The Ick Factor and You: The Origin of the Notion Older People Having Sex Is Gross

Sometimes it doesn’t take much for me to jump on my soapbox. Last week, after I read Ann Brenoff‘s column Dear Hollywood, I May Be Invisible To You, But I’m Very Real on the Huffington Post I got in quite a lather (see what I did there, soapbox, lather?) with another reminder of the ‘culture of invisibility’ in Hollywood. You know the thing, that misguided idea that deems any woman over 40 as unviable, unwanted, unfuckable, unbankable onscreen. All lathered up, I pondered, again, the source of the idiotic invisibility. Since I have a PhD and wrote a dissertation that examined the culture of invisibility in romance fiction, I’m going to share my theory with you.

wtfRemember when you were 5 years-old, and your mother explained the penis and peegina* sex thing that time you were precocious and asked at the dinner table one night? Remember when, a short while after learning the revolting details of where babies came from, you realized that all the kissing you saw on TV, and in movies, was another incomprehensibly revolting thing that grown-ups like your parents did, and you thought every time your parents kissed they were trying to make a baby and you couldn’t fathom WHY your mother would let your father put his penis in her peegina?

Do you also remember how incredibly disgusted you were, but how your confused little kid mind tried to make sense of how you didn’t get pregnant when Raymond Michaud kissed you that time you played in the treehouse the big kids built in the woods near your house?

Remember when the whole notion of sex was absolutely repugnant and then one day it wasn’t? It didn’t seem that far-fetched or icky. But then, when you were about 11, your older brother told you about anal sex and you were all sex was never going to be something you did.

Ever.

Remember when you were 17 or 19, or 22 and kissing and sex was like perpetual springtime and a raging thunderstorm of emotion and passion and excitement? Remember when you joined the club you never thought you’d join? You wondered how you ever thought sex wasn’t something you would want to DO and be DONE TO, and you finally, FINALLY got why everyone on TV, in books and movies wanted to do it. Everyone had sex, all the time—except your parents.

Or grandparents.

Or your unmarried, forty-something aunt.

You thought this because never saw parents or grandparents or spinster aunts on TV, in books or movies doing it or even interested in doing it. They were too mature, tool old, too busy with work and retirembunsent, and went to bed early after their 4:30 dinnertime. And movies, books, and TV didn’t lie. The message was subtle, but you noticed, unconsciously, that people only ever had sex when they were young. You never saw people over 40, like your grandparents, kissing or groping, grinding, or dry humping on TV, in books or movies, and because you never saw it the idea of people over 40 kissing—or humping—was as incomprehensibly revolting as your mother letting your father put his penis in her peegina. The only reason your parents and grandparents still kissed was because they were Italian, Italians are affectionate, and that sort display of affection was allowed on TV, in movies and books. Your parents and grandparents weren’t really passionate because passion was for the young. The perpetual springtime raging thunderstorm of emotion and passion and excitement was for the young you saw on TV, in movies, in books, in romance fiction.

The images of youth are everywhere in the media, on TV, in books, movies, advertising, and this is the insidious way the Ick Factor is enacted. You are indoctrinated without knowing. You are misled to believe sex and passion is only for the young since that is all you see. This perpetual lack of truth is the way stereotypes of age and sex are maintained. The erasure of a huge portion of the population from view has led to the notion that sex is something only human beings under 40 want and enjoy. But it’s worse. If you’re a woman, you notice there’s a double standard when it comes men and women and sex. As you get a little older, maybe when you hit 30, you realize there’s an additional aspect to the Ick Factor you didn’t notice before, when you were younger. Men over 40 continue to get it on in books, movies and on TV.

Women grando not.

Even more sinister is way the Ick Factor works, the continual lack of truth is the way stereotypes of woman and age are maintained, the way women over 40 are cast in stereotyped roles (Hey, grandma!) or dismissed, excluded from appearing on TV, in movies and books. This is truly incomprehensibly revolting, and this is how we are conditioned to think. We erase women over 40 from being when we know this is NOT how women over 40 are.

