Nina: 'Sorry, Russell, but Hollywood is still terrified of an ageing woman.'

When actresses are only one year older than their onscreen ‘sons’, we know Hollywood hasn’t worked through it’s fear of a female “acting her age”.

Dear Russell Crowe,

We need to talk. You see, for a long time now, I’ve been a big fan of your work. But recently you’ve made a few comments which have left me feeling cold.

I’m referring, of course, to the recent interview you did with Australia’s Women’s Weekly, where you criticised ageing actresses for failing to reflect their ageing on-screen, adding, rather naively, that “if you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as a (female) actor” and that “the best thing” about the film industry is “that there are roles for people in all different stages of life”.

Oh really?

As this earlier post on Mamamia points out, most ageing actresses will disappear silently from screen while their male counterparts continue to score winning roles. Only a rare handful of women will survive the transition and of them, many will be typecast: the year Meryl Streep turned 40, she was offered three parts, all as witches.

Powerful Hollywood mega-star tells ageing female actors: “Stop whingeing, be more like me.”

Even worse, of the roles that are written for women over a certain age (such a mother or grandmother), will often still be awarded to actresses so young that they could never realistically have given birth to the actors depicted as their children. Consider the following:

1. In The Graduate, Anne Bancroft was only 8 years older than her on screen daughter, Katherine Ross.

2. In Mean Girls, Amy Poehler was only 7 years older than her onscreen daughter, Rachel McAdams.

3. In Little Miss Sunshine, Toni Collette was only 12 years older than her onscreen son, Paul Dano.

4. In Star Trek, Winona Ryder was only 6 years older than her on-screen son, Zachary Quinto.

5. In The Fighter, Melissa Leo was only 11 years older than her son played by Mark Wahlberg.

6. And in Alexander, Angelina Jolie was just 1 year older than her on-screen son, Colin Farrell.

But there is a bigger issue here. You see, aside from the limited roles that are both written for, and portrayed by older women, buried within your assertion that women should ‘act their age’ is another: that women should also look their age. And it is this idea -that women should resist surgical intervention and ‘grow old gracefully’- which causes women in Hollywood to face such an impossible double bind.

With very few exceptions, those who age without Botox or other interventions tend to disappear from view (and relevance) or else they are held up as a garish spectacle for the public to marvel at. Just ask Renee Zellweger.


Meanwhile those who do submit to all sorts of painful surgeries in the hopes of retaining their youthfulness (and by extension, their employability and income) are attacked as either superficial, narcissist (and bad role models for other women) or else they are mocked relentlessly, especially if any of those procedures turn out poorly.

It’s an impossible ‘no win’ scenario. And it’s made worse by Hollywood heavyweights telling women that they ought to look and act their age.

You see, when we urge women to ‘grow old gracefully’, what we are really doing is advising those women to disappear as quietly and politely as possible from the public view, without making too much fuss on the way out.

Whether intentional or not, it’s a euphemistic way of entreating a woman to docilely accept and embrace her social invisibility, while cheerfully clearing out of the way for younger women coming up through the ranks.

This isn’t limited to actresses. Experienced female news readers, such as the intrepid Tracey Spicer, are often asked to politely step aside and make way for their younger, perkier counterparts as they age (meanwhile, grey hair is seen to give male news readers gravitas and increased credibility).

Watch her talk about the ridiculous routines we subject ourselves to here:

Models face a very similar fate. In her cracking first non-fiction novel, The Fictional Woman, Tara Moss  writes that although “the discussion around models and fashion magazines these days tends to focus almost entirely on the weight of models and the Photoshopping of their images, what strikes me the most, looking back on my early career, is the age of the models. It was routine to use underage girls- of which I was one- to sell products aimed at adult women, including gowns, lingerie and age-defying skin creams.”

And so it goes: models in their teen years push anti-aging creams; models in their 20s push products aimed at middle aged housewives; and older models (with very few exceptions) are either pushed out of the industry all together and told to – ahem- ‘grow old gracefully’-  or else they are greeted with a sparkling future of spruiking incontinence pads and funeral insurance.

Russell Crowe, Age 50.

But see Russ, I know you can do better. I believe you have to do better. Because the answer to all this nonsense is not to come down hard on women who are desperately trying to hold on to their careers in a landscape where the odds are permanently stacked against them. No. The answer has to be us all coming together to insist on comprehensive change. And the good news is that men in your position can effect real change if you so choose.