Smashin’ Frivolous Myths

Let this serve as a reminder of what I do. A writer I know posted this on Facebook — it’s originally from The Best of Tumblr.


My thing is to smash the MYTH that’s decreed romance heroines should only ever be in their 20s since women over 40, don’t have sex anymore, and if they dare to knock boots it’s, as I heard one publishing executive say, “granny sex and who wants to read granny sex?”

Nope, I’m NOT going to let that publisher’s comment go. That there feeds right into the ageist and stereotyped bullshit I’m smashing. It also reminds me of something I read when I was doing my Master’s thesis. Now, I tend to keep EVERYTHING research related, but do you think I can find the reference about younger women populating romance while older women (that is women 40 and over) are kicked into Women’s Fiction? Do you think I can find the quote that says something like, ‘after 40, women are no longer interested in the frivolity of love?’

AS IF love is truly frivolous! It’s what everyone on the plant needs and wants and hopes for.

I’ve spent half the morning looking for the quote on my newest laptop. I have to assume it’s at home, still buried with all the masters stuff on my ancient (as in I had it in 2008) heavy, white MacBook with the dead battery and wonky touch pad. When I find the reference,  I’ll post it because the premise that so often makes others look down their noses at Romance fiction is that the genre deals with love, which, for some reason, suddenly becomes frivolous if the protagonist is female and the writer is female.  We all know when it’s a tragic tale of love, it’s literary, but if it’s written by a woman, and has an optimistic, positive ending where love triumphs, it’s not creative or literary, and if the protagonist is female, then the tale’s focus on love is not creative or literary, but frivolous.

AS IF love is frivolous.

Yes, I know. The impact of this post would be so much better if I could find the bloody, frivolous quote.

In the meantime, I’ll go back to writing True to Your Service, the third book in my In Service series about a middle-aged female butler and the spy who loves her. The first book, At Your Service and a companion short story, Your Sterling Service, are out now.

Just The Way It Is Not, Baby

The Rembrandts, the 90s musical sensation, had a big hit with I’ll Be There For You, the theme song from the TV show Friends. Perhaps not quite as well-known is their song That’s Just The Way It Is, Baby. After reading another article about the invisibility of middle aged women,  I have that song stuck in my head; it’s a persistent earworm that I am trying so very hard to kill.

Why is the lyric line “That’s just the way it is, baby” a block of concrete in my brain?

The Roundabout Theatre Company writes about the production of Skintight at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater/Laura Pels Theater in New York City. Skintight focuses on the repercussions of the cultural obsession with youth. The article itself discusses ageism and sexism, and being made to look ‘younger,’  being airbrushed to fit with the UNREAL world of the ideal image of beauty. The topic of middle aged women being I-N-V-I-S-I-B-L-E  is mentioned. The article, Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women, says:

“Because media has traditionally been created by and for men, and women face gender discrimination behind the camera as well as in front of it.”

And there, the title of the article, the Invisibility part and the “traditionally” bit in that quote, that’s the reason for the bag of cement that’s solidified the Rembrandts’ That’s Just The Way It Is, Baby.

Airbrushed models, twenty-something female characters paired with fifty-something men on screen, in fiction, in advertising is the norm.  Culture creates content, and content creates culture. The books you read, the movies you watch, the advertising you see matters; it shapes our identities, colours our view of the world. Girls and women seldom see realistic images of females in the media. Girls and women rarely see women over 40 portrayed in positive or realistic ways. Girls and women, boys and men are conditioned, socially programmed by the images they see–or don’t see. And what we don’t see often is middle aged women, except in stereotypes roles, sidelined roles, roles that diminish their value. That’s just the way it is, baby.

“While men gain status as they age, middle-aged (and older) women are considered less valuable than their younger counterparts. This devaluation effects how how women are hired, promoted, and paid; how they are (or aren’t) depicted in the media; and how they see themselves.”

We KNOW women are underrepresented in the media, but the underrepresentation hits middle aged and older women especially hard. Women over 40 fade away until they are invisible. That invisibility is something we’ve grown used to. It’s what we’ve been shown, what we come to expect, it threads its way through film and fiction. When we are presented with a female character outside the norm we are shocked. Some of us don’t realise we’ve blindly accepted the standard, or realise that the standard does NOT mirror reality becasue that’s just the way is is…

Are you humming the Rembrandts yet?

