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Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America Hardcover – April 15, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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)

"'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)

"Gullette proposes fresh ways of thinking and intervening to alleviate and, ideally, eradicate ageism pervasive over the life course. . . . Gullette's gift for storytelling enthralls readers."

(The Gerontologist)

"This is a very important book. It touches raw nerves. It reaches deep into the culture; it explores a difficult and dangerous terrain. It stirs up emotion. Margaret Morganroth Gullette has thrown herself headlong into the subject. A formidable achievement. A combination of sharp analysis, the marshaling of significant information, and social outrage. Written with literary flair and eloquence."

(Socialism and Democracy)

"Margaret Morganroth Gullette is the person to convince you that this 'decline narrative' is a problem, and that you play a role in changing it. . . . Gullette builds upon her anti-ageist convictions throughout each chapter, and the breadth of topics leaves readers with an understanding of just how ubiquitous ageism is in our culture."
(Bitch Magazine)

"Her ability to weave together a work that ranges from literary analysis to studies on cosmetic surgery resisters, is seamless and in-depth. . . . Composed in three parts, each section builds on the next with a strong theme of respect for the whole of the human life course. . . . She compares the ‘burgeoning army of the old’ rhetoric to the moral panic surrounding HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, an apt analogy. . . .  Bio-medicalization, sexuality and caregiving receive surprisingly fresh analyses. . . . Her turn from mind, as the producer of memory, to the holder of a myriad range of qualities from ethical reasoning and emotional intelligence to judgment and intuition, reminds us that we are whole people rather than a symptom cluster waiting to pounce as we age. . . . At the same time as Gullette describes 'othe'’, she has the uncanny ability to invite the reader to step close to ageing bodies and souls and, then, reminds us that we cannot slide into another’s life course; can never wrap ourselves in their experience of ageing. It is this insight and her keen ability to turn a phrase that makes Agewise both excellent scholarship and a deeply readable and provoking book."

“Gullette ties all these strands together with concepts of a ‘culture of decline’ and the institutionalized ‘systems of decline’ that profoundly and negatively affect the way we see our passage through the life course. . . . Gullette uses provocative and sociologically unconventional types of evidence in the largest part of the book. . . . This makes her work accessible to a wider audience than academics, which is clearly her intent. Hers is a consciousness-raising mission, to take ageism as seriously as racism and sexism. It is a major social issue which impacts all of us into the future. . . . Gullette has provided a devastating cultural critique. . . . This book is a wake-up call for all of us.” (Contemporary Sociology)

"Agewise stands as a thoroughly comprehensive study, one which meets all of its claims and does so tenaciously and with a rigour that reflects the depth of both. . . . The dual figurations of feminist thought and narratological analysis respectively inform and shape the course of the book. As the author notes, this is at least in part because 'aging is a narrative.' Thus, the study is shaped first and foremost by its attention to narrative, its study of one narrative [decline, in the United States] and its shape as a narrative. . . . Its beginning is its end and the progression is wonderfully symmetrical, uniform and measured. No detail remains without return or recapitulation, including the reference to Conan O’Brien's joke about the AARP installment of the 2008 U.S. presidential debates. . . . Make no mistake, as much as the deeply detailed research is there, this a carefully crafted narrative, one which follows the archetypal construction of such, whether one is a student of Frye or Bakhtin, Propp or Campbell. There is a descent and an ascent; the beginning is the daemonic parody of the end."

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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Printing edition (April 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226310736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226310732
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,358,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Agewise" is powerful and had a serious impact on me. I am a seveny-one year old woman at the peak of my career and often the oldest in the room. I used to introduce myself as someone who has worked in this field (affordable housing) for more decades than I want to admit. After reading "Agewise," I no longer say those words. Nor do I feel them. I now feel proud of my track record and experience. The book is sensitive,thoughtful and humanistic. Instead of fearing age, people of all age groups should work together to plan how older people can cherish their lives and use their experience to benefit society.

