Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Ageism in Writing and Film

Having a wander through my blog roll - which is enormous and why I don't get to look at each blog as often as I would like - I came across this on Ellen Datlow's LJ where she has something to say about the way older women are depicted in books and film.

As a woman of mature years myself I am continually amazed at the depiction of women over fifty as somehow on the road to decrepitude while men are apparently ruggedly attractive. It's particularly noticeable in movies and on television where we actually see pairings of the young and beautiful woman with the ageing man. Men, it seems in the world of film, grow more attractive and women - well, in most of these productions, once over fifty, they either morph into The Mother (even today she seems to spend much of her life cooking), The Cougar - what a ridiculous term that is - who is in desperate and inappropriate search of her lost youth or The Dotty but Loveable Fool while in books they often just vanish.

I can't remember ever seeing a steamy love scene involving a sixty or seventy something woman with anyone, let alone with a twenty something man and we see far too many of them, in my opinion, between an older man and a much younger woman (young enough to be his granddaughter in some cases). These are the scenes where the camera focusses lovingly on the youthful beauty while the man is barely visible because, let's face it, his body, just a like a woman's of the same age, is no longer what it was. This, of course, doesn't prevent the man acting as the hero or the romantic lead and nor should it. Movies are fantasy after all but it would be nice if they didn't ignore a very large part of the population. Women don't disappear as they age in real life. Why do they in books and film?

The truth is that while women age so do men. Neither looks like their youthful self and, with maturity, their interests have changed as much as their appearance has. This doesn't mean either is nothing more than a collection of sagging wrinkles, shuffling towards death. In fact most of the women I know in their sixties and seventies are full of life and enjoying new interests as are the men but they are accorded respect while women are not.

Let's be realistic here. Ageing is a progression we all go through and to relegate women to obscurity or to depict them as worn out seekers after a lost youth while pretending the same does not apply to men is highly insulting.


Satima Flavell said...

I think it's simply an exaggeration of Real Life. It is not terriby uncommon to find a man in his sixties with a partner in her thirties, but the reverse is a rare as hen's teeth. Some younger women do find older men attractive, but generally, younger men strongly prefer younger women (which is just as well or the race would die out!) In all my life I've only seen a couple of marriages in which the husband was more than ten or fifteen years younger than the wife.

Helen V. said...

You're right, of course, about Real Life relationship age differences tending to mean older men with younger women. What I'm concerned about as Ellen was is that women, with a few notable exceptions, vanish from movies except as certain stock characters once they are over sixty while a succession of old men continue to be cast as romantic leads.

Laura E. Goodin said...

I noticed the same trends: older women shoehorned into a very few, predictable roles. That's one of the reasons I wrote The Death of Albatross: it features older people (in their 50s or 60s, depending on how you play it) who have complex, intense lives as individuals. And two of them are women. It's only one small blow against stereotypes, but at least it's one!

Helen V. said...

Every blow helps, Laura. A friend of mine who had made her living by acting since her twenties told me that once she reached fifty the parts dried up. She gets an occasional, usually small, part these days but they are rare.

Rosanne Dingli said...

Well - it's partly because books and movies (as well as most reality TV shows) are based on wishful thinking. And audiences base their wishful thinking on the models you mention here: the May/December model and others like it. No one wishfully thinks of being 60 and female. Or, the ones that do do not spend much money on books and movies. It's all demand-based.
In my novels, I always have a powerful 50+ woman - I did not intend it that way, but I thought over it just now, and yup... there is one in According to Luke, and there is one in my forthcoming Camera Obscura. If these books were movies, you'd have someone like Helen Mirren playing the parts. And oh - she has the fame and renown she does have because of parts she's played recently. Not many, granted, but they are by no means non-existent.

Helen V. said...

I'm glad to see you striking a blow for the older woman, Rosanne. It's not the wishful thinking in the romances itself that I object to. Rather it's that older women tend to disappear.

I wonder a little about demand. If you are given little with which to identify in movies perhaps you stop watching them and, when you do that, the need to cater for your part of the population can be ignored. That means older women have even less incentive to go to the movies. So the mantra that older women don't watch movies becomes self fulfilling.

The strange thing is that there seems to be less of this in European movies. Why, I wonder?