Why Aren’t Women Allowed to Age On-Screen?

Source: IMDb

When Nicole Kidman accepted the SAG Award for her critically acclaimed turn in HBO’s “Big Little Lies” last January, the Oscar-winner and industry veteran praised her colleagues for instigating change, while also imploring those who run the studios to continue investing time and money in the stories of women who’ve reached middle age.

“[H]ow wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond 40 years old because 20 years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives. That’s not the case now,” she said. “We’ve proven — and these actresses and so many more are proving — that we are potent and powerful and viable. I just beg that the industry stays behind us because our stories are finally being told.”

“It’s only the beginning and I’m so proud to be part of a community that is instigating this change, but I implore the writers, directors, studios, and financiers to put passion and money behind our stories,” Kidman added. “We have proven we can do this. We can continue to do this, but only with the support of this industry and that money and passion.”

Yet, while prospects for women over age 40 have begun to expand, many face the same level of typecasting that’s come to define the maturing female’s career. While many are relegated to nothing more than supporting roles, others find themselves playing one-dimensional wives or mothers that contribute very little to the given film’s basic plot. Despite the fact that women — especially those with decades of life experience — are complicated, emotional, and endearing, these dynamic humans rarely star in stories of their own.

While marriage and motherhood might be part of the mature woman’s narrative, such factors often become the defining elements of the given character’s story. Judging by Hollywood’s vision, women lose their identities once they become wives and mothers. They’re devoid of any individuality and exist only to support the ambitions of their partner or child. If said woman hasn’t tied the knot or given birth, she’s portrayed as an outlier — a so-called “spinster” that’s fixated on snagging herself a husband and having a baby before her biological clock becomes a ticking time bomb that renders her undesirable by society’s standards.

Source: IMDb

Even though it’s 2018, for some reason we still assess a woman’s worth by whether or not she’s fulfilled her duty as the vessel for another life. And, if a woman has aged beyond her childbearing potential, she’s cast aside, essentially proving that society believes mature women aren’t “sexy” because the act of intercourse could never lead to new life. Thus, those women over 40 must maintain a certain aesthetic in an effort to retain this youthful appeal.

Men, of course, are allowed to age on-screen because, while actors are revered for the name they bring to the project in question, women are valued for their face, first and foremost. Only the beloved few — Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, and Judi Dench, for instance — have managed to overcome the age hurdle and find success on the other side. Even when men have lost that handsome, boyish appeal, they find new life, as male maturity often leads to more serious roles (although their love interests rarely age in unison). For men, their résumé sustains their reputation, while actresses are assessed by nothing more than their headshot.

Hollywood needs to stop fixating on sex appeal and start focusing on substance. Few films offer an intricate, complex look into the lives of mature women. For years, we’ve been forced to accept Hollywood’s caricature of the average woman, yet this trend has only hindered the way we perceive women in real life. We’ve been conditioned to expect wives and mothers to maintain a pristine exterior regardless of their actual age, which only contributes to the unrealistic beauty standards we must battle every day. Perhaps, if women on screen looked and behaved like the women we meet every day, we’d be more accepting and intrigued by those whose stories have yet to find an outlet. There’s so much untapped potential, after all, so let’s heed Kidman’s plea and put the passion where the people are.

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

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Tracee Ellis Ross Empowers Women to Live Life According to Their Own Rules

Source: Essence

While Tracee Ellis Ross plays the mother of five on ABC’s Black-ish, the actress herself lives an entirely different life.

“It’s really interesting to be a woman and to get to 45 and not be married and not have kids,” Ross said as she began her now viral speech at Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit last week. “Especially when you’ve just pushed out your fifth kid on TV.”

During her 11-minute speech, Ross detailed how society treats women who remain single and childless, and how cultural expectations diminish our gender for not conforming. Drawing from personal experience, Ross explored how ambition doesn’t always align with the so-called norm.

“I grew up planning a wedding… But I also dreamed of winning an Oscar and being on the cover of magazines and making a difference in the world — helping women find our voices. And from that dreaming, I have built an incredible life. I have become a woman that I am proud to be,” she said.

“And then someone tells me about their friend who adopted a child at 52 and how ‘it’s never too late for your life to have meaning,’ and my worth gets diminished as I am reminded that I have ‘failed’ on the marriage and carriage counts. Me! This bold, liberated, independent woman,” she said. “I’m killing it! So, why? Why do I get snagged this way? As if all that I have done and who I am doesn’t matter.”

She explained that society constantly tells young girls and women that “being chosen and having kids” are the end goals for anyone who wishes to lead a meaningful life. In her words, “husband plus child equals woman.” We aren’t complete unless someone deems us worthy of their love and progeny.

