I’m Getting Bored With This

You’ve heard it all before. It’s not new. It’s the same story, over and over. Nothing changes. There’s a gap in pay and a gap in age. Women get, as Marilyn Monroe says in Some Like It Hot, “The fuzzy end of the lollipop,” or, if you’re a woman over 40, no lollipop at all.

News items, like Anita Singh’s article in  The Independent,  Hollywood Gender Pay Gap Laid Bare as Rich list of Stars is Filled by Men, highlight the gender pay gap that exists between male and female stars in Hollywood, as well as the rampant ageism toward older actresses.

The pay gap can be attributed to the dominance of action blockbusters and to a dearth of opportunities for older women. In the list of top 10 actresses, the oldest woman is Julia Roberts (49). All but three of the male top 10 are aged 50 or over.

No big surprise there. While I applaud the reporting of the ongoing disparity, this news is now tedious and commonplace. Story after story indicates that, despite all the reporting of the gap, nothing has changed, that there’s still a “dearth of opportunities for older women,” and it is boring. So very boring. We know about the disparity.

Some of us are trying to alter the pay gap and and the age gap. We are telling stories about women of a certain age, in case Hollywood and the Romance fiction industry haven’t noticed. Writers like me are trying to be proactive and smart. We SEE the audience the industry doesn’t. We want  to ensure that both men and women are afforded the same opportunity to have a lollipop that isn’t fuzzy–or a just a damned lollipop.

 

 

Singh, A. (2017). Hollywood gender pay gap laid bare as rich list of stars is filled by men. The Independent. 24 August. http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/hollywood-gender-pay-gap-laid-bare-as-rich-list-of-stars-is-filled-by-men-36060056.html .

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling All Readers: What Do We Call It and How Do We Do it?

For years, I’ve been writing for an overlooked audience. Now, finally, I’m writing for a slowly emerging market, one a few publishers are, after years of ignoring, only just beginning to cater to. Despite the presence of a target audience, that is readers over 40,  two stumbling blocks remain when it comes to marketing romance fiction to readers over 40: WHAT to call this subgene, and HOW to market romance with older couples.

The WHAT: The front-running suggestions for this romance subgenre (Thank you, Laura Boon Russell for reminding me to mention that this is a subgenre), from those of us who write romance fiction with lead characters over 40, have been Adult Contemporary Romance, Seasoned Romance, Mature Romance (MatRom), and Silver Romance. The new category line from Entangled is called August, which is a charming moniker, but the line is limited to stories of characters 35-45. Now, here’s where you come in. Do you have any ideas of WHAT to call romance fiction with both lead characters who are over 40?

If you do, leave a comment. Better still leave a comment about the search terms you use when you go looking for romance tales where both characters have been around the block a time or two? You as a reader have the power to pick the name that REALLY sticks.

Groovy, say we come up with a consensus on a name for this subgenre, for Romance of a Certain Age, Granny Lit or Hag Lit, (Can we agree now NOT use any of those?), but what about the HOW?

HOW to market these books is fraught with the same issues Hollywood has when it comes to marketing any film featuring a woman over 40 as the lead. Artwork and advertising, which in the publishing world means book covers, can be tricky for a tale with younger leads. A book cover, like a movie poster, is supposed to be shorthand for the story presented. Marketing departments for Romance fiction have always found a way to work around finding cover art for troublesome novel, usually steering clear of the stereotypical clinch cover in favour of something benign, such as a pair of shoes, a dog, an empty Adirondack chair sitting on a beach. In Hollywood, the usual thinking is:

  1. If the older woman appears on the advertising, be sure the image includes an object that obscures her age, such as a coffee cup in front of her face;
  2. If the older woman appears on the movie poster, ensure only a small percentage of her body is shown, no full body shots;
  3. Reduce the size of the woman’s image, place her in the background in a setting, such as on a dock, on a boat, behind Bruce Willis or Morgan Freeman. Seriously. Go look at this poster for Red, right now.

Obviously, in fiction and film there’s a similar workaround showing the ageing body, which is primarily horrifying because ageing and the bodies of older people are continually presented as ugly and something to fear. These images lead to an unconscious bias against older people, particularly older women, and that bias keeps women from appearing roles other than mother, granny, harpy, crone, or keeps them from appearing at all. ON book covers and movie posters.

The chief antidote to treating ageing as a disease is to present it as normal, as everyday, but creating a new standard and breaking down pervasive image stereotypes of age—or any stereotype—takes time. People need to ‘get used to’ something new. I understand starting small, put the aged female face behind that coffee cup a few times, or reduce the size of Mary-Lousie Parker and Helen Mirren on the poster for Red. Use those benign beach-front images that suggest peace, use the dog, the shoes. Then, slowly, because, people need time to adjust to change, get rid of the coffee cup, enlarge the size of the woman, move her to the foreground, right beside the acceptable male silver fox in that Adult Contemporary-Seasoned-Mature-Silver-August Romance.

