When you think of women over the age of 40, what do you think of? Do you think of them at all? From derogatory language spinster (if unmarried), old crone, old dame, old maid that permeates our literature, to the prominent lack of imagery, the representation of women over 40 is not in keeping with the reality and it needs to change.
Where are they?
Somewhere between a historic preoccupation with marrying women off before they turned 21 and the obsession with youth that has dominated everything from Hollywood to advertising, the experiences and the image of women ‘of a certain age’ are either out of step or are nowhere to be found - which is perhaps the most offensive and absurd thing of all.
One writer on the Talented Ladies Club echoed our experience perfectly:
“Sadly, on free stock image sites women over the age of 40 are barely represented. If you want a laugh, try searching ‘woman 40s’. Most of the girls that appear in the search results could be the daughters of women in their 40s.”
Carrie Bradshaw creator, Candace Bushnell, and author of the new book Is There Still Sex in the City?, said:
“If you ask a successful man, ‘What do you think about women over 50?,’ the answer is likely to be, ‘It’s an age group of women I’ve never thought about in my life.’”
And yet, the women on our screens, in our offices and in our families do not reflect this cultural trope. Have you seen Jennifer Lopez (52) sporting her ridiculously taut midriff? While she might be an outlier (not all of us want, need or can be bothered with that), but she’s certainly not the only Hollywood woman redefining what our 50s look like. The likes of Reese Witherspoon (45), Catherine Zeta-Jones (52), Jennifer Aniston (53), Salma Hayek (55) and Halle Berry (55) are all changing what it means to be over 40 (or 50).
It’s not that we all need to look like movie stars, but isn’t it nice not to be put in a box because of our age?
Are we scared to be proud of ourselves?
The problem with this attitude is that it’s written into our humour, our self-deprecation, our jokes and it permeates the way we see ourselves. How often have you heard about an actress who lied about her age, or for someone to tell you it’s bad manners to ask about a woman’s age? Well meaning the latter might be, but should it be something to be ashamed of?
Actress Pamela Adlon said: “Look, I lied about my age for so long that even I was shocked when I realized I turned 50 — the f*****g internet told me!”
Sarah Jessica Parker (56) and her new HBO series And Just Like That was seen as daring because it looks at life after menopause, but more than one writer bemoaned the avoidance of one particular topic:
“After the show, all the girls and I could talk about was the one thing Bushnell didn’t — what sex after menopause looks like. If the queen of the genre won’t talk about it, is there any hope for “And Just Like That,” the new “Sex and the City” reboot?”
The idea that women over 40 have a sex life seems to be the final frontier on the topic. We might be more willing to talk about menopause than we were a few years ago. We might even be willing to concede that women over 40 are actually quite impressive. But the idea that they are in any way sexual appears to be beyond the pale.
Kate Beckinsale (48) has said:
“It can feel like a little bit of a political act to be a woman over 32 who’s having any fun at all…’Oh my god, I’m going to sit home and anticipate menopause while crocheting’”.
Beckinsale experienced particular judgement in 2019 when she began a relationship with US comedian and actor Pete Davidson made headlines last year, largely due to their 20-year age gap. She appears to have solved the issue by going on to date 22-year-old Canadian musician Goody Grace.
It’s about more than pictures
The issue of representation isn’t just about images either. If we write women out of the cultural narrative, and if we see women over 40 a certain way, literally, then we also think about them differently. Cynthia Barnes, Founder and CEO of the National Association of Women Sales Professionals wrote in Forbes:
“I've seen time and time again how female sales professionals have had to prove that they're every bit the professional that a man is. Now, it's not just that they are a woman; it's frequently that they are a woman of a 'certain age.' But gendered ageism affects women of all ages. As reports of discriminatory ageism rise, women have a new battlefront to contend with, and if they're ever going to match men dollar for dollar, it's a battle they have to fight together."
Which is not only outrageous, it’s also to the loss of us all. At MPLus we’re privileged to be joined by a number of contributors who are knowledgeable about menopause, many of them are women over the age of 40, many have been through or are going through menopause, and all of them are interesting, powerful and gorgeous. They are represented in our imagery (taken especially), but perhaps most importantly, their experiences, their knowledge - about and far beyond menopause - matters. And so does yours.
From Fleabag to best-selling author Lorraine Pascale, we've written about how and why we need to turn ageing into a positive conversation - read more by following the link below.
TURNING AGEING INTO A POSITIVE CONVERSATION