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 honoring age as a vibrant and necessary aspect of diversity. The author of This Chair Rocks and a TED 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
The coronavirus pandemic has glaringly exposed the ageism, ableism, and racism all around us—and as Ashton Applewhite sees it, given us a historic opportunity to build on that awareness. “We’re engaged in a massive collective experiment to protect the vulnerable, whoever they turn out to be,” says the anti-ageism activist. “It’s high stakes, and it’s as intersectional as things can get.” Learning to live with COVID is going to present us with all kinds of ethical dilemmas, from who gets included in drug trials to who decides the value of a human life. Issues of age, and age equity, will become ever more prominent, not least because population aging is a permanent, global trend. More and more organizations, including the World Economic Forum, the World Health Organization, and the American Society on Aging, are recognizing the urgent need to confront ageism. “The global community has a role and a responsibility to combat ageism, which is the single most impenetrable barrier to the pursuit of healthy aging,” the WEF writes.
Applewhite asks us to question the status quo and challenge the economic and social forces that frame some lives as more valuable than others. If it’s not ethical—or legal—to allocate resources by race or sex, as she points out, “weighing the needs of the young against the old is equally unacceptable. Period.” Her book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, charts Applewhite’s journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical, debunking the countless harmful myths and stereotypes about aging along the way. The manifesto was listed as one of the “100 Best Books to Read at Every Age” by the Washington Post, and named one of “10 Books To Help You Foster a More Diverse and Inclusive Workplace” by Forbes.
In her accompanying talks, Applewhite looks at ageism from a variety of angles: from discrimination in the workplace, to the cost of the all-American myth of independence and the misinformed portrayal of older people as burdens to society. And with her funny, straight-talking approach (showcased on the TED mainstage, where she received a standing ovation), audiences realize the often-overlooked benefits of advanced age, and the need for greater age diversity in our public and private lives. The corporate world is waking up to the reality of age discrimination in the workplace, and its negative effect on business and individuals: it’s time to make change and reap the benefits of an intergenerational workforce.
In 2018, Applewhite was named a member of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ “100” list. She was also recognized on the PBS site Next Avenue’s annual list of 50 Influencers in Aging as their Influencer of the Year. She has been acknowledged by the New York Times, New Yorker, NPR, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism, and has written for Harper’s, The New York Times, The Guardian, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Applewhite speaks widely, at venues that have ranged from universities and community centers to the Library of Congress and the United Nations.
“Ashton, I wanted to thank you for such a brilliant interview. I had fully expected the content to be rich and aligned with my work, but what really impressed me was your delivery. To say it was refreshing is an enormous understatement. It was no-nonsense, direct, transparent, and unabashedly honest. I came away thinking I would listen to you any day—no matter what your message. My only complaint is that most often I am able to check my email while only half-listening to these virtual forums. Your presentation was so unique my email was left completely unattended...Please don't ever stop voicing your opinions.”Elizabeth Isele, Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship
“This was a fantastic event. One of meaning, and which contributed so much to our company culture. Ashton was so full of content and very engaging—she did not know it but she was providing a "To Do" list for all the Inclusive Resource Groups on how to educate and stop ageism within our company. Thank you for helping us create this event. It has been our most memorable to date company-wide! Folks are still talking about the subject matter and her delightful, informative speech. It definitely made a difference as we are working with HR and hope to develop training material for them and managers to teach how to avoid ageism.”Indeed
“Ashton's talk really provided an in-depth understanding of the pervasive nature of ageism and ablism. Judging by the immediate feedback, the presentation was very well received. We truly appreciate Ashton's help discussing this dimension of diversity topic.”UXDS I&D Committee
“Ashton was a big hit with our audience and they loved her message and energy! What an engaging speaker!”Rancho Mirage Writers Festival
“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.