Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Ph D, is a leading scholar in age studies—especially ageism’s effects on the midlife years. Feminism had brought changes for women, rights movements had brought changes for black people and disabled people, and the—well, there was no widespread, organized movement for older people. Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Ph D, for one, was optimistic.
For more than 35 years, through books, essays and teaching, Gullette has educated people about ageism and provided thoughtful commentary on the changing American culture. In 1988, the midlife-studies scholar published a book called Safe at Last in the Middle Years about how middle age wasn’t always depicted as such a downer in fiction anymore. Unfortunately, it got stalled somewhere along the way.
I said to myself, “This is for a decade hence—or maybe two decades hence—when we really understand ageism.
That’s when somebody will write, in wonderful language, a declaration. It was almost serendipitous that by the end of the book, I could write it.
And in 1989, at 47 years old, she wrote an essay for the New York Times called “Midlife Exhilaration.” “As the largest age group in the country, our tastes, our opinions, our dollars can make changes,” she wrote in the essay. In fact, since she began studying it, ageism has strengthened, Gullette, now 75, contends—and it’s hitting people younger than ever.
“Lacking its own passionate movement, ageism remains the most stubbornly, perplexing naturalized of the isms,” Gullette points out in her latest book, (2017).So those are the businesses that actually make money out of aging.But they have to convince you that you are becoming a needier person.There’s one—it’s a Valentine’s Day card, actually—it goes, ‘Grow old and disgusting with me.’” , she lays them out—going so far as to include “A Declaration of Grievances,” whose style is reminiscent of the Declaration of Independence.“Through shameless age-shaming, they silence us,” reads the first of 13 grievances.Education—while it can’t do everything in this ageist ideology, it can do a lot. The first 10 minutes of every class—it could be longer—I asked students to come in with anything that was about age or ageism.So I focus in the book  on the college years, and I actually have a chapter that’s about teaching anti-ageism in a freshman composition course. Some of them might want to do a Google search for ageism, and they would find the material.SCF: What are some of the effects of all these different types of ageism on older people? That younger people, but also ourselves—we are intolerant about our appearance.We lack an audience for our subjectivities and our grievances. MMG: When being invisible means that you are likely to be knocked down—that public spaces are not safe for you—I think that’s violent. There are examples in the book of Internet hate speech. People who think they know, better than you do, what you want—I think their attitude toward you is violent. You are suffering from the affect that somebody else is imposing on you. It is their contempt that is the violence that is causing you to feel shame.” SCF: Why do you call things that don’t physically hurt you violent? You know, “Boomers will change aging the way they changed every other phase of life.” They were born, and they needed more schools, and so the schools got built.SCF: You’ve pointed out that ageism has gotten worse at the same time American society has been celebrating increased longevity. MMG: One of the reasons is that there are more people who need to capitalize on ageism.You could start with the people who get money out of frightening people about getting older.