Sexism and diversity are issues vital to address within society, yet ageism is seldom highlighted as an issue that is sexist, and it is rarely included in discussions about diversity.  Ageism is insidious. The perceptions about ageing treat a natural part of life as a disease to be battled. This anti-ageing crap has an impact on men and women, but it has a greater impact on women. Older men remain visible, while women … cue the Rembrandts.

If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got. It’s beyond time to change what we’ve always done, to alter what we’ve blindly accepted to be just the way it is, baby, when the way it is isn’t true to life.  We change the standard, change what we are used to seeing by being genuine, by tearing down the sexist and ageist attitudes in the media, in film and publishing industries that persist shoving the usual younger-is-better images down the throat of society. Film and fiction must stop treating older women with disdain, stop overlooking middle-aged women –a sizable portion of the population– who have money to spend if they can see themselves portrayed as they really are. We do this by writing stories that better include an array of age.

I’m doing it with every book I write. My latest, At Your Service, has a middle aged female butler.  I put women over the age of 40 front and centre in narratives that portray them as whole as interesting, intelligent, capable, and attractive, sensual, sexual, and vibrant.  That’s just the way it is, baby.

Preorder links for At Your Service

Kindle

Kobo, Nook, and more 

 

 

 

Roundabout Theatre Company. (2018). Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women

https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Invisibility-of-Middle-Aged-Women-20180716

[Rhino].  (2015, June 15). The Rembrandts -That’s just the way it is, baby. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/k6KfhOpq2n8

 

 

The Image Problem of Granny Sex

Older women have an image problem, a negative one that has become normalized. What do I mean by normalized? Representations of women of a certain age have become ingrained in society and have resulted in stereotypes—you know the ones I mean, the acceptable roles; grandma, crabby crazy cat lady, old hag, peddler of adult diapers, retirement communities, denture creams. Women over 40 are seldom presented as attractive, intelligent, sensual, sexual, whole human beings the way men are. This needs to change.

Back in 1972, Susan Sontag wrote about the Double Standard of Aging, and nowhere is this more evident than in film and romance fiction. In movies and books, men get distinguished as they age, and they are allowed to age. Men at 45 are silver foxes, while women of the same age are merely ‘old.’ Women become mutton dressed as lamb, cougars, are shoved aside, or dropped into those acceptable stereotyped roles because, unlike men of the same age, women are now toothless hags who need denture cream.

What you see is what you’ve always seen, and it is what you accept because that is all you have ever been shown. You may not be aware that you buy into the negative image. After all, the imagery you’ve seen about adult diapers, creams that lift sagging skin, and late fortysomething Daniel Craig’s James Bond romancing twentysomething Lea Seydoux rather than fiftysomething Monica Bellucci, reinforces the information you see about women ‘getting old,’ and men being hot silver foxes. Who would blame you for believing the double standard of aging?

Although you’ve had plenty of movies and romance novels where the older guy silver fox gets the girl, and gets it on with the girl, how often have you seen a couple who are roughly the same age getting it on? Age equivalent sex suddenly becomes problematic—and it’s all because of the woman. Add a woman with sagging skin and she’s a grandma, and granny sex is gross because grandmas don’t have sex—even with silver foxy grandpas.

Give us silver fox smokin’ hot grandpas, but no grannies and their saggy this and that. I had a romance publisher tell me no one wanted to read granny sex, quite recently in fact. I was prepared to show this publisher evidence contrary to her statement (have a look at the Seasoned Romance Facebook page). Unfortunately, this was at a conference, others stepped in, and my opportunity to continue was lost. That moment indicated that, for some publishers, romantic interludes in romance fiction, like onscreen, is still considered to be a venue open only to young women.

For many publishers the status quo remains, silver foxy men, but no silver foxy women, and THIS is the root of the image problem. We get what we’ve always had because of this pervasive attitude that older women aren’t attractive or sexual. The image problem is a vicious circle, but I’m pushing for change. While I’ve posted about what to call this subgenre of romance (I’m still leaning toward just calling it Romance), this time I’m asking for reasons why you think portrayals of sexual women over 40 is so problematic. 

