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, was published by HarperCollins in 1997. It was inspired by the puzzlement: why was our notion of women’s lives after divorce so different from the happy and energized reality? Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives.” Writing under the name Blanche Knott, Applewhite is also the author of the humor collection Truly Tasteless Jokes, a best-selling paperback of 1982. She 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.
“Ashton Applewhite’s thoughtful, funny, and very smart talk This Chair Rocks was perfect for launching our new center. It attracted a lively, multigenerational crowd, reflected our core message that aging can be met head-on with optimism, and got people fired up about the prospect. What could be better?”Senior Planet Exploration Center, NYC
“Ageism begins at home—in us. With humor and insight, Ashton Applewhite’s terrific keynote at the Positive Aging Conference reminded all of us what's at stake, since elders are ‘our future selves.’ Thank goodness we've got her telling this story.”AARP
“This Chair Rocks is a talk that 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 the fetters of age-related prejudice and discrimination. And it’s fun, too!”Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York
“Every attendee was captivated by Ashton Applewhite’s charm, intelligence, and easy way of explaining the origins and complexities of ageism. I knew her keynote resonated, as they gave her a standing ovation and then bought her book! This presentation is a must for any group interested in raising awareness of age bias and dispelling harmful myths and stereotypes.”Deal With It: A Woman’s Conference
“Applewhite ... was by turns factual, passionate, and witty as she recounted anecdotes from her own life and the lives of “olders” she has encountered. She coined that term because it emphasizes the spectrum along which chronological age becomes increasingly irrelevant. The audience gave Applewhite a rousing ovation and stayed around for a lively discussion afterwards.”The Cooper Union
“Thank you so much for your very valuable contribution to our retirement conference. Your keynote received so many positive comments that I don’t know where to start (the most frequent comment was, ‘Inspiring!’).”Brookdale Community College
“Ashton Applewhite’s plenary address at our 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.”Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging
“Thank you again for your terrific keynote. I heard from so many attendees that it affected them deeply. You are wise, funny, and provocative – a great combination!”Aroha Philanthropies
From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing and old people are useless. In this provocative, funny, and deeply informed talk, Applewhite explains the roots of ageism—in society and in our own age denial—and how it divides and diminishes us. Applewhite sets out the personal and professional consequences (especially for women), shows how ageist myths and stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function, critiques the portrayal of elders as burdens to society, describes what an all-age-friendly world would look like, and concludes with a rousing call to action. It’s time to work together to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other prejudice.
What makes aging different for women—and so much harder than it has to be? How does the double impact of ageism and sexism affect women’s health, income, and well-being? And how does competing to “stay young” dig the hole even deeper? In this rousing talk, Ashton Applewhite proposes throwing away the shovel, forging cross-generational compacts, and collaborating on new ways of thinking and behaving. The women’s movement taught us to claim our power; a pro-aging movement will teach us to hold onto it.
In cultures with meaningful social and economic roles for older people, physical health is just one aspect of aging. But in our culture, sickness takes center stage. Aging is not a disease, but our society conflates the two, as it does with disability—although people with disabilities will assure you that they are not sick.
In this talk, Ashton Applewhite looks at who benefits when old age is reduced to illness, and the effects of a cultural climate that barrages the old (and disabled) with the message that their lives are not worthwhile, nor worth paying for. Why should a long future have value but not a long past? Why are the healthy and vigorous old missing from the policy agenda? Why should it be it acceptable to weigh the healthcare needs of the very young against those of the very old, when making the same case on the basis of race or sex would be unthinkable? A society obsessed with physical perfection and mental acuity vastly underestimates the quality of life of older people and those with disabilities—and its value. When we confront our own internalized prejudice and challenge underlying prejudices and misconceptions, we move towards a society of age equality: one that that sees age as asset and population aging as not just a challenge but a remarkable opportunity.