Blog Posts - myths and stereotypes

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Ageist Trolls on Social Media and in the New Yorker Too

Ageist Trolls on Social Media and in the <em>New Yorker</em> Too
The Internet is notorious for commenters who feel grossly entitled to dismiss vulnerable others. This past summer, Harvard University hit hard against racist and sexist speech on Facebook, rescinding admissions to some potential first-year students.  Read more...


 

Let’s Get Intergenerational!

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 those 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.  Read more...


 

10 Vital Truths about Aging and Health

10 Vital Truths about Aging and Health
All around the world, people are living longer—a basic hallmark of human progress and a triumph of public health. The World Health Organization (WHO) is in the public health business, and no organization has done more to raise awareness of ageism—the biggest obstacle to meeting the challenges of population aging …. Part of the WHO’s global, anti-ageism campaign is a new list of 10 facts that correct common “Misconceptions on ageing and health.” The global perspective is instructive, and it’s making me rethink some things—including the burning question of whether to start spelling “ageing” the logical, British-and-Indian way. Here is the WHO’s list, along with my comments.  Read more...


 

Green Old Age

Green Old Age
A friend of mine recently questioned something she read on this website that presented what she called “a depressing view of aging.” She wondered why we’d included it if we’re determined to challenge ageism—which has been defined as “prejudicial attitudes toward older people, old age and aging itself.” Shouldn’t we present an entirely positive view of life’s later years?  Read more...


 

What Does ‘Old’ Look Like to Millennials—and to AARP?

What Does ‘Old’ Look Like to Millennials—and to AARP?
AARP’s new #DisruptAging site has some commendable goals: to “hold a mirror up to the ageist beliefs around us,” and “change the stories we tell ourselves about aging.” In other words, as they put it, to “disrupt aging”—which also just happens to be the title of AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins’ new book. The site has featured me as an “age disruptor,” which I appreciate. It’s produced a few videos, the most recent of which has gotten a lot of traction.  Read more...


 

The Violence of Ageism

The Violence of Ageism
As the entire world now knows, Dr. David Dao is the passenger who was dragged off a United Airlines flight on April 9th by Chicago police, who broke his nose, gave him a concussion and smashed two of his teeth. He may need restorative surgery. Some media have treated this as a horror perpetrated by a single airline that bullies passengers or by a business model that forces overbooking. It is a mistake to look so narrowly at the sources of harm. A few reports, and many Asian American social media users, have mentioned the possibility of racism. As I write, no mainstream news source or commentary has mentioned ageism.  Read more...


 

19, Going on 90

19, Going on 90
Here’s a note that came to me recently from a reader of my Q&A blog, Yo, Is This Ageist? She wrote that:

The other day I was eating lunch with my best friend, when out of the blue she asks me if she was getting neck wrinkles. Since we are both 19, I laughed at her question and told her no. However, she was not convinced and stated that she was going to ask her parents for anti-aging serum in her stocking for Christmas.  Read more...


 

No More Old Cats?

No More Old Cats?
The other day, I was hunting online for new canned foods to try out on my unbelievably picky cat, and I couldn’t help noticing all the options for “senior cats.” There didn’t seem to be anything at all for “old cats.”  Read more...


 

Let’s Put Films to the Applewhite Test

Let’s Put Films to the Applewhite Test
Invented by the sharp American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, a movie passes the Bechdel test if at least two women talk to each other about something other than a man. Low bar, right? Yet surprisingly few movies pass it. I propose the Applewhite test for ageism: a movie passes if two older people talk to each other about something besides falling apart.  Read more...


 

In the Fight against Bigotry, Where Does Ageism Fit In?

In the Fight against Bigotry, Where Does Ageism Fit In?
I wake these days remembering that something awful has happened. Reality assembles itself, and I feel worse. The multicultural, egalitarian, globalized society I hope to inhabit is under assault. Bigotry is ascendant. Racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance—pick your prejudice!—are sanctioned, even celebrated. How do we respond to attacks on those most vulnerable? How does the mission to build a movement against ageism fit into this historical moment?  Read more...


