Discrimination, Squandering Experience, Missing Opportunities

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

If you haven’t noticed already, let me tell you something you may or may not choose to take on board.  Experience is worth nothing. And by nothing I mean experience is worth nothing financially. This begins to happen once you cross the line into your 40s, but your experience is devalued even more once you hit 50. You know this is true because you’ve seen the ads, the movies that point out what matters, what’s worthy is being younger.

According to Ryan Wallman at Marketing Week, Ad land’s obsession with youth will come at a cost.  Wallman notes the discriminatory practice of hiring younger employees while ignoring older, more experiences employees,
“A paucity of older people in advertising leads to a poorer output and a missed opportunity for brands.”
I’m not in marketing or advertising but I am ‘of a certain age,’  and I am savvy enough to know that entertainment, advertising, and marketing that is aimed in my direction frequently MISSES the mark (see My previous post about the film POMS). It also misses an opportunity. How many studies do there have to be to demonstrate the spending power of people over 50?  As a consumer, a writer, and author in an industry that does not at all favour women who are over the age of 40 (some will say 30), I get pretty cheesed off by anything that imprisons me with a fate I must dread after turning 40, and then dread my existence even more after 50 because, rather than putting the goddamned spotlight on LIVING, life after 50 is nothing but constant decline–dentures, wrinkles, walkers, adult diapers, and the inevitably of death.
The missed opportunity of gearing products to me and others middle-aged and beyond, products that tell me–to borrow and twist a line from from The Shawshank Redemption–to “get busy dyin”’ rather than to “get busy livin’ ” is also a slap in the face that utterly devalues my actual life experience.
In another Marketing Week article (the publication is often spot on with its studies of ageism and sexism in advertising and beyond), Sarah Vizard notes that,
“78% of those aged 50 or over feel under-represented or misrepresented by advertising, with 49% saying they actively avoid brands who ignore them. Plus 69% suggest they would be more receptive to brands if their advertising represented over-50s more accurately.”
Yeah, the paucity of older people, missing opportunity, and  feeling under- and misrepresented as a stereotype is EXACTLY what I have been saying about the romance publishing industry shutting out older female leads, refusing to see them as viable main characters, and ignoring the older (or even younger) reader who WANTS to see better representation of themselves across an age spectrum. If our life experience counts for nothing, then our power to spend is a loss to big businesses, like the struggling publishing industry.
I quite like Waller’s article cautioning the advertising industry. If you didn’t read it, it’s about the younger age demographic of those employed in the tone-deaf, one denture-wearing, diapered older person-with-a-walker-and-funeral-insurance fits all advertising industry, which, he says doesn’t value the experience of older employees any more than it values the older consumer.
“The demographic make-up of the advertising industry sends a pretty clear message to people who have the gall to a) stay alive and b) keep working past the age of 30. And that message is: ‘Fuck you and the mobility scooter you rode in on.'”

Waller’s quote makes me want to say, “Wake the fuck up to this mother-fucking GOLD MINE”  to the historically female-centric romance fiction industry. Women over 40 have money to spend and the world of romance fiction is, with very few exceptions, ignoring them and their money. Readers are saying they are receptive to romance novels that represent over-40s (and beyond) more accurately, as LEAD characters. Yet, as with advertising, these readers are still getting a  “Fuck you and the mobility scooter you rode in on” from an industry that employs mostly women who will one day be over the age of 40, 50 and beyond.

 

Vizard, S. (2019). Brands should stop seeing age as a defining feature of the over-50s. Marketing Week. https://bit.ly/2yI0JgA 

Wallman, R. (2019). Adland’s obsession with youth will come at a cost. Marketing Week. https://bit.ly/2XajNz6

Maybe I Need to Wear a Cape

I have been told I often I live up to the meaning of my first name, Sandra, from Alexandeathenar: Defender of man. This might be true (Yes, I know that’s Athena over there, but you get what I mean)

For years, I have talked about the lack of age representation in romance on OldBitey. First on the Oldbitey LiveJournal Blog, then here. But yesterday somebody else asked me the questions. Yesterday, I was on my soapbox on someone else’s blog: Read in a Single Sitting, and I was Advocating for older protagonists in romance fiction. If you are familiar with Oldbitey, you know my spiel, you know my PhD research is all about mature-aged romance heroines, but mostly I am really an advocate for inclusion.

I love romance fiction. I read across all genres, but I have a special place for romance. In romance there is something for everyone. Yes,  there is a lot of ‘white romance,’ but there is also some diversity outside the white hetro romance. There are m/m romance, lesbian romance, there’s even ethnic diversity if you look for it–not a lot, but it’s there. You can find stories of cross-cultural romance (Sheiks and Greeks anyone?), plus-sized heroine romance (although what makes plus-size is up for discussion) and inter-species romance (e.g. weres, vampires, aliens, shapeshifters).  There are, however, certain demographics seldom represented as protagonists in romance fiction. There is lack of heroes or heroines who are amputees, wheelchair bound, or have physical or mental challenges–such as Tim in Colleen McCullough’s Tim —the only romance I can even think of where a protagonist is, as McCullough puts it “not the full quid,” which of course speaks volumes to the attitude regarding disability of any sort. While ‘challenged individuals’ come in all forms, special demographics confront something that romance often wrestles with. The question becomes: How real is too real in the fantasy of romance?

There is a strange idea at work here with regard to the idea of how ‘real’ the romance fantasy can be. Some say too much realism ‘spoils’ the fantasy for them, but that is only when it comes to the age of the characters, as well as physical capability and mental capacity. Some readers prefer everything to be whole, pretty and young. All the time. Yet even within that whole, young prettiness, romance is incredible for addressing real life social issues, mores, and cultural standards, and changing the attitudes about them. Rape, divorce, single parenthood, abuse of all sorts, sexuality, the position of women in in business, in schools, in professions have all been poked and prodded and interrogated in romance and have transformed social sensibilities. These matters do not appear to be ‘too real’ to be included in a romance fantasy. So what the hell’s the matter with including the other incarnations of real human life in the fantasy?

The interesting hard fact is, the romance genre transforms itself and becomes more inclusive with each year. One day, I expect to see an even broader choice for all tastes, a broader scope of real people given the opportunity to participate in the fantasy because that’s what romance does.

Doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, as you ponder my musings, I’ll let my awesome scarlet cape flap in the wind and stand poised on my soapbox, ready to swoop down and defend and support forgotten demographics.