Is it really about sagging breasts and lined faces?

Is it really that romance is a tale for younger women, or readers who want to remember what it was like when they were younger?

Is sex after 40 just plain gross?

Or is it because we have so rarely been shown positive images of mature female sexuality?

The image problem boils down to a lack of representations showing us that women over 40 are attractive, intelligent, sensual, sexual, whole human beings. This means it’s time to make a NEW status quo, to normalize how life really is, and how women over 40 really are. If a publisher thinks granny’s saggy boobs are distasteful (not something a romance hero would care about), the solution is simple. Romance has various ‘heat’ levels. That is, an array of how intimate sexual activity is described–from a chaste kiss and closing the bedroom door, to graphic sex. There is a spectrum of readers, those who like the bedroom door closed and those who want explicit description. There is a spectrum of readers who want romance tales featuring women 40, 50, 60, and beyond, those who want granny to close the bedroom door, and those who want to see granny in all her glory.

Leave a comment about what you think is problematic. Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing my sexually active silver foxy heroines over 40.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good News: What’s Old Is New and Still Old But Maybe Not

There are lot of parallels between Hollywood and Romance fiction and the way women and ageing are portrayed. The way ageing in general is portrayed in the media is most troubling.  I’d like to point out that things are beginning to shift. There are a few TV shows that show female characters over 40 as hot, passionate, and strong  women (Hello, House of Cards and Claire Underwood). Carina Press was looking for tales of older silver foxy people, and now, with their August line, Entangled is as well!

GLORY BE TO THE MOTHER! This is brilliant, fabulous, exciting and I am all a-tingle with the call for mature, so all a tingle I almost don’t need coffee this morning.

Almost.

However –and you knew there’d be a however– both publishers make mention they are looking for romantic tales with mature leads mid- 30’s to mid 40s. See that there? They set an age limit on their calls for tales of old.

I know I oughta be grateful for the small step, and I am. Truly. This is THE MOST EXCITING THING that has happened in the world of romance publishing, but why the limit on age?

We know why. It’s about sex. It’s that idea that older people engaging in intercourse or–heaven help us–oral sex is plain ICKY.  Everyone knows no one over 55 has sex. Oh, wait the men do because they’re silver foxes, but the women don’t because they’re all saggy, have no libido or need for intimacy, their child-bearing days are far behind them, and their vaginas are so dry that sex is impossible, even with silver foxy men their own age.

Yeah, well, I call bullshit, and again, we come to that parallel between romance and Hollywood and their block with  sex and the older person. It comes down to what I call the Ick Factor.

I stopped posting things on the Mature Content Stockpile because so much of my ongoing research simply repeated  how ageism and the Ick Factor is rampant in Hollywood, in fiction, in the media,The stereotypes of age and women over 40 are so damned ingrained in society that Hollywood, publishing, and the media are scared of crossing from anti-ageing and into the sex zone. There’s some interesting work out that that examines the ageist attitudes about sex in Hollywood, such as, Gatling, Mills, & Lindsay’s Sex After 60? You’ve Got to Be Joking! Senior Sexuality in Comedy Film.

Abstract

Representations of the sexuality of older people have been largely absent in mainstream films until recent times. Cinema as an art form has historically denied or ignored the fact that humans are sexual beings their whole lives. In this paper, critical discourse analysis is used to examine four comedy films released between 1993 and 2012 that tackle the subject of ‘senior sexuality’. All four films are explicit in representing older people as sexual beings but, unlike films about young people’s sexual activity, the details of sexual encounters are left to viewers’ imaginations. Two of the films challenge the notion of a heteronormative old age.

Cool, innit? Here’s Ms Gatling’s PhD:  Representations of age and ageing in comedy film.

Ageism is a social injustice that impacts negatively every person who lives long enough. The aim of this thesis is to raise critical awareness of ageist messages in the representations of older people on-screen in the popular genre of comedy film.

