By Savanah Mandeville
When Pablo Picasso was 45, he was dating a 17-year-old girl named Marie-Thérèse Walter.
Of the relationship (if you can call it that…), Picasso said the following:
“It was perfect—I was in my prime, she was in her prime.”
I was first made aware that Picasso was a child molester in Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special, “Nannette.”
Gadsby says: “I probably read that when I was 17. Do you know how grim that was? … A 17-year-old girl is never in her prime. Ever.”
Seriously. You couldn’t pay me to go back to age 17. And at 28, I would pray that I’m still not in my prime.
If you’re wondering if the patriarchal nonsense that led Picasso to say such an asinine thing still exists today, the answer is yes. Big time. And we can see it everywhere.
One of the all too common ways that society reminds us that men are valued for their achievements and women are valued for their impregnability is the blatant age gap between male and female love interests in movies. This article called “Leading Men Age, But Their Love Interests Don’t” has some really interesting examples.
And then there’s this May 2018 article about how Goddess Among Us Jane Fonda fell prey to ageism in Hollywood! Sorry, but Jane Fonda is untouchable. They can stfu.
In fact, the same article cites a study that found “46% of male characters were over 40 in top Hollywood films last year, while 29% were women in the same age group.”
For me personally, there have been countless amazing women who have had an enormous impact on my life. These are the types women who I consider to be “in their prime.” First, my mom, grandma, and aunts are all very strong, independent women who I’ve always looked up to. In college, I had the privilege of knowing several ingenious female professors whose knowledge and guidance changed my life. My senior year, I interned with a woman I absolutely adored. Today, my boss is a woman who has run a successful magazine for over 18 years. And these women are just the tip of the iceberg – there have been so many other amazing, smart, interesting, compassionate women a generation or two or three above me who’ve come into my life and made a lasting impression. If it takes a village to raise a child, it was a village of bad b*tches who raised me.
A couple years ago on a writing assignment for work, I interviewed a badass female business owner who said something that really stuck with me:
“Life is a journey of continuous improvement.”
Like, wow. I love that. If life’s a journey of continuous improvement, why do we treat women like they’re “past their prime” as soon as they hit “the wrong side of 30”?
Why do we live in a culture that’s so fearful of aging? Especially of women aging?
I mean, it’s no wonder. We do still value women based upon patriarchal standards. Young and fertile? Ding ding ding! Old and wise? Meh.
I really hate this because sometimes I feel like older women are America’s most untapped resource. I mean, just look at what happened to Hilary Clinton.
Not all cultures are as obsessed with youth as America is. Japan is one example. My sister used to teach English online to people all over the world, and one day she was talking with a Japanese man. He was a social scientist of some kind and was writing a book. He asked her this really strange philosophical question. I wasn’t there, but the conversation went something like this:
Japanese Guy: Say you witness two cars crash into each other and there are two injuries: an elderly person and a baby. You can only save one – who do you choose?
My sister: Ummm, the baby I guess.
Japanese Guy: See! I knew you would say that. Americans are so obsessed with youth and ‘potential.’ In Japan, we would save the elderly person because they have more knowledge and wisdom and thus more to offer the world.
So… I apologize for taking this down a really morbid path involving a dead baby, but this really boggled my mind. I decided to look more into it and found there are many cultures around the world that celebrate the elderly more than we do: Greek, Indian, Native American, and Korean cultures are just a few.
How would our culture be different if we didn’t place so much emphasis on “potential achievement” but rather “proven achievement”? How would that, for example, change the abortion debate?
Things are getting better. It’s no longer a woman’s role to have babies, raise babies, then disappear. We do see older women represented more in media targeted to all age groups.
For example, the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie” is beloved by all ages. With seven seasons, it’s Netflix’s longest running series and its success shows that audiences crave content from the underrepresented age group.
I also recently saw a trailer for “Terminator: Dark Fate” starring Linda Hamilton. Not gonna lie, that movie isn’t really up my alley and I probably won’t see it, but I was still like, “Hm, a hot grey-haired lady wielding a machine gun with explosions in the background? Cool.”
We’re also seeing more and more older women bucking society’s expectations for how a “little old lady” should be. These are people like Instagram supernova Baddie Winkle, bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd, and fashion designer Jenny Kee.
Ladies like the ones above are not only stylish, free-spirited, and inspirational, they also have years of wisdom, knowledge, maturity and personal growth. You can bet they are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.
Our society is moving in the right direction, but there’s still work to do. We live in what’s called a “greying population,” meaning that older adults will soon outnumber kids in the United States for the first time.
As it stands today, women over 40 make up approximately 40% of the population, but remember that stat from earlier? They only make up 29% of the roles in Hollywood. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine the disparity is even greater as the age goes up.
It’s time for representation in film and television to reflect reality.
If we were exposed to more vibrant, lively older female role models, I think we would all chill on the fear of aging and the youth-obsessed culture thing. We would see there’s nothing to be afraid of and, if we do it right, there’s no reason why our lives can’t be a journey of continuous improvement.