 

Action—Global and Local—against Ageism

Action—Global and Local—against Ageism
October brought me two very different gigs—one on the world stage and one in a Brooklyn community center.

The first was at the United Nations on October 6 to celebrate the 26th International Day of Older Persons. It was thrilling to be in one of the UN’s major meeting rooms, with simultaneous translations for people from all over the world, especially because of the theme—“Take A Stand Against Ageism.” The organizers invited me to give the keynote because they wanted a radical perspective, and I didn’t hold back:

 Read more...


 

Books to Give or Keep in 2016

Books to Give or Keep in 2016
It’s that time of year—when I am asked to recommend books I’ve read to friends who are working on their gift lists. I primarily seek out new fiction, but I enjoy deviating for an interesting memoir. Each of these books connects to aging, from midlife on up.  Read more...


 

Think Old People Will Tank the Economy? That’s Just Plain Wrong

Think Old People Will Tank the Economy? That’s Just Plain Wrong
Many economists agree that, as the number of boomers leaving the workforce swells, younger workers will shoulder ever-greater burdens. Social Security will be bankrupted by all those lazy old people! Medicare exhausted! These dire predictions of economic turmoil are biased, outdated and just plain wrong, and it was great to see a recent article in the New York Times, “Disproving Beliefs About the Economy and Aging,” take aim at them.  Read more...


 

Adrift in Time

Adrift in Time
I was taking my mother to Maine to visit her brother. They had lived in New Jersey within a few blocks of each other their entire lives until, due to her dementia, she moved in with me. A month later, he and my aunt moved to Maine to be near their daughters. I knew my mother missed him, so I thought this trip would make her happy. Indeed, she was overjoyed when I told her we were going.  Read more...


 

Age Takes Center Stage around the Brexit Vote—Not in a Good Way

Age Takes Center Stage around the Brexit Vote—Not in a Good Way
On June 23, 2016, a referendum (a vote in which everyone of voting age can take part) was held to decide whether the United Kingdom should leave or remain in the European Union. Leave won by 52 percent to 48 percent. The unexpected result generated widespread shock—no surprise, given the far-reaching economic and political consequences. What did take me aback was the vitriol directed at older voters, who were blamed in appalling terms.  Read more...


 

Six More Questions about My New Manifesto Against Ageism

Six More Questions about My New Manifesto Against Ageism
Are olders really as much of an economic drag on society as the media portrays?

Absolutely not! People 50 and up fuel the significant, fast-growing, and often-overlooked “longevity economy,” which, according to AARP, accounted for 46 percent of US gross domestic product ($7.1 trillion) in 2012. By 2021 the 50-plus age group is projected to drive more than half of US economic activity, as their spending fuels industries that include apparel, health care, education and entertainment. These statistics capture only part of the economic contribution of older Americans, whose unpaid volunteer work in 2013 was valued at $67 billion. And while “entrepreneur” might conjure up an image of a kid in that proverbial garage, twice as many successful American entrepreneurs are over age 50 as in their early 20s. More resources have always flowed from older generations to younger ones than the reverse.  Read more...


 

Six Questions about My New Manifesto Against Ageism

Six Questions about My New Manifesto Against Ageism
You want to reframe the way American culture sees age and aging. What got you started on this path?

About eight years ago I began interviewing people over 80 for a project called “So when are you going to retire?” and reading about longevity. It didn’t take long to realize that almost everything I thought I knew about aging was wrong. I had no idea that people are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives, for example. That the vast majority of Americans over 65 live independently. That the older people get, the less afraid they are of dying.  Read more...


 

When Behavior Speaks

When Behavior Speaks
I sat with my mother and her caregiver, Aliza, one afternoon in the Alzheimer’s unit of the nursing home. With my mother between us, Aliza and I chatted about the hot weather we had been having. All of a sudden my mother hauled off and punched me solidly in the arm.  Read more...


