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Spreading the gold dust around

There’s a slight tendency among Rust contributors to poke derision and/or fun at what they see as slavish modern politically correct ‘pro-diversity and/or female equality’ attitudes and initiatives.

We possessed of a liberal frame of mind allow them a little latitude on the subject because most of them, being male and of a certain generation, are probably struggling to come to the new because it tends to challenge/dismiss society as it was as they were growing up and then lived their adult lives, at least until recently.

But only a little.

Here’s a link to a piece by Nicola Clark on the curse of the middle-aged actress  that appears today upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN

The fact is that the roles of women on screen – in movies, television or video – have been materially affected throughout history by their perceived youth and/or attractiveness in a manner which does not apply to men.

Yes, this could be influenced by the attitudes of men who – for the most part – have tended to occupy those (senior) levels in management and/or casting at which such decisions are made.

But it more complicate than that.

Proportionately, these days there are many more women in such positions than hitherto and often – when it comes to specific areas of the entertainment and fashion industries such as casting and agencies – it is often women who have been in these roles and making these decisions and doing so, when it comes to females, on the basis of their looks and/or sex appeal.

Female models tend to be young and the successful ones tend to be ‘in vogue’ for the duration of a certain new look that is fashionable … only later to be regarded as old hat and discarded when the next new look or fashion comes along … this in favour of younger or different-looking models who better suit the latest ‘thing’. It’s in the nature of life.

Men and women definitely get treated differently, both by those involved in casting – but also by the general public.

Men can be middle-aged, chubby, bald, a bit dishevelled even – but if they’re good and professional enough they can look forward to a thirty-plus year career as (say) a newscaster or television presenter as a matter of routine.

It’s different for women. There was a time when their traditional route towards lead presenting was by either starting a weather forecaster and/or a female presenter on a kid’s programme – and a decorative one at that. Once they’d acquired the professional experience to be a good journalist/presenter they could then perhaps look to diversifying into newsreading or presenting programmes in their own right.

The difference for women was, and is, that – with exceptions of course (step forward the likes of Angela Rippon, Anna Ford and Fiona Bruce) – once they hit their forties a sense begins to grow in the minds of both editors of programmes and indeed the public that they are on borrowed time.

Why is that, especially when – in terms of straightforward professional competence and experience – there cannot logically be much difference between male and female television presenters, to stick to the example?

The answer is probably twofold.

Firstly – and this may surprise some – there is a certain prejudice against older women in both genders. The overwhelming majority of public criticism of the age of women on screen (and – also applying to women of all ages – particularly their dress sense, hairstyles and weight gain if there is some) comes from women viewers, not from men.

Secondly, when Miriam O’Reilly publicly took on the BBC for sacking her from the Countryfile series supposedly because of her age a few years ago now, there was a degree of ‘push back’.

Ms O’Reilly was claiming her seniority and experience should have counted for plenty – as it might well have done if she had been a man – in terms of television presenting roles.

But her claim subsequently produced a groundswell of public reaction along the lines “Er, hang on … since you probably got your break in television almost certainly precisely because at the time you happened to be an attractive bimbo who was younger, fresher and sexier than the middle-aged frump that got ‘moved on’ in order to give you your chance … you can hardly now turn round and deny some young kid the same chance that you managed to take to begin gaining the experience that then gave you a twenty year presenting career…”

To conclude: yes, there are not enough roles for middle-aged and older women in the entertainment industry.  But – and I’m not 100% sure if the factual evidence supports me here – the trouble with demanding more ‘older’ roles is that in the capitalist system ‘the customer is king’.

In my experience those over the age of fifty go to the cinema less often than those under forty. And people under the age of forty want to see roles on screen that reflect their experience of life, not that of the generation before theirs – thank you very much.



About Jane Shillingford

Jane spent the bulk of her career working on women’s magazines. Now retired and living on the south coast, she has no regrets and 'would do it all again'. More Posts