In a world of reality television, isn’t it time to change the Ick Factor to a Truth Factor? Isn’t it time we show life as it really is, show people of all ages as whole, passionate, sexual human beings in love? Isn’t it time we grow up from being grossed out little five year olds who can’t comprehend how mommy would let daddy put his penis into her peegina?

I battle the Ick Factor. I write books that challenge the ‘younger’ norm of romance fiction. My lead characters are all over 40; the romance heroines are older than the standard twenty-something romance heroine.  The women I write are whole, intelligent, vibrant, sexual humAntonellicoverssmallan beings, not stereotypes of age. I write outside the norm because I believe it is beyond time to change. Discussing the Ick Factor and the ‘culture of invisibility’ is excellent, important, but what good is all the talk about age discrimination and sexism if no one challenges the ‘usual?” For decades, Romance fiction has been at the forefront of adapting to social and cultural change for women. What better place to shift the attitudes about women age, sexuality, make women of a certain age visible, and kill the Ick Factor?

Trust me on this. I’m a doctor who writes romance fiction.

*Becasue Pee comes out of a boy’s penis and pee comes out of a girl’s peegina

How to Act Your Age and Other Ideals of Should

beautyideals11Who defines how one should ‘act their age’ or what one should be doing at a particular age?’ For instance, who or what decrees that, when we are 40, 50, 60 and beyond, a woman ‘should’ dress, behave, be, or not be sexual or sexually attractive, as in fuckable?

Russell Crowe’s recent “Act your age” comments in the December 2014 Australian Women’s Weekly, have stirred up the whole idea of ‘appropriate roles and behaviours for — and I hate this expression – ‘women of a certain age.’ While Crowe’s comments were about how actresses should go after age-appropriate roles and stop wanting to play the ingénue (which actresses would do if there were age-appropriate roles for them to play), his remarks highlight the confusion, the mixed messages over all the ‘shoulding’ when it comes to being a middle-aged or older female. Over a month later Crowe’s remarks are still generating a buzz. There’s more buzz to add his his buzz, because women over 40 — Laura Dern, Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette, and, of course, Meryl Streep — have all been nominated for Academy Awards, so amazeballs  that Hollywood has noticed, right?

Sort of.

What do I mean by shoulding? I mean those acts and behaviours, and expected roles for women, such as maiden, which is THE ROLE Hollywood embraces and clings to for portraying Ideal2females, as well as wife, mother, and the cougar, the old crone, the old hag, the crazy old lady — those stereotyped, secondary or bit-part sexless roles that Hollywood sets aside for older women. When you look at the big picture, there aren’t really a lot of those cardboard cut-out roles.

And, Russell, that’s what all the fuss is about and why it’s a big deal that stories have been told with mature women as central characters.

Shoulding. If you are a female you are expected to age gracefully, only as you age, be sure you don’t let yourself go. However, if you attempt to keep fit know you may be ridiculed for trying to stay in shape, and whatever you do, don’t look old, but don’t be mutton dressed as lamb either because miniskirts look bad on old sheep. We know there is a cult of youth wrapped up in the ‘achieving a perfect, ideal beauty, ‘but the picture of ‘ideal beauty’ changes over time, or sometimes circles ‘round again. If you haven’t noticed, big bushy eyebrows from the ‘80s are suddenly back in vogue. It’s best to remember, once you are over 40, keep your eyebrows tidy and let your beauty shine from within; have a great personality. If you don’t have a great personality, then you better cultivate one.

beauty1Does beauty, true beauty, comes from the inside? I’m inclined to say yes, as a shitty personality sure can make a person look quite ugly. If beauty does come from the inside, then perhaps that’s something that could be embraced, and taught, and reinforced, as DC Baxter suggests in January 7, 2015 The Federalist. Girls and boys could be instructed about seeing inner beauty in others, especially since there is far too much emphasis placed on outward appearance, which fosters the shallowness in our culture. Humans, on a biological level, are programed to find symmetry, clear skin, and good teeth attractive in others, as it indicates, at least on a surface level, that the individual is disease-free and no threat to anyone’s safety. The programming makes sense, yet that clear-skinned, disease-free caveman with all his teeth and straight nose, might have had an asshole personality. Maybe then inner beauty is ‘ideal beauty.’ Or maybe it’s really a combination of inner and outer beauty that makes for what’s ‘ideal.’ Yet the combination is problematic, both are double-edged swords suggesting that older, as in wrinkles and sagging bits are ugly, that outer beauty is impossible once things begin to show any sign of age, which is treated as a disease, and who wants to fuck a diseased person?

