Hollywood Sexism and Personal Preference
We discussed this a bit in Linky Friday #116. Maggie Gyllenhaal was in the news last week because a Hollywood producer told her she was too old to play the lover of a 55-year old man. Maggie Gyllenhaal is 37.
Our debate was on whether this was a matter of personal preference or a serious bit of Hollywood sexism. The simple truth is that female actors frequently age out of certain roles quickly. The simple truth is that in Hollywood leading men are allowed to age but women are not. This is not a new trend. In North by Northwest, Cary Grant’s mother was played by a woman who was a mere eight years his senior. His love interest was twenty years his junior.
Big-age differences in relationships are not too uncommon. There seem to be plenty of couples where the man is around 5-10 years older than his wife. Census suggests that about 7.2 percent of male-female relationships in the United States involves an age-gap. Interestingly, age differences are much more common in same-sex couples with 26 percent of male-male couples having an age gap and 18 percent of female-female couples. Women are older than their partners in 1 percent of heterosexual couples. My own anecdotal observations seem to see large age gaps in relationships at the socio-economic-cultural margins of society. Basically they seem more common among the very-rich and powerful or among the very poor and/or unconventional. Whether this fits Bernard Shaw’s old observation that morals are for the middle-class, I do not know.
The statistics suggest that a substantial minority of men do prefer romantic relationships with younger women. The big issue with Hollywood sexism is that most 55 year old men are probably not attractive to 37 year old women. Most men in their 50s do not look like Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Most men in their 20s and 30s are not as physically fit as Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Large age gaps in heterosexual couples are still very rare, so it is odd and problematic that Hollywood continues to portray them as the rule over the exception. This is where economics might come in. A friend of mine is a single mom. She told me that when she was in her 30s, she would frequently be hit on by 50 and 60 year old guys at work. These were well to-do professionals with solid incomes and careers. She found this sketchy, gross, and kind of pathetic. Yet there is something about many members of my gender that allows them to think that they are God’s gift to women even when they are well past their prime. This is probably some kind of evolutionary throwback which made sense tens of thousands of years ago but not as much today.
Another issue with the casting decision is that it would be absolutely unacceptable in almost every other industry and probably open up a business to a sex-discrimination and/or age-discrimination law suit. HR or a Hiring Manager at business should and often can not get away with telling a 37-year old woman that she is too old because the guys in the office prefer being around younger women. Women are also not the only victims of age-discrimination. Women are the most common victims of age-discrimination though.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons why a particular actor is not a good fit for a role. The role might not be in their dramatic strengths, they might not have any chemistry with the rest of the cast, they might have reputations for being difficult to work with. Saying that a 37 year old woman is just too old to be the love interest for a 55 year old man is just pure sexism though.