It has been generally acknowledged that society is influenced, often unknowingly, by the mass media. Film, particularly comedy film, is a popular entertainment medium that is readily-accessible, both in cinemas and in DVD/Blu ray format. Going to the cinema, downloading a film or renting a DVD from a store are relatively cheap entertainment options for many people in the developed world. Film, therefore, has the potential to influence large numbers of viewers. Many films carry ageist messages, which are often undetected and unrecognised by audiences, yet these messages influence attitudes, behaviours and opinions. Negative representations of ageing occur in films made for children as well as those made for adults, which is even more unacceptable because children are particularly susceptible to influence, and can develop inaccurate views about age and ageing that may persist throughout their lives.

As a registered nurse I have an obligation to adhere to professional standards requiring me, and every nurse, to respect and promote the human rights of all members of society. Discrimination against clients on any grounds, including age, is unacceptable and contrary to the codes of practice and ethical standards that govern and guide the profession. Unfortunately, it has been shown that health professionals, including nurses, are not immune to developing ageist views. This can negatively affect the care given to older clients and can contribute to poor physical and mental health outcomes.

A dispositive analysis approach to critical discourse analysis was used to investigate the ways age and ageing are represented in a selection of comedy films. Dispositive analysis includes analysis of actions and objects related to the topic under scrutiny as well as analysis of the language used. This approach is extremely useful when examining representations of age and ageing in film because not all aspects of the discourse are linguistic. An example of this is the following scenario: a car is seen weaving erratically along the road with just the top of the driver’s old-fashioned hat visible through the front windscreen. It is commonly assumed that the driver is an elderly woman; no linguistic signposting is required.

Comedy, as a genre, was chosen because of its capacity to perpetuate ideas and representations that, in other contexts, would be unacceptable but, using the guise of humour, are rendered permissible. Highly-exaggerated and ridiculous situations and characterisations are expected in comedy films; harmful messages, therefore, about gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and age can be disseminated freely. Were such scenes and messages to be aired in the real world, repercussions might well occur in the form of public protest and legal action.

This thesis considers a selected corpus of films in three categories:

1. films about mid-life and the concept of mid-life crisis

2. films concerning older people’s age and ageing

3. films related to older people’s sexuality.

Films that featured aspects of middle age as well as old age were considered because middle age is identified as the time in the life span when ageing becomes a subject that attracts the attention of the comedy filmmakers. The films in the dataset were chosen on the basis of their audience reach and popularity and content, which had to contain material related to themes of age and ageing.

Findings confirmed that middle age is largely represented as a time of crisis, particularly for men. Analysis showed middle age to be characterised by stereotypical behaviours related to disappointment and dissatisfaction, including infidelity, restlessness, yearning for change, risk taking and attempts to ‘turn back the clock’ by cosmetic enhancements.

Representations of old age in recent comedy films were found to be much more diverse than those found in earlier manifestations. Tentative steps appear to have been taken towards a more realistic portrayal of old age, particularly in relation to sexuality. Representations of old age as a period of asexuality appear to be fading to be replaced with a discourse of ageing which includes older people who have some level of sexual activity or, at least, an interest in sexuality. The myth of a heteronormative old age is being challenged by the emergence of older characters that are openly gay.

The thesis concludes with a discussion about strategies that could be used to raise critical awareness about the messages disseminated in film. Specific strategies for use in the education of health professionals could reduce ageism in the future workforce of this vital sector of the community. Critical thinking skills could be sharpened by giving students the opportunity to evaluate representations of older people in film. Students could reflect on their own attitudes to ageing and consider how their practice could be improved by embracing an open-minded, non-judgemental approach to the care of all clients, irrespective of age.

Find  Gatling’s PhD here. https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/39247/

The work challenging ageist stereotypes is occurring on pay television (such as Grace and Frankie and House of Cards on Netflix), there have been a few films that venture into this territory, and the call for characters over 40 from Carina and Entangled show progress on the horizon. The toe is in the door.

I hope the whole foot follows.

As an aside,  Margaret Gatling’s  PhD research on older people and sexuality on screen took place about the same time I did my PhD. Our paths have yet to cross, despite how our work overlaps, and how we both live n Australia (it’s a big country, kids).

 

Gatling, M.,  Mills, J., & Lindsay, D. (2016)  Sex After 60? You’ve got to be joking! Senior sexuality in comedy film. Journal of Aging Studies 40, 23-28.

Gatling, Margaret Catherine (2013) Representations of age and ageing in comedy film.  https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/39247/.