Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America

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9780226101866: Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America
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Let’s face it: almost everyone fears growing older. We worry about losing our looks, our health, our jobs, our self-esteem—and being supplanted in work and love by younger people. It feels like the natural, inevitable consequence of the passing years, But what if it’s not? What if nearly everything that we think of as the “natural” process of aging is anything but?

In Agewise, renowned cultural critic Margaret Morganroth Gullette reveals that much of what we dread about aging is actually the result of ageism—which we can, and should, battle as strongly as we do racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. Drawing on provocative and under-reported evidence from biomedicine, literature, economics, and personal stories, Gullette probes the ageism thatdrives discontent with our bodies, our selves, and our accomplishments—and makes us easy prey for marketers who want to sell us an illusory vision of youthful perfection. Even worse, rampant ageism causes society to discount, and at times completely discard, the wisdom and experience acquired by people over the course of adulthood. The costs—both collective and personal—of this culture of decline are almost incalculable, diminishing our workforce, robbing younger people of hope for a decent later life, and eroding the satisfactions and sense of productivity that should animate our later years.

Once we open our eyes to the pervasiveness of ageism, however, we can begin to fight it—and Gullette lays out ambitious plans for the whole life course, from teaching children anti-ageism to fortifying the social safety nets, and thus finally making possible the real pleasures and opportunities promised by the new longevity. A bracing, controversial call to arms, Agewise will surprise, enlighten, and, perhaps most important, bring hope to readers of all ages.

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About the Author:

Margaret Morganroth Gullette is the author of three previous books, including Aged by Culture, which was chosen a Notable Book of the year by the Christian Science Monitor, and Declining to Decline.

Review:

"We haven't done justice to age in the popular press. Margaret Gullette may change that. It will be a more mature country that takes note of so important a voice, giving hope that our culture may yet value wrinkles—the face's road map of experience—accumulated from smiles, tears, and the hard-won wisdom of the body."

(Bill Moyers)

"Margaret Morganroth Gullette is one of the shining lights of age studies. For two decades she has been sweeping her bright searchlight across the landscape of American social, political and popular culture to identify and analyze ageism wherever it lurks. In provocative chapters laced with insight and originality, Gullette examines a broad range of subjects from later-life sexuality to dependency, from midlife layoffs to suicide."

(Alix Kates Shulman, author of To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed)

"Eloquent and infuriating, packed with facts and bristling with ideas, Agewise is essential reading for anyone who is 'aging'--which is to say, everyone."

(Katha Pollitt, author of The Mind Body Problem: Poems)

“Margaret Morganroth Gullette is a brilliant analyst and she makes strong and convincing arguments that ageism is far from dead. Agewise also makes an extremely powerful case on behalf of ‘progress,’ or what I call ‘positive aging.’ Her book is a call to arms for us to wake up to a prejudice that afflicts us all. A must read.”

(Harry R. Moody, Director of Academic Affairs, AARP)

"An instant classic. . . . Gullette's scholarship is sound and wide-ranging. She has a great command of the literature from history, social sciences research, political theory, economics, morality, religion, women's studies, gerontology, psychology and psychiatry, cultural studies, American civilization, and literary works. This is a brilliant and important book and is filled with terrific analyses and with powerful suggestions about the need for sweeping social change to eliminate the lethality of ageism. It will utterly transform the way people think about aging and ageism."

(Paula J. Caplan, author of They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal)

"'Good stuff happens not because we are still young, but because we are not.' Anyone familiar with the rallying calls of Margaret Morganroth Gullette, one of the leading forces behind the development of 'ageing studies' in the US, will not be surprised to find this cheering thought in her latest book, Agewise. . . . Gullette insists that she is not merely trying to replace the cultural decline narrative with a progress narrative, or disowning our fears or the needs and pains of ageing bodies. Of course, over a long life we will face tragedies and losses, over and over again. However, she listens out for alternative elegies of later life, trawling the resources of literature, memoir, her own life and those of others to suggest ways in which we can face this together. . . Refreshingly, Gullette, in her sixties, is capable of greater self-acceptance of her ageing body and appearance than de Beauvoir could ever manage. . . .  In ageing, we may find strength simply in sharing our black humour, defiance and rage, while fighting as imaginatively as we can against the bitterness, perplexity and humiliation that accompany not only our experiences of old age but, increasingly, those of mid-life also."

(Times Higher Education)

"A full-throated analysis of and attack on a pernicious new 'ism.' Sample chapter title: 'Hormone Nostalgia.'" (Harvard Magazine)

"Gullette is the Amazing Randi of ageist stereotypes. She is forever unmasking intellectual quackery and sociopolitical deceptions intended to sell people in midlife and older years on fears about their shortcomings--fears one might allay with Oil of Olay and other products concocted by the Age-defying Industrial Complex. Gullette deconstructs much of what Americans dread about aging and reveals that it actually results from ageism. The book includes personal stories, little-reported findings from biomedical research, accounts of age-biased coverage of Hurricane Katrina (in which three-quarters of those who died were 60 or older), the impact of the economic meltdown, and social attitudes reflected by major fiction authors. The book is something of a manifesto, elaborating an anti-ageism plan that begins with teaching children that living a long life isn't such a bad thing. Gullette goes on to advocate for stronger social insurance protections that would ensure the benefits of the longevity revolution, both for individuals and society."

(Generations Beat Online)

"A must-read for anyone expecting to grow old in this culture--most of us, one hopes. Of particular interest are Gullette's [chapters] on cosmetic surgery, late-life sexuality, memory loss, and the suicide of the feminist scholar Carolyn Heilbrun. . . . Gullette's chapter 'Overcoming the Terror of Forgetfulness' is the best essay on memory loss that I have read. Based partly on the author's experiences with her mother, it reveals her deep compassion and insight. . . . Gullette coined the term 'age studies,' that is, a critical perspective on the entire life-course, and Agewise demonstrates that she is a master practitioner of the discipline. She labels ignorance of old age 'a social epidemic.' This bias, she says, can be remedies 'not just by living, which is slow and uncertain, but by raising one's consciousness."

(Women's Review of Books)

"Award-winning feminist author Gullette takes a hard look at the connection between exaggerated fears about the burden of caring for the elderly and a struggling economy in which older workers have a hard time finding employment. 'Being "too old" is too large a part of the ongoing economic meltdown to ignore.' Describing prejudice against older Americans as bigotry, Gullette refers to negative stereotypes, such as the term "greedy geezers" and the mythical Eskimo practice of putting the elderly on ice-floes, as "hate speech" that makes acceptable the notion that the old have a duty to die. . . . While admitting to the reality of the "bitterness and perplexity and humiliations" of decline, Gullette writes poetically and persuasively in general, and tenderly about her 96 year-old mother, who has suffered considerable memory loss, increasing blindness, and physical frailty but retains her cognitive faculties and joy for life. Important social criticism from a prominent scholar."

(Publishers Weekly)

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