 

Droneliness

Droneliness
Concerned about an onslaught of enfeebled old people? Don’t worry, robots will take care of them! American techno-optimism knows no bounds, and so-called “age-independence” technologies are proliferating like crazy. But in a profoundly ageist culture, the implications can be disturbing. Here’s a critique, based on the latest article to catch my eye.  Read more...


 

Regarding Alzheimer’s

Regarding Alzheimer’s
An empty shell. Doesn’t know who he is. Violent. Doesn’t recognize family members. Unable to communicate. The negative stereotypes and exaggerations of Alzheimer’s disease abound.  Read more...


 

Yo, Am I Ageist?

Yo, Am I Ageist?
Unless you are Peter Pan, one day you'll be old. I don't want to experience discrimination because of a date on my birth certificate. I don’t want people to lump me into a one-size-fits-all assumption based solely on my age. Neither does author Ashton Applewhite, whose new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism (2016), calls upon the thought leaders of aging to debunk the myths that are filling us with dread and keep us from realizing that all aging can be successful aging.  Read more...


 

Age Is Just a Number

Age Is Just a Number
I live in a retirement community that’s age-restricted: you have to be at least 62 to move in. A 50-something friend asked me the other day why on earth I would want to live in a place that has only one age group.  Read more...


 

What’s Behind the Growing Geriatrician Shortage?

What’s Behind the Growing Geriatrician Shortage?
I was delighted to see an editorial in the New York Times about a crisis in the making, the growing shortage of geriatricians. (Geriatricians are doctors trained to treat older adults. Lots of people don’t know that.) The way the editorial made the case, however, was deeply flawed.  Read more...


 

I’ll Have What She’s Having—Minus the Internalized Ageism

I’ll Have What She’s Having—Minus the Internalized Ageism
“There is also something profoundly liberating about aging,” Dominique Browning wrote in the New York Times. “Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb, ‘I’m too old for this.’” That’s her new mantra, and the title of her essay, which lingered on the Times’s most emailed list for days. Why? People want stories that ring true to their experience of growing older because they include its welcome aspects.  Read more...


 

The “Grandpa in a Nightclub” Problem

The “Grandpa in a Nightclub” Problem
A while ago, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab ran a piece about the New York Times’ digital branding efforts. It quoted a series of tweets by Max Pfennighaus, who is the executive creative director of brand and marketing at the Times and previously held a similar position at NPR, and whose job is to build the newspaper’s digital brand. He described the core challenge as the “grandpa in a nightclub” problem.  Read more...


 

Mentors for Med Students

Mentors for Med Students
When my mother was alive, her medical care was spread out among specialists. She had an internist as her go-to, primary doctor, but she had a Rolodex of others to manage specific health issues: dermatologist, podiatrist, cardiologist. At one point she was referred to a geriatrician who we hoped would become a general contractor of sorts for Mom’s total care. Older bodies are different from younger ones. The same disorders produce different symptoms in elders, and they respond differently to medications and other therapies. Many doctors who are not geriatricians don’t know much about that. Sadly, the travel to the only geriatrician was far and the wait for a new patient appointment was months, so in the end she didn't go. Why is there such a shortage of geriatricians?  Read more...


 

Having the Talk—Not the One about Sex, the One about Dying

Having the Talk—Not the One about Sex, the One about Dying
A close friend’s grandfather is dying, though no one knows how close to death he is—perhaps months away. Even his doctor seems clueless, although perhaps he’s just not saying. In any case, he’s not asking. And even if everything were in the open and everyone on the same page—a pipe dream, I realize—no playbook would reveal itself. Dying is a concatenation of unpredictable events.  Read more...


 

Books to Give or Keep

Books to Give or Keep
I am reprising my blog from 2014 with new suggestions for books to give or to keep this season. I have a few I've loved and can't wait to share, and I get unparalleled joy from matching a book to a recipient. My personal choice in reading is usually new fiction, but I also have some tried-and-true nonfiction titles for your TBR (to be read) list. Each book connects to midlife and beyond.  Read more...


