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/.

A Little Help From My Romance Reading Friends

Antonelli coverThe current buzzword is diversity. There’s been discussion about the diversity of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and age discrimination in Hollywood. There’s been discussion regarding diversity in romance fiction as well. In an open letter to its members, the Romance Writers of America has addressed the importance of the romance industry being diverse and inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities.

Kudos to the RWA and thanks for coming to the party. Just one thing with your diverse list. You forgot to be inclusive of age. 

Are you over 40 and feeling invisible in romance? Don’t. Someone’s thinking about you.****

You all know how I have books and short stories published and out there.

You know how all my books and short stories all feature heroines and heroes over 40.

You know how I blog regularly about grown ups in romance and run something I call the ‘Mature Content Stockpile‘ on this website. I need to add to that stockpile, and I’m looking to YOU THE READER for help because AGE DIVERSITY MATTERS! 

I have been wanting to collect a list of romance novels that feature ‘mature’ ROMANCE Heroines and Heroes, specifically Heroines and Heroes over 40 in CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE. This is because of how contemporary society views older women, places them in stereotypes roles, or renders them invisible

Let me be clear: I am not interested in couples under 40. I am not interested in couples who are secondary characters. I want characters who are IN their forties, fifties, or beyond, characters who are the LEADS! Nix I am not interested in ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘romantic elements.’ I am looking for romance, where the love story is the focus of the novel, rather than a mere piece of the tale. I want HEA or HFN.

The All About Romance website has a list of Older Couples books that needs updating.  I modified the AAR list and included it my PhD research. The AAR list got me started, and includes novels where characters over 40 appear as secondary characters, which I include on my booklist because those secondary romance (and short stories that feature an older couple), form a foundation where older has been ‘acceptable’ as a side tale, however, I will not include secondary romance from this point on. There is a list on Goodreads Best older hero AND older heroine romance books (the main couple has to be over 40!)  and it is FAB, but it does include books some consider Romance as there is no happy resolution or Happily For Now, e.g. Kazuo Ishiguru’s Remains of the Day (a book I love SO HARD).

Allow me to reiterate. For the purposes of continuing my book list, I am only interested in Contemporary romance novels where the leads are over 40.  I include my list at the bottom of this post.

If ANYONE can give me more examples of ROMANCE FICTION that feature heroines and heroes over 40, please let me know by leaving a comment on this post! 

****EXCITING NOTE! As of May 4 2017, Entangled has put out a call for romance fiction WITH LEADS WHO ARE OLDER!

Contemporary romance Older Couples (AAR Original is here)

Forty-Something

A Basic Renovation (2013) by Sandra Antonelli

For Your Eyes Only (2013) by Sandra Antonelli

Driving in Neutral (2014) by Sandra Antonelli

Next to You (2016) by Sandra Antonelli

Dissident (2015) by Cecilia London  (Book 1 the Bellator Saga; characters age to mid 50s)

Conscience (2015) by Cecilia London (Bellator Saga 2)

Sojourn (2015) by Cecilia London (Bellator 3)

Phoenix (2016) by Cecilia London (Bellator 4)

Rhapsody (201) by Cecilia London (Bellator 5)

Triumph (2017) By Cecilia London (Bellator 6)

Out of Control (2002) by Suzanne Brockmann (secondary romance)

Breaking Point (2005) by Suzanne Brockmann (secondary romance)

Hot Dish (2006) by Connie Brockway

For Auld Lang Syne (1991) by Pamela Browning

Eve’s Wedding Knight (1999) by Kathleen Creighton

I’m Your Man (2007) by Susan Crosby

Anyone But You (1996) by Jennifer Crusie

Fast Women (2001) by Jennifer Crusie

Full Bloom (1994) by Stacey Dennis

Fanning the Flames (2015)  byVictoria Dahl (short story in Flirting with Disaster)

Talk Me Down ( 2011) by Victoria Dahl

There Is a Season (1999) by Margot Early

Comfort and Joy in Santa’s Little Helpers (1995) by Patricia Gardner Evans

Luring Lucy in Hot and Bothered (2001) by Lori Foster

Fall from Grace (2007) by Kristi Gold

The Star King (2000) by Susan Grant

Hot Wheels and High Heels (2007) by Jane Graves

Contracted: Corporate Wife (2005) by Jessica Hart

Marriage Reunited (2006) by Jessica Hart

Love for the Matron (1962) by Elizabeth Houghton

Only Yesterday (1989) by Syrell Rogovin Leahy

Cold Tea on a Hot Day (2001) by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Love in a Small Town (1997) by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Stitch in Snow (1984) by Anne McCaffrey

Suburban Renewal (2004) by Pamela Morsi

The Fourth Wall (1979) by Barbara Paul

Down in New Orleans (1996) by Heather Graham Pozzessere

No More Wasted Time (2014) by Beverly Preston

Black Rose (2005) by Nora Roberts

A Piece of Heaven (2003) by Barbara Samuel

Count on Me (2001) by Kathryn Shay

Promises to Keep (2002) by Kathryn Shay

Sweet Hush (2003) by Deborah Smith

Bygones (1992) by LaVyrle Spencer

The Hellion (1989) by LaVyrle Spencer

Home Song (1995) by LaVyrle Spencer

Nerd in Shining Armor (2003) by Vicki Lewis Thompson (secondary romance)

One Fine Day (1994) by Theresa Weir

Snowfall at Willow Creek (2010) by Susan Wiggs

 

Fifty-Something

At Your Service (2018) by Sandra Antonelli

Forever In Your Service (2019) by Sandra Antonelli

For Your Eyes Only (2014) by Sandra Antonelli

Next to You (2016) By Sandra Antonelli

The Long Way Home (2010) by Jean Brashear

A New Lu (2005) by Laura Castoro

Bachelor’s Puzzle (1992) by Ginger Chambers

French Twist (1998) by Margot Dalton

Remember Love (1992) by Stacey Dennis

Return to Love (1993) by Martha Gross

Hot Blood (1996) by Charlotte Lamb

Heaven, Texas (1995) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

This Heart of Mine (2001) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

Natural Born Charmer (2007) By Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

Familiar Stranger (2001) by Sharon Sala

The Best Medicine (1993) by Janet Lane Walters

Tomorrow’s Promise (1992) by Clara Wimberly

The Vow (2008) by Rebecca Winters

The Duke of Olympia Meets (2016) His Match by Juliana Gray (he’s 74 she’s 50+)

Sixty-Something

Julie and Romeo (2000) by Jeanne Ray

Eleanor and Abel (2003) by Annette Sanford

Trust Me on This (1997) by Jennifer Crusie (secondary romance)

Seventy-something

Late Fall (2016) by Noelle Adams

The Duke of Olympia Meets (2016) His Match by Juliana Gray

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.