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.  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/critic-s-notebook-women-40-tv-s-feminism-is-flawed-1012782 

Introduction to an Old Character

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

The Pink Heart Society’s May newsletter discusses romance fiction with older heroines, and asks, as I do, if the romance genre thinks love has an age limit. The newsletter features interviews with Dee Ernst, Amanda Ward, Liz Flaherty, Morgan Malone and the Pink Heart Society’s (PHS) editor, Trish Wylie—all romance authors who place women of certain age front and centre of romance. It’s exciting to know I am not alone in being passionate in my desire to stamp out ageism and sexism.

Why is it exciting?

An Introduction (for you newbies)

Hi, I’m Sandra Antonelli. I write older romance heroines—silver foxy women over 40 as the lead characters, not as secondary characters, and not as protagonists in Women’s Fiction, but as the romantic leads. I represent this demographic of women and demographic of romance readers who want female heroines with all my heart, and I am passionate about continuing to do so.

If this is your first time reading one of my posts, and you don’t know, mature-aged romance heroines are my soapbox. Check out the Mature Content Stockpile tab for just how much soapboxing I do. There are many reports in the media discussing sexism and ageism in Hollywood, but there’s very little media dialogue on ageism and sexism in romance fiction. Strange, because there is such a parallel in the way women of a certain age are pigeon-holed in stereotyped roles (cougar, granny, witch, crazy cat lady) or rendered nearly invisible in both forms of entertainment. This really chaps my hide.

Years ago, before Harlequin’s NEXT line, which touted stories about women with a little more life experience, I went looking for older romance heroines and found next to nothing. So, I decided to write my own, thinking the world would catch up. I kept writing older protagonists in romance, and, like Liz Flaherty mentions in the PHS newsletter, I got curious about why there were only a handful to be found. I did a master’s degree and then a PhD on the subject to try to get to the core. The masters uncovered the demographic of reader looking for older romance heroines, the PhD examined why the demographic is overlooked. And in the mix of all that academic stuff, I kept on writing romance with older heroines AND heroes because no way was I going to be like Hollywood and let the hero be an older Bruce Willis-type while the heroine was 25 to 35-something. My books were published by Escape, a division of Harlequin Enterprises in ebook format—because ebooks are a little more open to taking a chance on something with a niche market, or outside the norm.

I have four books that sit outside the romance heroine age norm: A Basic Renovation, For Your Eyes Only, Driving in Neutral, and Next to You, as well as short stories Your Sterling Service, (which you can read for free here) and Niagara Falls at Café Nixin the anthology It All Happened at Café Nix. I have more on the way. You can find links to all my books here.

Knowing that there are other books outside the norm besides my own, that I’m not the only one writing older romance heroines, that Dee Ernst, Amanda Ward, Liz Flaherty, Morgan Malone, Karen Booth, Josie Kerr, Maggie Wells, Natasha Moore, and the Seasoned Romance Facebook page with over 600 members of authors (and readers) are also writing heroines with life experience and–gasp–wrinkles shows that older equals OH HELL YES!

Can You Predict the Future?

Yeah, you guessed it! I’ll write romance, blog, tweet, post on Facebook, and do academic-type stuff on women of a certain age in romance, and I’ll keep on championing  until we’re not a stereotype of age, a niche market, or a trend.

I applaud you ballsy authors who, like me, want to show the entire world, not just the romance world or Hollywood, that foxy doesn’t end at forty.

April with a touch of May (via Shallowreader

My hat’s off to the librarian who swears like an dinky-di Australian and talks about female comedians dropping the balls when it comes to being funny, being crass, and being an ageist stereotype of ‘what not to wear.’

Vassiliki Veros and I met and bonded on Twitter, before we met IRL. I love her. She’s a PhD candidate and, well, a librarian who reads a lot and loves, loves, LOVES books and reading.

She’s got it in her head that heroes would rive hatchbacks–by choice, but I don’t hold that against her. In this post she talks about deselecting books in the library (I’ll let you read her post to find out what that means), being in a reading slump–which happens to everyone I know who has done a PhD, myself included–presenting a paper at the upcoming  Genre Worlds conference, going to Canada & the USA  for the Romance Readers Meetup, where she’ll meet MORE acepants twitter folk (I’m totally jealous), gives an overview of what she is managing to read, gives us a cool pic of herself wearing AND ROCKIN’ pigtails with a pussy hat, before she gets down to a review of seeing comedians bitch about women of a certain age wearing pigtails.

Check out Vassiliki’s Shallowreader blog post.

Shallowreader

I just realised that it has been a while since I wrote in my own shallows so I am going to use April’s Bingo sheet and SuperWendy’s super convenient TBR challenge topic of “Something Different” to describe my last 2 months of life as well as my reading:

Now (contemporary)

I have been incredibly busy. After a 12 month break, I am now teaching Digital Literacies at my uni’s pathway college. The content is really engaging and it is proving to be quite a different teaching space to what I am used to.

Dark Apollo

I continue to work twice a week at a public library in a ‘burb far far far away from my home. I am in awe of the excellent study culture in the community I work for. It is such a buzz seeing youth so deeply engaged in their studies. I am also a deselector for my…

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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/.