 

An Older Lesbian Considers the Anti-Gay Houston Vote

An Older Lesbian Considers the Anti-Gay Houston Vote
I was saddened and infuriated to read that Houston voters this month (November 2015) repealed a gay rights ordinance when the opposition made bathrooms the issue. They claimed that no one would be safe in restrooms if the ordinance protected transgendered people, whom they targeted, claiming they were potential molesters.  Read more...


 

How do I get old faster?

How do I get old faster?
That’s a question that Dr. Laura Carstensen regularly fields after explaining why older people are happier than younger ones—the basis of the ubiquitous Happiness U-curve. I didn’t really believe the curve existed until I understood why. Carstensen, a psychologist and the founding director of the Stanford Longevity Center, explains it beautifully.  Read more...


 

Do I Smell Old?

Do I Smell Old?
When I was a teenager, I worried sometimes about whether I had bad breath or BO (body odor). Advertising campaigns regularly demonized these and other normal, human smells, and that sold a lot of toothpaste, mouthwash and deodorant.  Read more...


 

What’s Missing from Marc Freedman’s Plan to Make the Most of Longer Lives?

What’s Missing from Marc Freedman’s Plan to Make the Most of Longer Lives?
Growing old isn’t new. What’s new is how many people routinely do it. The institutions around us were created when lives were shorter, and the culture hasn’t had time to catch up. The way we respond to this demographic shift has critical social implications.  Read more...


 

Want Older People to Be Healthy? End Ageism

Want Older People to Be Healthy? End Ageism
There’s a lot of disagreement around how to frame the last century’s unprecedented increase in human lifespan. Is it a crisis or an opportunity? Will a “grey tsunami” of incapacitated freeloaders sweep us off our feet, or will we tap into the social capital of millions more healthy, well-educated adults? Are longer lives a blessing or a curse? Experience and ideology shape the responses, of course, but there’s one thing both liberals and libertarians can agree on. What single characteristic of these older Americans will make the most difference? Their health. Living longer looks a lot more attractive when it’s uncoupled from cognitive and physical decline. It’s a lot cheaper too: illness is expensive.  Read more...


 

So I Dyed My Hair White

So I Dyed My Hair White
I’m the incredibly square and lazy woman who has never colored her hair. I inherited my mother’s no-gray-hair gene, and except on my right temple, my hair is brown. For an anti-ageism activist, though, that’s kind of a liability, because I don’t want people to think I’m trying to hide my age. I never believed Ronald Reagan when he said he didn’t dye his hair, did you?  Read more...


 

No Heirlooms for One’s Heirs?

No Heirlooms for One’s Heirs?
My wife and I were at a neighborhood cookout when one of our friends mentioned he had been in another neighbor’s basement recently to help her turn off the water to her leaking hot-water heater.  Read more...


 

The Pleasures and Perils of Aging

The Pleasures and Perils of Aging
Originally published in the Women’s Review of Books

British feminist Lynne Segal’s Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Aging (2013) is a thoughtful meditation on aging in the West. Shortly after I began reading it, I was walking on a crowded Manhattan sidewalk on my way to see the new Woody Allen movie when a guy on a bike plowed his way among the pedestrians. I shouted out that he shouldn’t be riding on the sidewalk but in the street. “Seriously?” he said, peering down at me; then he examined my face and spat out, “Old hag!” This was a first for me, so it took a moment before I realized my opportunity and shouted back “Ageist!” I doubt that the young man cycling away knew the word, if he even heard me, but for a moment I felt that old activist rush of triumph all the same.  Read more...


 

The Joy of Joining

The Joy of Joining
A rumor is making the rounds at my retirement community: we’re going to organize a flash mob. I can hardly wait.

In case you don’t know what a flash mob is, according to Wikipedia it’s a crowd that suddenly gathers, performs “an unusual and pointless act” and then just as suddenly disperses.  Read more...