Source: Good Housekeeping

But with four simple words, Ross realized that, despite her success, she was still being sucked in by societal influence.

“I’m sitting there free writing, maybe conversing with my inner child, and I write down: MY LIFE IS MINE. My life is mine,” she said. “Those words stopped me in my tracks and honestly brought so many tears to my eyes. Seems so obvious, but obviously it wasn’t. Because I have NOT been living my life as if it was my own… I have to put myself first and not be looking for permission to do so.”

Ross continued by explaining that, when women speak out or stand up, they’re condemned for being themselves. Women are regularly persecuted for stepping outside the accepted bubble of womanhood because the patriarchy feels threatened by those who don’t follow the “rules” their forefathers set in place. But, as Ross said, she’s going to have to break an agreement that she never officially agreed to in the first place.

“That agreement says: We are here to be of service to others, that our destiny is to live in the shadow of men. That we are simply objects of desire, and that we are willing to live with having our voices stifled again and again by the misogyny of our culture.”

Instead, Ross promised to her reality and her dreams and let those elements be her guide as she navigates her individual life. In the same breath, she invited the women in the crowd to do the same.

“Join me for a moment and imagine: What would it be like for women to completely own our own power, to have agency over our own glory and our sexuality, not in order to create a product or to sell it, or to feel worthy of love, or use it as a tool for safety, but instead as a WAY OF BEING?” she asked the audience.

Women need to stop thinking of themselves in respect to others around them. We must focus on who we are inside in order to understand who we are to the outside world. We were not put on this earth to please anyone but ourselves. We owe the men of the world nothing and, with Ross’s words echoing among us, we must recognize that we have countless allies who believe we’re worthwhile because of who we are, not who we love.

There’s nothing wrong with following the traditional path — the one paved long ago that says we should make stops only to pursue marriage and family. But we cannot chastise those who choose to forge their own road through the fields and forests that line the way.

Life isn’t linear. We’re all meandering along in some way or another. You zig. I’ll zag. If we meet again along the way, at least we will do so knowing that we were our brave selves, as Ross said. Our whole selves. The complete, real, true people we were always meant to be.

Read Ross’s full speech here or watch the entire presentation below:

(This post originally appeared on Storia.)

Who Are You to Criticize Someone Else’s Happiness?

Every time tragedy strikes, celebrities and school choirs come together to sing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” in an effort to spread peace. When faced with immense sadness, we do everything in our power to emphasize the good and eliminate the bad. But the moment anyone expresses true happiness, it’s as if every Negative Nancy on the planet unites behind one giant megaphone to tout their disdain—those feelings of euphoria are clearly unfounded and they’re here to tell you why.

Last week, for instance, comedian Patton Oswalt and actress Meredith Salenger took to social media to confirm their engagement. While such announcements usually elicit an outpouring of “likes” and emoji-laced exclamations, Internet enthusiasts took the opportunity to hunker down behind their screens and anonymously expound their unsolicited opinions. You see, Mr. Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara, died unexpectedly in April 2016 and, because he’s been so honest and forthcoming about his ensuing grief, these commenters clearly deserve to voice their concerns before these two consenting adults proceed with their impending marriage.

For some reason, the Average Joe seems to think they’re entitled to rain on someone else’s parade just because the people in question happen to be celebrities. (Call me crazy, but living life in the limelight shouldn’t mean you must silently endure such abuse.) In this case, Mr. Oswalt’s critics chastised him for “moving on too quickly” after his wife’s death. Yet I can’t help but wonder—what constitutes “too soon” and who are these naysayers to judge?

There’s no doubt that Mr. Oswalt was crushed by the loss of his wife. His gut-wrenching Facebook posts and subsequent interviews are testament to his undying love for Ms. McNamara. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve this new love he’s found. Loving once doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to love again, timing be damned. His life was torn to shreds with no warning, so why would this man—this man who knows how precious every minute can be—wait for the rest of his life to begin just because complete strangers might not approve?

In this situation, the only other party besides Mr. Oswalt and Ms. Salenger who has any real right to their opinion would be Mr. Oswalt’s 8-year-old daughter, Alice. Judging by Ms. Salenger’s recent Instagram posts, however, she’s definitely onboard. Who are we to deny this young girl another person who loves her? More love doesn’t dilute the love that already exists. Instead, that love grows and expands until it consumes all those touched by its warmth and its light.

If you’re that interested in judging others, purchase a gavel—that way you can whack yourself across the knuckles every time you consider adding your two cents. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. No matter how transparent someone might seem online, you’ll likely never know the full story.

To put it simply, love and let love. After all, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

Images courtesy of Meredith Salenger’s Instagram