07/18/2013 05:49 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2013

Broad Appeal Reveals the Invisibility of Older Women

An affable, funny and friendly woman by the name of Sam Dawson has compiled a book that deserves your attention: Broad Appeal: Wit and Wisdom from Women Ages Sixty to Ninety. When is the last time you've had a meaningful connection with a woman over 60 with whom you're not related? Sam Dawson is out to change the invisibility of "broads" over 60, and she's made a good start. She's also a connector and salon maven, but more about that later.

When I taught the "Media, Culture & Identity" course at Cal State Los Angeles, I'd screen movies that were provocative and inclusive of invisible characters missing from the general movie and TV landscape. I used to joke with my students that if aliens landed and were to judge the population profile of the earth based on the characters depicted in our entertainment, they would logically conclude that:

  1. We have sufficient population control, not through birth control but through white men killing everything in sight... except each other.
  2. Darker skinned people are scary!
  3. These folks they saw rare glimpses of, such as "Native Americans" and "old lucid women," were extremely rare.
  4. The only females that exist are between 18 and 35, but don't talk much.

I'd also have my students list their favorite movies and ask them to list the gender and ethnic make-up of the cast. Finally, I'd then have them list the "missing in action" folks. When they would do this exercise, they'd often even forget to list Native Americans, and lo and behold, older women of any ethnicity at all!

Older "broads" are almost always missing! And if they happen to make it into the script, they are often witches, eccentrics and/or on the downward spiral of Alzheimer's. An example: the enormously talented Julie Christie at age 66 (she's 72 now), as the lead in the recent Alzheimer's weepie Away from Her, while her male contemporaries are still running around shooting people, animals and various objects to smithereens in action movies.

The 83-year-old Gena Rowlands should be on our screens all the time, but as the saying goes, "she can't get arrested" save for a few occasional bit parts on TV shows. And now, 71-year-old Genevieve Bujold -- the mystically beautiful doe-eyed sweetheart of our collective past, who hasn't been in a major film since 1988 -- is finally returning to the screen with James Cromwell, in Still Mine, yet another movie about the beloved older wife who has... guess what? Alzheimer's! Hollywood cycles through leading ladies like Kleenex: they use them once or twice and toss them away. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but there's truth to it. Oh, yes, I know; there are the exceptions, like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, but the exceptions make the rule.

Dawson's book explores the feelings, thoughts and beliefs of women over 60 and smashes stereotypes. And out of the dozens of women she interviewed, not one of them was a witch or a goofball! Go figure.

The format of Broad Appeal is the literary equivalent of a round-table discussion. Dawson asked the same question of each of her interviewees, and with each chapter the answers are laid out with a few editorial comments by Sam.

Sam said, "I don't really consider myself an author. However, I have a heck of a lot more respect for authors now because I didn't realize how much went into writing a book!" She'd speak to her subjects, and then coordinate the answers into such diverse topics as:

  • What is great about being older than 60
  • Why physical changes are a laughing matter
  • How to love large and ditch the toxic people
  • When to employ the "don't give­‐a­‐shit" factor and live life your way

Please note that the topics, and their answers, are good advice for people of all ages, from 9 to 90! There's wisdom in them thar broads!

Remember the anomaly of Harold and Maude? Ruth Gordon played Maude and had the wit and wisdom of her age. Bud Cort played her love-stricken and much younger suitor. He found her beautiful, and so did we. We find Sam Dawson's friends beautiful, too.

Does it really benefit anyone to hide our older people, especially our women, away some place where we don't see or hear them? We need their stories; we need their experience as roadmaps for our own lives, as we will all -- if we are lucky -- travel the same path of aging.

Turning 40? Get your own copy of Broad Appeal! It will beat the hell out of the tired "Over the Hill" T-shirts and bejeweled walkers that 40th partygoers show up with.

Back to what I mentioned at the top: Sam runs bi-monthly salons where women gather and schmooze about things great and small. If you are in Orange County, it'd be worthwhile getting on her mailing list and finding out more about Ms. Dawson, who knows the value of each person, no matter what their age.

And, if you want to meet Ms. Dawson, you can do so online as she has a website. Even better, if you live in LA County, go see her at Vroman's Independent bookstore in Pasadena on Sunday, July 28 at 4p.m. My husband and I will be there... we hope you'll join us!