 

Beating the Age Barrier in Online Dating

Beating the Age Barrier in Online Dating
A wedding announcement in the New York Times recorded the happy pairing of a couple who met through America’s Test Kitchen. He had founded the TV show and hired her ten years earlier. He was 62; she was 37. The announcement ended with this paragraph:
Both say they have never really given much thought to the difference in their ages. “Others may have concerns, but we don’t,” he said. “I’m in love with someone who sees the same potential in the universe as I do.”
 Read more...


 

Do Older People Deserve Senior Discounts?

Do Older People Deserve Senior Discounts?
When I flew to Montreal for a college reunion, senior discounts helped me pay for my airfare and hotel room. While I was happy to take advantage of these perks of my years, was I more deserving of such modest concessions than, say, a 20-something on the same plane?  Read more...


 

An Old Lesbian Reacts to the Supreme Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

An Old Lesbian Reacts to the Supreme Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage
Like others my age, I never expected my country to end my second-class-citizen status. The swiftness of the movement from gay rights legislation to same-sex marriage in some states to the June 26, 2015, ruling for marriage in all states takes my breath away. Yes, the Supremes were expected to rule as they did. And the vile comments by Justice Antonin Scalia remind everyone that bigotry has not been vanquished. But what a time of celebration for people who, when I was young, were judged sick or sinful or both, and in my middle age were struggling against long odds for basic civil rights.  Read more...


 

Is a Generation of Powerful Women Turning Age into an Advantage? Not Exactly

Is a Generation of Powerful Women Turning Age into an Advantage? Not Exactly
"Could the current cohort of eminent women in their 60s herald an era when aging, for women, ceases to be an enemy, and even becomes a friend?” asks Liza Mundy in the recent issue of the Atlantic.  Read more...


 

Caitlyn Jenner: the Messages in the Image

Caitlyn Jenner: the Messages in the Image
Photo by Annie Leibowitz
What the commentators fail to say about Caitlyn Jenner is that when she came out as a woman publicly in Vanity Fair recently, she did not come out as an older woman.  Read more...


 

‘Gravity’ and the Impact of Its Female Hero

‘Gravity’ and the Impact of Its Female Hero
Long before it opened in theaters in 2013, I was excited to see Gravity. A female-centric sci-fi film? Yes, please! Haunting and harrowing, the film rests on Sandra Bullock’s shoulders, and she carries it off with raw emotion and nuance. But the best part of Gravity? It offers us a different kind of female hero than what we normally see on-screen.  Read more...


 

Why Would You Even Ask?

Why Would You Even Ask?
“How Old is Too Old To Have Sex?” was the title of a HuffPost Live panel discussion that I took part in last year. As I pointed out during the exchange, the question itself is profoundly ageist. We don’t ask whether people age out of singing or eating ice cream, so why even pose the question when it comes to making love?  Read more...


 

The Age of Adaline, 2015, USA, 112 min.

The Age of Adaline, 2015, USA, 112 min.
Old age is frequently viewed as a flaw, as if those over 45 are incapable of enjoying life because they’re too slow, too jaded, too everything. The Age of Adaline scoffs at that notion. This charming, romantic fable doesn’t venerate youth, even though its title character has been a beautiful young woman for nearly 80 years.  Read more...


 

While We’re Young, 2014, USA, 97 min.

While We’re Young, 2014, USA, 97 min.
Getting old doesn’t just happen. You age every day, until like Cornelia and Josh in writer-director Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, you wonder how the hell you got here. The bittersweet fun of Baumbach’s tart comedy is how Cornelia and Josh keep dodging the hard truth: they don’t have the energy—or the stomach—to stay young. Yet they try longer than they should. We understand why. We’ve been there or soon will be. Reality bites.  Read more...


