Take the pledge to stand up for older and largely invisible women
Yoo-Hoo! I'm over 50, vital, interesting and have lots to give to anyone who doesn't discount me and my contemporaries because of my age and the elephant in the room, gender.
This column was born when I was asked to take a Causes.com pledge sponsored by the American Cancer Society, that urged us to "get girls to love the skin they're in." Could we change that to "females of all ages to love the skin they're in?" As it now stands, I signed and I encourage you to do so. It has a 5 point pledge, a "manifesto," of which I will quote only #1:
"I charge that the media's hyper-sexualization of girls and women is not en vogue with the full expression of our substance, complexity, and unique humanity. We are more than the sum of our parts; we are leaders and game-changers of the conversation."
This is a pledge that's important for women of all ages, considering how our culture now sucks for all of us. By the constant sexualizing of girls and women, beauty and impossible standards of fantasy-femininity becomes one of our only means to power and influence, creating a human "shelf-life" that expires in a woman's mid-30s. While some men are just catching their stride in that age, women are expected to shut up and go away so no one will have to look at them, let alone listen to them. Of course, men are often not really listening that deeply to the younger, so-called attractive women as much as pretending to listen, while they ogle and strategize on their "next move."
What we need to do is align young women in seeing that they are sealing the fate of their own future as mature, wise and experienced women by buying into the idea that they are only valuable while they are young. The young women who don't currently clear the beauty bar are oppressed from the get-go.
Hmm. Sniff the air. What's that smell? Why it's Hollywood's stinky old monster -- OldBroadZilla -- chewing up and spitting out women, going through them like Kleenex. We need Joss Whedon, or someone like him, to set a new standard of on-screen inclusion for women who are now considered persona non grata.
Mr. Whedon is a highly successful -- and female friendly -- producer / writer / director who always includes multiple fascinating, complicated female characters who are just as compelling and related to the world as his male characters. Amazingly, Whedon strives to make his TV shows and films gender balanced, with as many primary female characters as primary male characters. Fans of "Buffy," "Angel" and "Firefly" know what I'm talking about. His newest TV adventure, "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" is a stellar example. Yet, even he could use a few older fabulous women. (Example: Dame Judy Dench in the Bond movies.)
You might be saying "what's the big deal?" What's the impact of having a huge portion of our population missing from our screens? It costs us a lot, and I would like to foment rebellion among my own kind. I assert that most of my peers don't complain about being obliterated from the intellectual and cultural landscape. We are so used to being invisible, our invisibility isn't even visible to many of us! Now that's invisibility.
What being invisible costs the culture is let's see: remember how brutally Hillary Clinton was attacked in the press during the primaries? Ad hominem jabs at her weight, her hair, her outfits, her attractiveness, blah, blah, blah. Even progressive men got into the act, not just gasbag Rush Limbaugh and his minions. Hillary served as a lightning rod for the barely hidden contempt that a lot of people -- including other women -- have for middle-aged and older women of all colors. Just as the women who made such amazing strides in the 1970s are reaching the ages of their full-blown wisdom, born from decades of experience, we must fight even harder than ever to not be annihilated with bullshit and anachronistic, gratuitous misogyny.
Men who are over 50 are regarded as dignified and experienced. Their female peers? Invisible or mostly portrayed as witches or bitches. Whereas we are sold stories of men at all ages and stages, women are mostly trotted out as trophies: accessories, as long as they are eye-candy or considered good breeding stock. Menopausal women are just deleted! Our experience of life would be richer if we had more women of all ages expressing themselves in various spheres, such as government, the corporate world, education and entertainment.
Even the post-menopausal men are rarely with age appropriate wives in Hollywood. There are dozens of movies with A-List male stars whose romantic interests are decades younger than them. This is sometimes called the "Gramps and Granddaughter combo," which is appealing to the men, (and yes, they are mostly men) who green-light what we see on the screen. Even women who want to make it in Hollywood dare not buck the system lest they get a reputation for being hard to work with.
Yoo-Hoo! Women and men, too! Would you please stop being quiet about the obliteration of half the population? Those girls and women just may be the "leaders and game-changers" we need.
NOTE: This article is an expanded and updated version of my column in the Pasadena Weekly that originally ran on November 13, 2013