Discrimination, Diversity, Ageism, and Romance Fiction

AthenaIf you haven’t noticed, discrimination against older women is now a ‘thing,’ a topic of ongoing discussion –thanks to Hollywood, Russell Crowe (we’re getting a lot of mileage from you, Rusty), the fashion industry, and the BBC, but where’s the discourse on mature-aged women in the world of publishing fiction, particularly genre fiction?

Yes, romance fiction. I am looking right at you.

The 19 January 2015 Daily Mail UK has Sandra Howard suggesting that Selfridges (A UK department store) ‘Bright Old Things’ ad campaign is not a “nod to the older generation” or even directed to an older generation, but more of a tactic to sell clothes to the young.

If you missed it, on 16 January 2015, Holly Watt at The Telegraph reported that the BBC was shown to have an “informal policy” of discriminating against older women, and that this “imbalance” in the media shaped “social norms…” While similarly aged male counterparts have advanced or remained as reporters, presenters, and experts, older women have been under-represented as broadcasters. This lack of representation of older women feeds the cult of youth that privileges younger women, and renders older women as invisible, which is often something mature-aged women feel is their reality.

All this ‘discussion of age’ serves to highlight the discussion of diversity, which is another current hot issue. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AKA the Academy Awards) have been accused of ‘whitewashing’ the 2015 Oscar nominations. As The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Fritz reports, from 16 January 2015. Oscar Nominations Stir Up Controversy for being the least ethnic and racially diverse group of nominees in something like 17 years.

I want the inclusion of ethnicity, race, sexuality, religion, and gender in film, TV, and fiction, particularly romance fiction. That is why this 16 January 2015 article in The Guardian is good: The Six Hottest African Romance Novels for 2015. Yes, that’s African, not ‘African American.’ Ankara Press is “bringing African romance fiction into the bedrooms, offices and hearts of women the world over.” Ethnic diversity and colour diversity. Real life romance has no colour, but if you look at romance fiction you’ll discover how very white most of it is.

HeraThere is one thing that concerns me in the conversations on age discrimination and diversity. Although it is wonderful that ageism and the lack of diversity in the media is topical, age is seldom included in the discussion of diversity of fiction and genre fiction. There is no discussion of the discrimination against mature-aged women in publishing. That is, there is no discourse regarding the representation of women of age in genre fiction, particularly with how they are seldom or not at all represented in romance fiction.





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 “Mature” Content Stockpile

The “Mature” Content Stockpile

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

The PhD scholar part of Sandra Antonelli aims to bring you “Mature” news links, commentary, and discussion about “Mature Women” in romance fiction, and the portrayal of “Older” or lack thereof in all forms of the media

9 January 2015: Jenna Goode and Sam Creighton of The Daily Mail Australia bring us further observations on Russell Crowe’s foot-in-mouth comments in the Australian Women’s Weekly regarding older actresses ‘needing to act their age’ with Jessica Chastain slams Russell Crowe for comments on older actresses needing to act their age saying he has ‘foot in mouth’ as Meryl Streep defends his statement. Chastain (37) said, “I think there are some incredible actresses in their 50’s and 60’s that are not getting opportunities in films. And for someone to say there are plenty of roles for women that age – they’re not going to the movies enough.” However, Rusty gets some support from Meryl Streep. Sort of.

Streep made this statement: “I agree with him, that it’s good to live in the place that you are.” See? It’s sort of support because Streep also said that she “…had a political reaction against the concept of witches, of old women being demonised and age being this horrifying scary thing.”

Seems to me that Streep was being diplomatic.


7 January 2015: In her piece in the New York Times Style section, Fashion Two Faced Relationship With Age, Vanessa Freeman tells us about “Silver Economy” Trend in fashion and marketing, how fashion house ad campaigns now feature recognisable ‘silver’ celebrities such as Julia Roberts, who’s a whopping 47. However, there are also campaigns with Charlotte Rampling, who’s 68  I last saw her on Dexter), The amazing, 69 year-old, I-wanna-be-her Helen Mirren, and Diane Keaton, also 69.  Freeman discusses Selfridges’ department store windows ‘Bright Old Things,’ the “the fashion world’s contradictory relationship with the concept of age,” and makes this fabulous final statement, “You can’t have your consumers and not cater to them, too.”

Well Duh.

Perhaps Hollywood, publishers, and the cult of youth might take more notice. Or some notice.

5 January 2015: Time online’s Eliana Dockterman talks about 22 upcoming movies in 2015 that feature women, saying, “studios are finally beginning to recognize that making movies that tell women’s stories and draw female audiences is just a good business decision.”

It’s kind of like publishing houses in Australia finally waking up to the fact that romance fiction brings in big bucks. Most of the 22 movies feature young women in roles, but, OH, MY GOD RENEE RUSSO IS BACK in The Intern! A huge thank you to Director Nancy Myers, who knows if it attracts the silver, it’ll also attract the gold.  22 Movies Featuring Women We’re Excited to See in 2015

5 January 2015: Russell Crowe sticks his foot in his mouth in the Australian Women’s Weekly (see below) saying older actresses need to quit trying to play the ingenue and “be prepared to accept that there are stages in life,” which, you know, would be great if there WERE roles that allowed for that. Amy Gray sums up Crowe’s folly nicely with her piece from Junkee Here’s Everything Russell Crowe Got Wrong About Women In Film”

1 January 2015: The New York Times‘ Cara Buckley interviews the awesome and very real Patricia Arquette, who says “I gotta get old, people, do you understand?” she continued. “I need space to grow and get old and be a human being. I don’t want to be trapped in your ingénue bubble. And I don’t agree with it either, by the way.”  Unashamedly Maturing Into Her Role Patricia Arquette, Born for ‘Boyhood’

22 December 2014: The Australian Women’s Weekly with Caroline Overington interviews Russell ‘Rusty’ Crowe, the big meathead: Russell Crowe: “Hollywood actresses need to act their age.”

21 December, 2014: Isabella Rossellini gives her two cents on ageism in Hollywood, to the Telegraph online, “I really don’t work anymore as an actress,” she tells me, with a merry shrug of resignation. “I am old, and there are no roles for older people.” Read more: Isabella Rossellini interview: on ageism in Hollywood and the fashion industry

20 December, 2014: Michael Hodges in The Mail Online brings us two smart actresses  Anna Chancellor and Miranda Richardson talk sex and middle aged women, and say television thinks middle aged women are dull and sexless.

4 December, 2014: Best most recent news of age appropriate hotness: James Bond, a 50 year-old fictional character finally gets a an age appropriate 50 year-old female co-star in Monica Bellucci What can I say here except OH, YEAH MAMA! And gee, I really better get Cleaning House finished in the new few weeks…

6 November 2014: Betsy Sharkey with the LA Times reviews Shirley MacCLaine and Christopher Plummer in Elsa and Fred, a romance featuring two leading characters in late life. Romance proves Ageless in Elsa & Fred. As I argue in my PhD, that the central point of a romance, of any romance, is the romance, the development of the relationship, not the age of the characters, which is what Sharkey notes. Age itself is not a character. Despite their ‘advanced chronological age,’ Elsa and Fred could be the story of any 20 or 50 year-old, as Elsa & Fred have the same highs and lows,  romantic moments, and fantasies come to life that any couple falling in love might experience.

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.