Not all ageism battles are equal, especially in Hollywood

We all saw this, right? Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she was “too old” to be a romantic interest for some unidentified 55 year old Hollywood he-man with the ego of an infant. (OR some executive who thinks everyone has his Peter Pan complex. who knows)

Yeah, I saw it too and harrumphed, of course.

But here’s the problem as I see it with the huge tempest that blew up. Really — unless you are Maggie — this doesn’t deserve much more more than a harrumph-and-eyeroll combo.

The cultural view on beauty is that boys are boyish and men are handsome. Meanwhile, girls are beautiful and women are well-preserved/mature/cougar. So a heartthrob boy can age into a handsome man (lots of women would argue that 25 yo George Clooney doesn’t hold a candle to 50yo George Clooney), but the BEST a woman can hope for is to age as slowly as possible. So if an actress looks closer to 30, it’s always better — and age gaps in romantic movies ignore normal laws of attraction as surely as superhero flicks ignore normal laws of gravity. (And I rant about that frequently enough!)

But keeping to this specific discussion point today: Maggie has carried herself like and dressed like a woman in her 40s for *years.* Even in her youth, sexy romantic parts weren’t interesting to her so she didn’t present herself that way. Her best-known “romantic comedy” was in a British period film, “Hysteria” — not exactly Hollywood. And “Secretary” was as offbeat indie as it gets and a verrrry specific kind of not-mainstream sexy!

So part of it is objectively looking at her through the eyes of the mainstream movie-going youth-obsessed public, and part of it is her own “brand” for lack of a better term.
Being as neutral as humanly possible, it’s not necessarily that “37 is too old for 55” but that *HER* 37 is too old for the movie that these producers want to make and sell — so instead of having a nuanced discussion (LOL, as if), they just threw out the laziest and quickest reason for rejection. Because they are craven, they lack imagination, and they don’t know shit about art, storytelling, or humanity  – just how to sell conventional patriarchal garbage. OMG I hate those kind of guys.

Amy Schumer (who I’m really coming around to lately) made this absolutely brillz sketch, “Last Fuckable Day” in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus is celebrating that she is no longer considered fuckable by the pop-culture-hivemind. Note that she is 54, 17 years older than Maggie, but she never was the matron that Maggie has been for years. Plus, she’s a comedian, which is a destabilizing factor.

Found this handy list of men and women in their 50s and still working in Hollywood. Obviously, there are more men on the list. That’s a problem. But sticking to this specific topic, we see a these are women who are still very attractive (and don’t look 30 or even like a pulled-tight 40), and several of them could definitely still pull reasonable crowds as a romantic lead against a 55yo.

Bringing it back a few years, between 55 and 37: Here’s a great list of over-40 actresses and nobody is going to tell Halle Berry, Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett that they are “too old” to play a sexy character against an age-appropriate (or younger) actor.

So in conclusion, I love that this conversation is happening, and I want it to happen over and over, and I want people to harrumph and complain and re-examine our biases and let women be sexy as men as long as men (if they want to be), and stop this presumptive blocking of mature actresses and glorification of AARP-era virility (because an older woman is unsexy and that’s sad, but an unsexy man who can’t nail hot chicks might as well be dead, amirite??).

But as much as I like and respect her, Maggie Gyllenhaal is just not the bellwether on this one. The recent notorious Esquire article is really more of the infuriating cultural flashpoint, IMO, and I’ll leave you with that. (Esquire original link missing for SOME REASON… here’s Jezebel’s heated take on it.


About amywinns

Semi-snarky, semi-sincere, occasionally ranting, always paying attention. Feminist who can work a skirt and crack a joke. Grammar nerd who is also fun at parties. Mid-career writer/editor with 15 years’ experience in newspapers & magazines who now helps developers at a major media corporation communicate with the suits who write the checks. Pro-women, pro-family, pro-choice, pro-workingclass, pro-entrepreneur, pro-farmer. Like every other bourgeois Brooklynite, I choose local/organic/raw food — mostly vegetables — whenever possible/reasonable/affordable but I’m not a smug asshole about it. Hometown: Atlanta. Weird hobby: lindy hop. No pets, no kids, no thanks.
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