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A complaint about sex and ageism in fiction (& tangentially Hollywood)
Bella
ellen_datlow
Look, I'm not particularly articulate about cultural criticism so I rarely indulge in it. But once in a while I'll come across something I read that bugs me as a reader (not an editor) and so I feel compelled to rant.

I'm over 60 years old and I realize that I'm lucky as I've got very few wrinkles and my hair is still mostly dark brown and I don't color it. I have nothing to thank but genetics. However, I know I am not alone, so I get really tired of reading/seeing women over a certain age (generally over 50) described as wrinkled feeble unattractive hags wearing heavy make up to "cover furrows."

Most of the 60 year old women I know are in pretty good shape, are active, and look good. No, they're no longer the 20 or 30 year old knockouts they used to be but so fucking what? I'm not talking about those who feel the need to use botox and plastic surgery to keep themselves in the game (whatever the hell that is).

I do understand why women in Hollywood feel obliged to use artificial means to maintain a false youthful look despite the fact that it actually destroys their ability to be great actresses because it constricts the movement of their faces, something crucial to their craft (I'm talking to you Joan Allen--I didn't recognize her in one of the Bourne movies until I saw her name in the credits).

Culture both reflects reality but it also helps create it. I have no control over what Hollywood does but I do have some say in the literary world.

So I'll start right here right now. Male writers are not the only offenders. Female writers are too. Think before you produce your stereotypical "elderly woman" stereotype. Older women come in all shapes and sizes. They are sometimes feeble and others are active and good-looking at 100 years old (yes). The older woman stereotype is as offensive as the blonde bimbo, the gorgeous male stud (with no brains), add your own.

Go out and create real characters please. Help change the world. You as a writer can actually help.

And I will shut up now.

Having just reached 50, I have to agree with you here. Actresses my age are being stuck with 'cougar' roles, when they're not being stuck with minor mother roles. Same goes for characters in books. I'd like to see or read something about a woman my age who is not a stereotype, please.
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How many females above age 35, say, ever are in a relationship with a male cop or detective(who are usually in their broken down 50s or even 60s) in a crime novel or thriller?
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BRAVA! I hope you never feel you need to "shut up now"--the world needs rants like these, and women like you!
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THanks Rose. There's a bit of a discussion going on at my fb page.(Although it always moves from text to movies--nothing to do. topic drift, I know :-)
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I hear you, Sister.

Some years ago, John Irving released a collection of his early short stories (several of them previously unpublished). In one of these was a female protagonist of 50 (he wrote the story in his mid-twenties). In the postscript to the story in the collection, Irving remarked that 25-year-olds have a pretty warped idea of what it's like to be 50, and that, if he were writing the same story "now" (when Irving was about 50 himself), the character's rigidity and indolence would make her "at least 100."
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Good for him that he realized that, albeit belatedly.
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You've just reminded me about an asshole on a plane about 20 years ago who I could tell was younger than I but assumed he was older--he was utterly patronizing. I think I just sort of brushed him off and avoided making conversation.

It's strange how assuming a person's age makes one behave differently toward her/him (?) not sure if it's the same with males.
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I read somewhere recently that despite all the efforts made and, perhaps more importantly, all the progress we *think* we have made in feminist terms in the past 3-4 decades, female body image is actually worse now than ever before. Unrealistic expectations for women start at such an early age, and apparently are having a greater toll, and continue on for our whole lifetime. Yes, when has Harrison Ford ever been given a hard time for his 'distinguished' look. Rant away, rant away.
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Yeah. It's depressing.
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You're welcome.
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I agree! If/when I write about older women, I think I will look to the women in my biking club as examples. They are amazing. (One of them recently turned sixty, and has just returned from a cycling tour of 1200km 0_0 ).
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What springs to my mind are the older members, both male and female, of my local rock-climbing gym. Watching them scale 5.12s like it ain't no thing, while I'm still floundering about on anything with a slight inclination toward overhang.

And then there's a dear friend of the family who's either in her 70s or rapidly approaching them. She runs marathons. She is fantastic.
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Great post! This is something I always end up thinking about whenever I watch a film with Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren or Judi Dench - it's like, can we not have MORE stories where one or all of them get to be awesome?