In the December 7, 2014 Sunday Times, Camille Paglia says that an older woman is “measuring herself against an impossible youthful ideal.” Her case in point is Madonna and her recent topless photos spread in Interview Magazine, which downgrades feminism and pits the younger women against older women in a struggle for power. Paglia likes to talk about power and exerting power, but I find her argument a little muddy. For me, fifty-six-year-old Madonna, in her decision to have topless photos taken, is exerting her power (as Madonna always has), as a woman and as a sexual being—because middle aged women are desiring and desirous sexual Beauty3beings. I do not see Madonna as measuring herself against an ‘impossible youthful ideal.’ Madonna is simply defining what she wants to be, how she wants to be seen, and presenting that there CAN be a new middle-aged ‘fuckable’ ideal. She is not acting like a younger woman; she is recognising her power and embracing her inner beauty by being herself, something she has always garnered criticism for throughout her career.

You know, if you look closely, kids, Madonna’s Interview topless photo isn’t topless at all, unless you count that her top is a top with boobs on it.

So back to ‘ideal beauty.’ Despite there being so many differing versions of what is ‘ideal,’ why is there a misconception that ‘ideal’ is only applicable to younger, that keeping fit, and wanting to look attractive at any age over 40 is somehow impossible, and anyone who does their best to maintain what one has is therefore a delusional, inappropriate, mutton-dressed-as lamb who’s not acting her age? Why is a middle-aged woman, like Madonna, acting in these powerful ways a target for ridicule and disdain? Why must a woman, middle-aged or older, keep her focus on her inner beauty alone? What the hell does ‘acting your age’ mean anyway?

I have my own ideal for myself, and that’s how I wield my power. I’m a smartassed grown up and I’m gonna run, keep fit, wear mini skirts and short dresses until my knees look like shit. I DECIDE when my knees look like shit, not you, Russell Crowe, Camille Paglia or anyone else.

And that’s acting my age.

The Only One: Meryl the Go-to Woman of Age

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

In the first entry I posted about the Mature Content Stockpile, I mentioned that I find diversity important. I said that older women need to be portrayed as whole, real people in every media format, rather than as secondary characters or stereotypes of what, or how an older woman is supposed’ to be or act. I am heartened when others give support to this need for diversity.

Yesterday’s post from the Daily Mail Australia showed us Jessica Chastain criticising Russell Crowe for his ‘act your age’ remarks. You may recall Crowe named Streep as an example of a working actress over 40. Streep is THE go-to gal when there’s a complex, mature female role.  In yesterday’s post, Streep gave a rather diplomatic response to Crowe’s comments about actresses and age-appropriate roles. Today’s post comes from Celebitchy site, from 8 October 2014. Celebitchy pulls pieces from Glamour‘s October 2014 issue and Mindy Kaling’s Interview conversation with Jessica Chastain, who gives her opinion on Meryl Streep’s go-to position.

Persoanlly, I love the title of the Celebitchy piece: Jessica Chastain: Stop giving Meryl Streep all of the ‘older woman’ parts
Chastain states,

“I love Meryl Streep. She’s such an incredible actress. But I feel like she’s the only one in her age group who gets those parts. I’d like to see Jessica Lange in a movie again, you know? Or Susan Sarandon. Why isn’t Viola Davis a lead in a film? She’s one of the greatest actresses alive. And where are the Asian actors and actresses? I’m not saying, ‘We don’t want movies about men,’” she said. “I’m just saying, ‘Come on, all the men I know love women. So let’s also have some stories about these women. Let’s write something for them, guys—and let’s make room for women writers too.’”

Can you say, Hooray for diversity?

Thanks to Rhyll Biest for sending me the link to Celebitchy.