 

Joan Didion and the Crime of Getting Old

Joan Didion and the Crime of Getting Old
One day while doing research online, I came across an article in the Atlantic about author Joan Didion. Since my first love is literature, I immediately clicked the link. Gracing the piece was a black-and-white photograph of Didion in 1977, looking as cool and meticulous as her carefully crafted prose reads. The image evoked memories of that slightly hopeful, slightly anxious time and primed me for reflections on Didion’s life.  Read more...


 

The ‘Young Lady’ Dance

The ‘Young Lady’ Dance
The first time I was addressed as “young lady,” I was too surprised to say anything. The doctor was evidently trying to be jocular. He was patronizing, I later realized, and wondered how other women visibly over 60 respond to this misguided attempt to be funny.  Read more...


 

Chastizing the Old Dolls

Chastizing the Old Dolls
Poor Roz Chast unburdened herself of her dislike of her mother and her pity for her father by describing their slow decline and dying, and doing it in the most public possible way, in a graphic narrative called Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir (2014).  Read more...


 

Oscar Winner Takes Hollywood to Task for Sexism and Ageism

Oscar Winner Takes Hollywood to Task for Sexism and Ageism
On February 22, 2015, Patricia Arquette used the Oscar stage to advocate for gender wage equality and women’s rights during her acceptance speech for best supporting actress (Boyhood, 2014): "To every woman who gave birth to every citizen and taxpayer of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."  Read more...


 

Midlife Malaise and the Happiness U-Curve

Midlife Malaise and the Happiness U-Curve
An Atlantic magazine cover story last October described living past 75 as pretty darn inadvisable. Then, in quite the about-face, the December cover story championed the Happiness U-Curve and the growing body of research showing that we reliably grow happier, almost regardless of circumstances, after our 40s.  Read more...


 

He Thinks 75 Is Old?

He Thinks 75 Is Old?
Ezekiel J. Emanuel caused quite a stir with his October 2014 Atlantic article saying that he did not want to live past 75. Emanuel is a noted bioethicist and a doctor who consulted on the Affordable Care Act. He does not believe in suicide or legalized euthanasia; he would simply decline medical care. What a limited imagination this doctor has, that he cannot visualize himself vital, engaged and enjoying life at 75. How sad that he has little or no contact with vigorous, healthy people in their 80s or 90s. They are everywhere; he need only look around.  Read more...


 

‘Successful’ Aging?

‘Successful’ Aging?
In the 1991 book Successful Aging, by John W. Rowe, MD, and Robert L. Kahn, PhD, “successful” seems to mean healthy aging. The authors have three criteria: 1) freedom from disease and disability; 2) a high level of cognitive and physical functioning; and 3) social engagement. Perhaps “healthy aging” sounded too bland for the title of a book on aging. It would have been more accurate, though.  Read more...


 

Oh, Grow Up!

Oh, Grow Up!
That was my visceral (and ever so mature) reaction to “Who Are You Calling Grandma?,” a fluff piece in the New York Times about how baby boomer grandparents, especially celebs, are rejecting traditional grandmonikers for hipper titles. Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother, the actress Blythe Danner, lobbied for Woof (unsuccessfully; Lalo won out), while Goldie Hawn’s son saved the day by coming up with Glam-Ma.  Read more...


 

Ageist Tropes Taint American Horror Story: Coven

Ageist Tropes Taint <em>American Horror Story: Coven</em>
It’s rare for women over the age of 50 to find starring work in Hollywood, unless one is Meryl Streep or Judi Dench. So I was intrigued to watch American Horror Story: Coven on FX, which features not one but three stellar actresses in their 60s (and one in her 50s): Jessica Lange (Fiona), Kathy Bates (Delphine), Frances Conroy (Myrtle) and Angela Bassett (Marie).  Read more...


 

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The Silver Century Foundation promotes a positive view of aging. The Foundation challenges entrenched and harmful stereotypes, encourages dialogue between generations, advocates planning for the second half of life, and raises awareness to educate and inspire everyone to live long, healthy, empowered lives.

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"It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment; in these qualities old age is usually not poorer, but is even richer."

Cicero (106-43 BC)