EntertainmentWould the heroines of TV series have (finally) the...

Would the heroines of TV series have (finally) the right to age?


When Piper, the heroine ofOrange is the New Black, discovers the world of prison, she learns that alongside groups identified as “the Blacks” or “the Latinas”, there are the “Old Women”. The latter are considered unclassifiable, regardless of their community, they are “the ones that nobody pays attention”.

Because if there is a biological age, the social age categorizes. To quote Bourdieu: “the border between youth and old age is in all societies an issue of struggle. », An issue of representation. From this point of view, these old women seem to have lost the fight.

The “old” prisoners of Orange is the New Black © Allociné (screenshot)

The finding is severe. Yet beyond the devoted grandmothers (Suits) or nasty mothers-in-law (Desperate Housewives), the richness of the roles leaves much to be desired. We observe a majority of secondary characters who represent the evolution of the population neither in percentage nor in diversity.

Several famous actresses denounce this invisibility. In France, the AAFA (Actrices et Acteurs de France Associés) publishes statistics that justify this anger.

However, it seems that the series offer spaces more open to diversity. Many actresses express themselves in roles that question the stereotypes linked to the aging of women.

The fight is organized around key points that we will define.

Refuse ageism or the lack of roles

In Hamishim (the number 50) Alona, ​​screenwriter, refuses to rejuvenate her fifty-year-old heroine as requested by the producers, for whom “it is too much to ask from the spectators”. Grace, 70 years old in Grace and Frankie, yells at the salesperson who stubbornly ignores her for the benefit of a young client. These two series point to ageism: an attitude of negative prejudices towards the aging process and the elderly, defined by Butler.

More specifically, they are interested in the perception of aging in women, tenacious in misogynistic prejudices. From the outset of fertility, women would enter into a form of decline described by Freud or Weiniger. Simone de Beauvoir herself speaks harshly of her 50th birthday. “I understand the Castiglione who had smashed all her mirrors,” she wrote there.

Cinema has made it a sub-genre of horror, hagsploitation (“hag” meaning “old skin”) in which the character of the hysterical old woman dominates, codified in Who killed Baby Jane? (1962). But what other proposed roles do women in general receive? Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) on the set of Baby Jane that the series relates Feud, is categorical: “that ingenuous, mothers or gorgons”

The finding turns out to be all the more cruel since it is gendered, because it is less eliminatory for men. We find on the screen the double standard of aging enunciated by Susan Sontag, which manifests itself in the imbalance of couples. A mature actor is associated with a partner aged 20 to 30 years his junior, as the film showed again recently Eiffel.

Playing with the crippling menopause stereotype

Internalized as a degradation, the menopause marks a difficult border crossing for the heroines. Alona (in Hamishim) becomes depressed, Gemma in Sons of Anarchy gets into a violent anger and attacks a young rival. None regrets the possibility of motherhood, but all experience the “fear of expiration” to quote Mona Chollet.

Conversely, late pregnancy represents a jubilant social challenge on the fictional level. Jean’s pregnancy in Sex Education arouses the irrepressible anger of his otherwise open-minded son. That of the septuagenarian Nona in Nona and her daughters upsets all codes to the point of the unexpected.

This type of pregnancy mischievously refers to an aging body, but alive and to an active female sexuality, thus shaking up many stereotypes.

Come out of the cliché of the unworthy old lady

Among these clichés, there is that of the unworthy old woman.

Widow, Ruth in Six Feet Under is torn between her old roles as mother and wife, and her desire to break free from patriarchy. Like the Unworthy old lady de Brecht, realizing the time devoted to her family, she wants to live as she sees fit, in the time that remains to her. He will have to fight and accept to displease his own children.

To displease is not a priori a problem for Olive in Olive Kitteridge, who defends his choice of life, not without some funny settling of scores with decorum. On the contrary, Martha, the whimsical and unconventional mother of Castle, twirls around and leads those around him by the tip of his nose like his romantic relationships. Stricter, but just as determined, the Dowager Countess Crawley goes through the ages of Downton Abbey without giving up an inch of ground. So many figures of grandmothers who do not withdraw and leave conventions without fearing those around them.

Violet Crawley does not let it be told © Allociné (via The Conversation)

Claiming a relationship with the body without taboos

Difficulties of locomotion, rheumatism, osteoarthritis … In Grace and Frankie, the relationship with the aging body is approached without taboos with humor. But it is also a living body, which wants to be sexually active and when the series speaks directly of vibrator and lubricant.

She also questions the relationship to “appearing young” by regularly shaking up the iconic figure of Jane Fonda. A make-up removal scene thus challenges the viewer when the heroine takes off her makeup to repel the love of a younger man. Indeed, this scene echoes the image of the witch associated with the old woman. Its unveiling, as in Shining or in GOT, aims to induce hindsight or even abjection *.

Cliché that deconstructed Ozark where Darlene, an unscrupulous murderer in her late teens, begins a romantic relationship with a young man barely out of adolescence and also wants to adopt a baby. The authenticity of his feelings wavers the resistance of opponents to his life project.

Because it is the freedom of choice that these series talk about. In Ten percent, the production first refuses Sigourney Weaver to play a love story with a young actor. The actress protests: “if I were a man, they would have chosen an actress twice as young without hesitation. No one would have been shocked. “What will understand very well the” old “impresario of the agency, Arlette, as free as she is fine, in a staging intended to open the eyes of the director as of the spectators on the omnipresence of the stereotypes. At 70, Sigourney Weaver wants to have a choice.

Ask the question of living together

We’ve shown that many shows pay attention to these aging heroines in search of themselves and new lives. Going beyond the traditional functions assigned to them, they seek to find other forms of balance. Grace lives with Frankie, Ruth with Sarah and Bettina (Six Feet Under). Some learn to accompany each other in a benevolent sorority which is not without evoking the principles of the House of Babayagas of Thérèse Clerc. Nona, the matriarch of Nona and her daughters, holds a real discourse on the happiness of living by accepting all the othernesses as so many possibilities of life.

Many paths remain to be explored. If ageism persists, the success of these series shows that Alona (Hamishim) should not give in and rejuvenate its heroine because there are many beautiful stories to be told about women over fifty, and a growing audience to hear them.

This analysis was written by Monika Siejka, lecturer-researcher in storytelling, leadership and management at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) – Paris-Saclay University.
The original article was published on the website of
The Conversation.


Janice Thomas
Janice Thomas is a content editor at 24 News Recorder. She has 5 years of journalism experience and she he is a graduate of Wittenberg University and holds a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.


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