Thursday 20 July 2017

Older women portrayed as 'sexless grandmothers'

Dame Helen Mirren agrees older women are marginalised on screen. Photo: Reuters
Dame Helen Mirren agrees older women are marginalised on screen. Photo: Reuters

Louise Gray

Jack Nicholson, Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood were still seducing women well into their 60s and even 70s.

But when it comes to sexy older females in films there are few, if any, examples.

In fact, if Dame Helen Mirren is to be believed, older women are lucky if they get a part at all.

The 65-year-old actress has criticised Hollywood for worshipping “at the altar of the 18- to 25-year-old male and his penis” by only portraying glamorous young women.

Now it looks like audiences are also fed up of seeing older women portrayed as "sexless grandmothers".

A survey of more than 2,000 filmgoers by the UK Film Council found over 60 per cent feel older women are not portrayed as having sexual needs or desires in film.

While men are routinely seen seducing women 20 or 30 years their junior on screen, older women are seldom seen doing the same thing.

A notable exception is the recent film Cedar Rapids, starring Sigourney Weaver, 60, opposite the comic actor Ed Harris in the role of her 35-year-old former pupil.

Despite this half the older women surveyed said they are more than comfortable seeing themselves as being 'Cougars' or attracting younger men.

The survey found seven in ten people feel that film tends to glamorise young women and older characters, especially older women, tend to be significantly under-represented.

The only parts are as villains or desexualised women, such as the role played by Dame Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal in which Dench played a sinister spinster in Zoe Heller's dark novel of obsessive friendship.

The phenomenon is also happening in television. Miriam O'Reilly won an age discrimination case against the BBC recently after she was dropped from the rural affairs show Countryfile.

The 53-year-old was told "to be careful with those wrinkles when high definition comes in" nine months before she was axed.

She said film industry is just as bad for pedalling preconceived and unfair notions of older women.

"Older women are sexually active as much as younger people are. It is a myth that older women are dried up and not capable of having loving, enjoyable sex. Older women are at it as much as young people are.

"Where did this idea come from that older women having sex is distasteful? There is nothing unattractive about older people having sex."

The presenter said middle-aged and older women are simply not seen on screen any more, even though they are a large and vibrant part of the population.

But both broadcasters and film makers are realising there is a market.

"The BBC has realised they have to represent women on televisions because their viewers are telling them they want to see themselves reflected in the programmes they watch and it is exactly the same in film."

Films addressing the subject of sex and the sixtysomething woman remain rare, except for hits like the film It’s Complicated starring Meryl Streep as a divorced woman unexpectedly pursued by her former husband Alec Baldwin.

But film audiences agree they want to see older women in 'sexier' roles.

Or simply portrayed in their real light. Dame Judi has said the secret of her success has been because she has not had Botox and the audience crave seeing 'real older women' on screen.

Jenny Eclair, the actress and comedienne, said older women deserve to be represented truthfully on screen.

She said the industry are missing the opportunity to entertain a huge audience who feel under-represented.

“Sadly this research demonstrates that, even in our culture of supposed diversity, film – one of the key cultural mediums – is still misrepresenting large proportions of UK film goers,” she said. “The industry needs to think carefully about how it portrays diverse groups – including older women – who are frustrated at still being portrayed in desexualised, stereotypical roles. The industry is in danger of continuing this misrepresentation where there is clearly the opportunity at hand to change opinion for good."

Telegraph.co.uk

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