Ageism, Romance, and You: A Sliding Scale?

hollywoodJust when I think Hollywood is starting to ‘get it’ I come across a bone-headed article that proves otherwise. When in being considered for the role of ‘the wife” in The Wolf of Wall St, Olivia Wilde, who was 28 at the time, was deemed to be ‘too old.’ A 28 year-old actress was considered too advanced her years to play that ol’ standard role of ‘the wife to a nearly 40 year-old actor. Hooray for sexism. Hooray for Ageism.

Hollywood Old is now 28.

We’re all aware of Hollywood Old, but, as, I keep observing in the industry, there’s also Romance Fiction Old. While Hollywood Old develops at 28, in romance fiction the continuum of old appears to be on some kind of sliding scale. Honest, there is a sliding scale of old.

I belong to a Facebook group that champions ‘older’ heroines in romance fiction. This isslide-rule a vibrant group started by an author who, like me, is weary of the idea that reaching a certain age means women are invisible, heartless, and dead below the waist. The group, Seasoned Romance (fab name, innit?) consists of authors and readers who want to challenge the status quo of Hollywood Old and Romance Fiction Old. The thing is within this group of like-minded challengers the sliding scale of old is obvious. What is considered ‘mature’ shifts. There are members who think that 35 is mature. There are members (like me) who think that any age over 40 is the real mature, particularly when I have no trouble finding a 35 year-old heroine in romance, but struggle to when it comes to finding women 40 and beyond depicted as leads in romance fiction.

While mid-twenties remains the age norm for a romance heroine, there are heroines pushing 40—but few romance heroines have crossed that magical number that leads to invisibility. The 40-something heroine is becoming more popular (YAY!), more authors are writing heroines who have hit 40, or are just over 40, yet those books are not easy to find, which is why I have my list of Contemporary Romance Older Couples and keep adding to it.

Have you forgotten about my BOOK LIST? Keep your suggestions for the list coming, as many of you have—but please, no Women’s Fiction. I want romance, where the love story is central and the leads are both over 40.

Just spit-balling, here, but I suspect this sliding scale may be related to the age of the writer/reader. The variation is part of looking at age through the eyes of youth—when you’re 16 anyone 30 is ‘old’, and 30 year olds having sex is so gross, but once you reach 30, you wonder how you ever thought 30 was old because it’s 50 that is really old, and people in their 50s don’t have sex because they’re almost dead, and that’s so gross, and so forth… Hello ageism.

skeletalWhat do you think? The sliding scale; I’m curious to find out if there is a generally accepted idea of ‘old’ in romance fiction. Do you set a limit to what is ‘old’ depending on how old you are, or do you, like me, think that people, women fall in love at all ages, and those stories deserve to be told? If romance publishing is discussing diversity across the board, there needs to be dialogue regarding sexism and ageism in romance fiction, doesn’t there?

You may say I’m simply bellyaching. You may say, Look, Sandra, it’s happening. Sally Field is 69 and playing a romantic lead in Hello, My Name is Doris. That’s way, way , way past Hollywood Old! Be grateful Hollywood said yes to a 69 year-old actress having a younger man love as her interest.

Yes, I’m grateful that an amazing actress other than Meryl Streep is playing a woman of a certain age.

Yeah, kudos for Sally being THE OVER 40 LEAD! I love Sally and she needs a hell of a lot more roles. However, did Doris have to be an ageist stereotype, did she have to be just another version of kooky older lady? Okay, okay. I’ll leave that for another time.

But COME ON.