Maggie Gyllenhaal is “Too Old?” I Guess That Means Our 50s Aren’t the New 30s

Maggie Gyllenhaal too old, sexism, ageism

Fifty, sixty, seventy, one hundred; what’s the difference? One old lady walking looks just like the next.

The other day I perused the Internet for short hair styles that might be attractive on older women. Why? I’m considering a change in style, and yes, I’m an “older woman.”

So imagine my surprise upon encountering a picture of the lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal among the images. Maggie G., only 37, is an older woman? Since fricking when? Since Gyllenhaal told CNN that a Hollywood producer told her that, uh, her advanced years made her too old to play the lover of a fifty-five year old man. Plenty of smart writers, including The Broad Side‘s own Lisa Solod have had something to say about the movie industry’s ageism. Tinsel Town’s age gap pairings are as old as the Hollywood Hills.

So are assessments as to female desirability. Amy Schumer hilariously captured today’s prevailing mindset in her “Last F**kable Day” video, starring Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in which the stars are lunching al fresco, with plenty of wine, to “celebrate” the fact that VEEP star Julia can finally stop worrying about Hollywood style female maintenance because she’s no longer on that f**able list. Hard to believe we’re still dealing with overt female-centric ageism in 2015. But we certainly are.

This phenomenon goes beyond female desirability; there’s an underlying message that after a certain point, you may as well not even try because no matter how good you look at 50-something, there’s an expiration date that can’t be overcome. Women over fifty might as well all wear loose-fitting Eileen Fisher ensembles or J. Jill comfort-wear and be done with it. In everyone’s eyes, we’re one amorphous post-child-bearing blob.

Since I’m past sixty, I remained preternaturally attuned to references about “seniors” in pop culture. For example:

  • On a recent episode of “The Good Wife,” the client was “a little old lady” of 62, played by an actress who appeared to be in her mid-seventies and defended by the lawyer played by Christine Baranski, 63, and
  • On a rerun of “Law and Order: SVU,” the rape of a woman was seen as especially revolting because she was an old woman of 60.

On the other hand, we have a comedy on Netflix in which two honestly aged characters bemoan their fates as seventy-somethings facing divorce for the first time. The fact that they are played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda with gleaming teeth, perfect skin, beautiful necks and all the money their characters require is simply a way to address the issues of female aging without throwing too many wrinkles into the plot, I guess.

Yet, somehow, senior women are the latest trend, we’re told. AdWeek gushed in early April that “older women are the new ‘it’ girls.” Apparently retailers are belatedly realizing baby boomers hold—and spend—most of the wealth. Wave our wallets at them and watch them come running? We’ll see how long that lasts.

Meanwhile, the truthful portraits of mature females vie for attention with the more popular tropes that older women (except for Dame Helen Mirren, of course) have two choices: lift, dye, process, rinse, repeat, until you look like something that, as Julia Louis-Dreyfus observed in the video, “has been left out too long in the sun.” Or accept your lot in life as a generic sexless thing. You can fight against it; I certainly intend to.

So back to the haircuts: I’m sorry that 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal has been placed in a “mature woman” category when it comes to style. It could be worse. For instance, I went back to look and came across a style in the “women over sixty” category that interested me: short, curly and low-maintenance. Looks a bit like Carol, the gray-haired warrior from “The Walking Dead.” Wait; that IS Carol; at least it’s a picture of the actress who plays her, Melissa McBride. McBride just turned fifty. Oh well, fifty, sixty, seventy, one hundred; what’s the difference?

One old lady walking looks just like the next.

Nikki Stern is the author of the books Hope in Small Doses and Because I Say So: Moral Authority’s Dangerous Appeal. Nikki’s articles have appeared in the New York Times, Salon, USA Today, Newsweek, and Humanist Magazine, among others. She’s currently working on a book of short fiction. Follow her on Twitter at @realnikkistern.

Image via depositphotos

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