Two of my current POV characters (for two different books) are older women: one is human, in her 50s and an interdimensional traveler; the other is in her middle hundreds, the leader of a major magical/political institution, a mage and a martial artist. And seriously, they are SO MUCH FUN TO WRITE! I've got a ways to go yet before I'm in that age bracket, but there's something gloriously powerful and refreshing about writing women who have been around long enough to be competent, knowledgeable and awesome, and who can just roll their eyes at the antics of everyone younger.
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Beth Bernobich's Tor.com story did a great version of older female-younger partner - and the illustrations really showed it, too. One of my favourite stories on that site.
http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/09/river-of-souls
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What did you think of the characters in John Lindqvist's Harbour? I found Anna-Gretta quite refreshing (I think that was her name). But the fact I found her refreshing highlights your point, really, about the usual representation.

Ray Cluley
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Hi Ray, I'm only about a third of the way through the book so far, so don't know yet. (It might be Anna-Graeta)
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One of the things I love about bellydance is that the movement style feels so organic, and we're not over the hill at 29. Generally Middle Eastern Dance enthusiasts revere dancers in their 60's and 70's because they "really have something to dance about."

I adore Princess Farhana, who is a vivacious bellydance and burlesque performer in her 50's. http://www.princessfarhana.com/ I think it's her verve and inner fire that makes her so amazing. I took a workshop with her a few years ago, and I told a friend: "I never want to be 47 the way my mom was 47, but I would love it the way she does it."

"I'd like to be 32 the way she's 47," he said.

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Although there seems to be a trend among older bellydancers, at least in New Hampshire, to transition to Hula once they hit their 70s. Me, I'm sticking with bellydance until my knees completely crap out!
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that it's so much easier for readers to imagine the older man/younger woman attraction than vis versa? Admittedly, throughout my life, I've always been attracted to older men, rather than men my age or younger. & there's that "bad boy" hang up so many of us have, as well as the awful urge to "fix" someone who is broken. So perhaps the PYT+SOB PI is not such a stretch. The men are not ADMIRABLE, but they're interesting, & they're a CHALLENGE. As one young friend admitted to me once, when faced with a decision between a nice, stable, & bright young man her age, & an older, admittedly talented, & thoroughly selfish asshole who was then quite the heartthrob in our circle "It's the thrill of making a Han Solo CARE." So perhaps the folks who are writing these things DO have a bit of insight, at least for younger, insecure women who can indeed be attracted to the dangerous type, however dysfunctional or roadworn.

Unfortunately, the reverse never seems to be true. It is the rare young man who seems to feel the thrill & challenge of winning an older woman, however good looking. I dunno, maybe with superior genes & an enviable position you get a lot more come-ons than I do, but for the last 6 years ago, I've been feeling more & more invisible, except (again) to older men. It's true that writers should use their imaginations, & I AM playing devil's advocate a bit here, but what if our young writers are writing what they know from their own tastes & those of their friends- that older women simply AREN'T attractive to them? No excuse, of course, for older writers who should know better, or for presenting all older female characters as wrinkled hags desperate for attention. Just wondering how much the stereotypes are a reflection of what we WANT & how much of what we SEE.

Edited at 2011-09-05 01:10 pm (UTC)
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Re: I wonder why it is...

I think a lot of it has to do with hundreds and hundreds of years of most women having to depend on men for status and material security. When that's the case, older, more established men are going to be considered attractive by younger women, even on a subconscious level.

I think that's changing/going to change. When I was young, I was the only girl I knew who was attracted to significantly older men, and now that I myself am older, making my own money, and financially successful...let's just say that the appeal of youthful-looking skin and a full head of hair on a young man is making itself clear to me.
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Ellen, this is awesome. (And you are awesome, but that goes without saying.)

I was thinking about how in some other cultures (at least, where Western values haven't taken over), older people are still respected, so getting old isn't considered this horrible thing to be avoided at all costs. I wish we lived like that here.
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Thank you Shveta.

Same here.
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Publishing Links August 6, 2011

User girliejones referenced to your post from Publishing Links August 6, 2011 saying: [...] challenges writers to create real characters – A Complaint About Sex and Ageism in Fiction [...]
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You're welcome.

It's good that Hawaii hasn't lost its respect for older people--unlike the Mainland's embrace of youth at any cost.
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