Seeking Role Models for Women Over 40 in TV and Romance Fiction

In the Hollywood Reporter, Inkoo Kang’s Critic’s Notebook: For Women Over 40, TV’s Feminism Is Flawed has interesting things to say on TV and the meaty roles for women over 40, but questions, like I do, why these women of a certain age remain bizarrely flawed and dysfunctional, why these women, more often than not, remain morally ambiguous, less-than-positive role models of older women. In other words, why women of a certain age are still cast as something wicked.

Kang, praises the inclusion of older women (as do I), yet points out that ‘Moral ambiguity is the currency of today’s prestige and middlebrow small-screen projects, and ethical transgressions can indeed make for a more compelling protagonist.” Kang also notes out how “There’s not a powerful and pure-hearted Buffy Summers, Dana Scully or Jane Villanueva among them,” and cautions “let’s not make the mistake of confusing goodness for a lack of complexity.” This confusion is where the danger lies because it relies on continuing to present older women as stereotyped cranky old ladies, kooks, and harpies.

On one hand, we have to applaud television’s inclusion of the older woman, since old broads have been invisible for so long. On the other hand, and yes there are a few TV series that offer positive, complex, moral-hearted representations and role models of women over 40 (Grace & Frankie, Madame Secretary, The Fall, The Night Manager), yet too many still rely on the stereotypes and assumptions about older women.

Which brings me to my usual plug for the older romance heroine. The 40+ romance heroine is perfectly placed to combat the confusion, the moral ambiguity, the stereotyping. Yes, it’s time for 40+ romance heroines to step in and BE models of strength and poise, to BE valued for their potential, to BE powerful, ‘powerful, pure-hearted,’ and complex, not merely bizarrely flawed and dysfunctional. After all, Romance fiction has been at the forefront of social change for women for decades–but romance publishers have been a little…intractable with seeing women 40+ as viable romantic leads (because falling in love only happens to young women and sex over 40 is icky), or as a valuable money-making audience. Romance publishers are beginning, slowly, to come around. Like television has.

The key to changing the biases we have, and changing the stereotypes fiction and Hollywood clings to is, as Kang suggests (and I shout), offering NEW tales featuring women of a certain age, and presenting these women as something to aspire to be. We need to re-train our brains to accept a new status quo.

One last note. It may be my imagination, but I think the UK is frequently better at NOT relying on and challenging the portrayal of older women as kooky, dysfunctional stereotypes in TV and film roles.

Kang, I. (2017, June 13). Critic’s Notebook: For Women Over 40, TV’s Feminism Is Flawed. The Hollywood Reporter. 

A Diverse Universe

16 February 2015

Sudhamshu / Foter / CC BY-NC

Sudhamshu / Foter / CC BY-NC

In USA Today, Sean Gilmartin gives us Love in the Stacks: Making strides with diversity in romance novels. Gilmartin discusses searching for representations “that are more realistic representations of the real world;” representation readers can identify with, including representations of gay people, a wider range of cultural representations and more representations of people of colour in YA and romance. Gilmartin interviews Adrianne Byrd, JD Mason, Cheris Hodges, Beverly Jenkins, and Donna Hill, all romance authors who write more realistic representations of the real world. These authors give us people of colour in romance fiction.

The article is, as Marisa Tomei says in My Cousin Vinny, “Dead on balls accurate.” I particularly like this line, “We as authors and publishers are not being honest with our readers when we fail to include diversity in our fiction.”  I often wonder why it’s so difficult to have diversity in the media when life offers such a range of amazing and difference, of variety, which, you know, is the spice of life.

Gilmartin, who writes paranormal romance as Sean Thomas, believes as I do, that there is not just ONE archetype of romance reader or a handful of romance fiction protagonists. In real life, readers are a diverse bunch who are waiting and wiling to read books, particularly romance novels, that offer a more realistic representation of their lives. Diversity in fiction, television, and film means an accurate portrayal of ethnicity and culture, a greater representation of people of all colour,a greater representation of gay people, and, as I have in my romance novels Driving in Neutral, For Your Eyes Only, and A Basic Renovation, a greater representation of mature-aged people — that’s anyone over 40. Diversity means that the lead character, the protagonist, heroine and hero, whatever you want to call them, is the star of the show, not a supporting player or stereotype.

So how about spicing things up? How about we be honest in the media and give accurate and diverse representation of what it’s like to be human.








