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Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America Hardcover – April 15, 2011
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"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)
"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)
(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."
About the Author
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, which won an award as the best feminist book on American popular culture.
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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. Also that caregivers should focus not on what is lost but what remains: important aspects of personhood such as humor, judgment, ethical reasoning, and intuition.
Gullette's bottom line: fear ageism, not aging. Groundless pessimism and overstated fears make it all the harder to rustle up the political will to ensure that most Americans make it to the ends of their lives with decent healthcare and a modicum of financial security -- which would do a lot to diminish our *legitimate* anxiety about the years ahead.
Ashton Applewhite [...]