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Format: Kindle Edition
Not just an impressive piece of scholarship, AGEWISE is a persuasive manifesto about Americans' irrational fears of growing older and the politics that feed these fears. Gullette's writing is clear and lively, and she argues powerfully against the reflexive association of aging with decline -- not even old age, merely aging-past-youth -- which distorts the truth of people's experiences and demeans the life course.

We don't age alone or in a vacuum, Gullette points out. We age in culture, and this country's youth-centric one is almost eerily resistant to anything besides what she dubs the "decline narrative": that after youth, life goes downhill in every way. "It's as if nobody has a good old age anymore, let alone a good death," she writes. "Something in American culture blocks out the joyful and the political images, causing people to leap over them to final images of helplessness, decrepitude, pain, abuse, and demeaning death." In fact the vast majority of older Americans live independently, enjoy their lives, and are healthy until they come down with the illness that does them in.

Gullette is at her most vehement when arguing against what she calls the "duty-to-die" movement, which has even the middle-aged worrying about whether suicide will become the ethical option lest they become a "burden" to themselves or society. "Often resources for caring for people over 65 are discussed as if they were intrinsically scarce, rather than the result of policy," she writes. She also draws movingly on her experience of her mother's cognitive decline, pointing out that Alzheimer's disease is a characteristic of some old people, not of old age, and that our growing obsession with memory loss makes it ever harder to make that case.
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Format: Hardcover
Baby Boomers would be hard pressed in our youth worshipping culture not to notice how this generation is subject to prejudice if not downright hatred. Some truly horrible things are said and even printed ("Just die already") that, were they referring to any other group, would clearly be considered hate speech. All baby boomers aren't entitled narcissists, neither more nor less than all young people are! Agewise is a call to arms (ageism is as much an issue as feminism, and often the two are intertwined). It is a sad commentary on our society that ageing is seen as a curse rather than a blessing. As a prejudice, it is more than inane (aren't they all?). Still, what ageism reviles as "other" is a condition we all share. We're all getting older, day after day, Ageism takes its toll on every single one of us, from very early on. Agewise is not a depressing book however; it's also encouraging and heartening. Society is who we are; prejudices can be fought.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A truly inspiring and eye-opening book. I kept punching my fist in the air and shouting "yes!" as I read it. I've spent this year deeply involved in moving my elderly uncle to an assisted living facility near me. This book articulated my feelings, helped me understand some of my confusion, and pushed me to rededicate myself to doing the very best for my uncle. It also filled me with hope and determination regarding my own old age.
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Format: Hardcover
Ageism starts with the premise that negative attitudes about aging contribute to depression and the overall challenge of growing older. It's a concept with a lot of truth in it. I settled in for an interesting read and in fact did feel that the early chapter focusing on Carolyn Heilbrun was useful and well done. But then the wheels come off. The tone of the book veers ever more stridently toward polemical as it focuses on all the ways the elderly are discriminated against and disenfranchised.

Then we come to a chapter on hormone replacement which contains, in my opinion, wrong and potentially harmful information. The author focuses on the studies that showed the harmful effects of estrogen and concludes that it is always bad and should not be used. Menopause should not be medicalized. "Estrogen" says the author "is a carcinogen." While it is true that estrogen encourages cell division -- especially those cells that have estrogen receptors -- it is simply not true that estrogen is a "carcinogen." The inception of cancer is complex and in some women can be catalyzed by estrogen. But to just make a blanket statement that "estrogen is a carcinogen" is misleading. It is, in my opinion, irresponsible scaremongering. Further, the author does not reference any of the most recent information that shows that under certain conditions estrogen can have significant benefits. If you want a balanced view read "The Estrogen Dilemma" by Cynthia Gorney in the NYTimes. Recent studies have shown that the timing -- when HRT is started -- as well as the type of estrogen used -- natural estradiol rather than the conjugated estrine estrogen synthesized by Wyeth -- can change the conclusion.
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