Ashton Applewhite is a Brooklyn-based writer whose subjects range from family policy to science and technology. Since 2007, Applewhite has been writing about ageing and ageism at her website, This Chair Rocks
Ashton is the author of Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well
. Ms. magazine called it “rocket fuel for launching new lives,” and it landed her on Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum enemies list. Under the pseudonym Blanche Knott, Ashton is also the author of the Truly Tasteless Jokes
series, the first volume of which was the biggest-selling mass-market book of 1983. She (as Blanche) made publishing history when she became the first woman to have four books on the New York Times best-seller list. Applewhite's memoir, "Being Blanche" was published in Harper's Magazine in June 2011.
The catalyst for Cutting Loose
, Ashton says, 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? She began blogging about aging and ageism in 2007 and started speaking on the subject in July 2012, which is also when she started the Yo, Is This Ageist?
blog. During that time she became a Knight Fellow, a New York Times Fellow, and a fellow at Yale Law School. In 2015 she was included in a list of 100 inspiring women
who are committed to social change—along with Arundhati Roy, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Germaine Greer, Naomi Klein, Pussy Riot, and other remarkable activists— in the inaugural issues of Salt magazine
Since 2012, Applewhite has been speaking widely about how ageism makes aging in America so much harder than it has to be, as well as about the medicalization of old age, ageism and elder abuse, and the effects of ageism on women’s lives. She has been recognized as an expert on ageism by the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging. She is a liaison to the board of the Council on Contemporary Families and a staff writer at the American Museum of Natural History
Ashton says: “People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. The vast majority of Americans over 65 live independently. Older people enjoy better mental health than the young or middle-aged. The older people get, the less afraid they are of dying. So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that aging equals a grim slide into depression, diapers, and dementia? That 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. And unlike racism and sexism, it has barely bleeped onto our radar. So I’m on a crusade to get people of all ages to wake up to the ageism in and around us, cheer up, and push back.”
Five Questions with Ashton Applewhite
What Makes You Come Alive?
Seeing the aha moment when it dawns on people that culture shapes the experience of growing older just as it shapes the experience of being gay, or female, or black"and that ageism, too, is a social justice issue. Why isnt age routinely included as a criterion for diversity, for example?
Pivotal turning point in your life?
I was 40, with two small children, when I realized I could no longer stay in an unhappy marriage. A chance comment of my attorneys"You know, a lot of my clients are women like you"took me by surprise. I was even more surprised to learn that two thirds of divorces were initiated by women. Why dont more people know this? I wondered. Is marriage so terrible, or is life after divorce just not that bad? That was the spark for what became a book, Cutting Loose, about why its hard to have an egalitarian marriage in a sexist and patriarchal culture. <br />Something very similar happened 15 years later, when I started learning about longevity. Everything I found out was so different"and so much more positive"than what Id simply assumed it would be like to be very old. Why dont more people know this? I wondered. Why the discrepancy? That became the spark for This Chair Rocks. Our views are biased because we live in an ageist culture, of course. Sexism and ableism also play a part.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
In 6th grade I was nerdy and lonely, but I was a good student and an excellent speller and I loved my teacher, Mrs. Howard. Every Friday we had a spelling test: 20 words plus a sentence, which had to be correctly punctuated. I had a perfect record and it was very important to me. (See what I mean about nerdy?) Each student would bring her paper up to the teachers desk to be corrected. When it was my turn, I watched her red pencil check off every word and move on to the sentence . . . where I had left off the period. The blood drained out of my face. Mrs. Howard looked up at me, drew in the period, and gave me a perfect score. Its been a reminder all my life that the right move may not be the obvious one"my teacher helped me cheat on a test, after all"and of the radiant potential of even a small gesture.<br />
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
To see the Aurora borealis, the northern lights. Although I hate to be cold.
One-line Message for the World?