Yes, Your Granny Still Gets It On

Get this: Studies show mature-aged people STILL have sex!

ElderloveSee? Here’s proof from The University of Manchester and NatCen Social Research in a news release Love and intimacy in later life: study reveals active sex lives of over-70s. The study, titled Sexual Health and Well-being Among Older Men and Women in England: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, was published in the Journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, (2015) and dovetails nicely into Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior published in a S Issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine (2010). Both studies explore (no pun intended, but I’ll understand if you tee hee hee) sexual activity in to old age, the English study including sexually active people over the age of 80.

Yes, I said over 80, 8-0, EIGHTY.

The fact people remain sexually active well, well past the age of 40 isn’t news to me, after all, I have been looking at this kind of research for the past 10 years, but it may be news to you—and to countless younger people who are stunned that their parents and grandparents still get it on, partake in a little self-service, and think about sex on a regular basis. What may not be surprising is that the mature-aged population is frequently overlooked in sexual health research, which is why I include these studies in my “Mature” Content Stockpile.  elderlove3

And yet, what some of these reports also show may make you scratch your head and think, “well dang.” If you haven’t seen reports before on sex and the senior set, condom use is down and sexually transmitted diseases are on in the rise in the older population. As the New York Times ‘ Ezekiel J. Emanuel reported last year (2014), in the article Sex and the Single Senior, the STD (or STI) rates “among the Social Security generation that rivals what we imagine is happening in those “Animal House” fraternities.”

Gee, it looks like someone’s been sleeping in grandma’s bed — with grandma.


Emanuel, E. J. , (2014).  Sex and the Single Senior. New York Times

Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior Special Issue: Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University, The Journal of Sexual Medicine:  October, Volume 7, Issue Supplement s5, pp 243–373.

Lee, D. M., Nazroo, J., O’Connor, D. B., Blake, M., Pendelton, N. (2015).Sexual Health and Well-being Among Older Men and Women in England: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, Archives of Sexual Behavior.


Women of a ‘Certain Age’ Should Move to France

Previously on the “Mature” Content Stockpile, I’ve posted a number of links on ‘fashion and the older woman.’ Here’s another: Twiggy shows the fashion world the true beauty of older women from Barbara Scully in the 28 January 2015 Irish ExaminerScully features actress and iconic 60s glamourpuss Twiggy, the new face of L’Oreal.  The most interesting item in the article is the mention of France and how the French regard vivelafrancewomen over 40: “France, where older women have always been appreciated for their innate beauty, regardless of their age and whatever ravages it may have wrought on their faces.”

Curiously, Diana Holmes (2006) makes note of what I’ll call the ‘French Difference.’  In her book Romance and readership in twentieth-century France: love stories, Holmes indicates that in Harlequin-France produced romance novels the heroines are often in their forties, that is, the French Harlequin romance heroines are of a more mature age than American or UK romance heroines.

Further evidence of the ‘French Difference’ comes from Carpenter, Nathanson and Kim (2006) and their article Sex after 40? Gender, and sexual partnering in midlife. The trio observe that cross-cultural studies on ageing and sexism suggest older women in France lose less sexual desirability than their counterparts in the USA and Great Britain.

Finally, we come to Rose Weitz (2010) Changing the scripts: Mid-life women’s sexuality in contemporary U.S. film. Sexuality and Culture (14), 17-32, which investigates the ways that the middle-aged female body is often displayed on the film screen for laughs, rather than as an object of desire — except of course in France.  Weitz observed that French women of a certain age (at least in cinema) are allowed to be shown having, and enjoying, sex.

To this I say, Vive la France!


Carpenter, L., Nathanson, C. A., & Kim, Y.J. (2006).  Sex after 40? Gender, and sexual partnering in midlife. Journal of Aging Studies (20), 93-106.

Holmes, D (2006) Romance and readership in Twentieth-Century France: Love stories. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Weitz. R., (2010). Changing the scripts: Mid-life women’s sexuality in contemporary U.S. film. Sexuality and Culture (14), 17-32.

Building up the Stockpile

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

Hey, Kids!

I’ve updated the “Mature” Content Stockpile, thanks to everyone’s favourite librarian, Vassiliki Veros, reminding me of an article I read back in November.

Hit the “Mature” Content Stockpile up there on the menu bar or here to read the updates.

Remember: If you ever come across an article you think I could add to the stockpile, please give me a heads up!