Sunday, 7 October 2018

What shall I tell my daughter

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an actress in possession of more than 40 years lived, must be in want of her retirement.

Women are everywhere. Anyone would think we're 50% of the population the way we go on. If we're not complaining, we're protesting, if we're not protesting we're complaining about protesting and if we're not protesting or complaining, we're complaining that no one listens to our protesting and so they just go ahead and nominate Kavanagh anyway.

It's enough to make you want to have a beer. I LIKE BEER TOO BRETT.

In May 2018 I launched a campaign. It's called the "Acting Your Age Campaign" and it challenges the notion that when a woman reaches the age of 40 she must happily give up any hopes of a meaningful acting career, because no one cares about any story that places a woman over 40 at it's centre.

I did so in frustration in a week that had seen the launch of two male led dramas by male actors in their 50's with female leads in their 30's.
There was also the news of the latest release in the Mission Impossible franchise, showing us again, if proof were needed, that whilst it's male star Tom Cruise has continued to work whilst passing the 40 year threshold comfortably into his middle 50's,  his female co-stars have remained the same age.

Not the same age as him, you understand but the same age that they were when the Mission Impossible franchise first began, in 1996.

It would seem that it's not so much a tape detailing rogue states or rogue agents that self destructs, but rather the calendar attached to the contracts of the female actors featured in that film series, when they reach 40 years old.

My question is this. What shall I tell my daughter Lizzy? She's an actor and at 24 she has at best 16 years of a career left and it's not even properly begun.

More widely what are we saying to all our daughters?

Everyone sympathises when sports stars retire young, no one bats an eyelid when it's a 40 year old actress.

A female drama student beginning her training this month has roughly half the career trajectory of her male peers. Not because of lack of talent, not because of lack of professionalism, not because of fecklessness but because she is female and he isn't.

A gender disparity this egregious, this blatant and this shameful would, you might expect be in all the media outlets and platforms we have, but no. Apart from Alice Jones who covered it in her ipaper Column. There were only two industry pieces. The mainstream media silence is deafening.

The most depressing thing for me was that when I launched my campaign film in August which has a stellar cast, all the women editors I approached either ignored me or told why they didn't think it was important. Except one editor who told me she didn't have the budget.

As the message was coming from me, a middle aged woman asking that middle aged women shouldn't be ignored by the media; naturally I've been ignored, by the media.

I listened to Woman's Hour, after I approached the editor about my campaign.

I'd already approached them a few times and I was really keen for feedback as to why this wasn't deemed an important issue given that it is a blatant gendered disparity.

I'd got my courage from the Woman's Hour Power list videos and all the successful women on the list.They're all  great mentors who said inspirational and empowering things like "ask for what you want", "be clear and direct" , "don't feel intimidated" and "don't give up keep fighting".

So I did that.

She said that no they weren't going to cover it and that I shouldn't really email that address anyway but rather the generic Woman's Hour address. She said that she was sorry but they got a lot of requests and couldn't possibly cover everything and also they talk to a lot of actresses about the issue.

I did wonder why then if a lot of older actresses talk about it and this was the first dedicated campaign specifically on that issue, then maybe it was newsworthy.

Then she ended the email. Well I think she did because she didn't sign it.

I wrote an apologetic email saying I hadn't meant to disturb her or offend her. Not very "Power List" of me I admit, but maybe those things work once you are a powerful woman and not when you're not.

Anyway back to that Woman's Hour episode which came after my email. They were doing a piece on Bodyguard, just before the final episode. I love Woman's Hour so I was listening.

Jane Garvey, who I also love, asked the TV reviewer, whether with shows like Bodyguard, we are now seeing a golden age for women on TV. I thought about the editor's email again and wondered that myself.

Then I thought no, as according to the editor's email it would seem the real power of Woman's Hour lies apparently with the woman who collects all the emails from the generic info address.

So maybe that's what all the people, except actresses over 40 in interviews with "Womans Hour were saying, in emails to the programme.

I opened a packet of chocolate biscuits and listened on.

At this point I just need to say, "can I also say and men"

I need to add that, as that's what Woman's Hour do everytime they talk to any woman about a specific issue which disproportionately affects women.
I'm not sure if it's for BBC Balance or a personal choice by the presenters but it's there.

I mean the irony of the lack of BBC balance in the representation of middle aged women and men on screen and the lack of media coverage of it on the daily flagship woman (can I also say and men) dedicated programme, isn't lost on me, but there we are.

For complete balance they should really change the name of the programme to "Womans (can I also say and men) Hour". But I don't think they will.

I'm not belittling Woman's Hour. I'm also not belittling the experience of men. I'm just questioning why they have to have equal representation in respect of issues that disproportionately affect women in the patriarchy, to a much greater degree than they affect men.

I'm merely pointing out that if every time we mention women we also have to say "and men" we're not really going to get much done, whilst the patriarchy sits there and congratulates itself that it's once again successfully man-spreading its way into women's spaces.

I've done that through humour, which as we know always plays well and is never misinterpreted.

But I've digressed again. I'm like Ronnie Corbett. Middle aged reference klaxon.

So, before you run away with the notion that I'm dissing Bodyguard I'm not.  I love BodyGuard. It's a nail biting drama which has really upset the snowflake sexists because it features women in many different roles. Capable, strong, professional, women y'know just like in life.

But it is the story, as the title explains, about a Bodyguard.

If it had been called "Home Secretary" I would agree that it should feature prominently in any and all lists detailing the "Golden Age of Women on TV" (can I also say and men)

But it isn't, so it can't. Potentially  we might be shuffling very slowly towards a bronze age of women (can I also say and men) But that's it.

In Bodyguard, the mighty  Keeley Hawes is over 40. Her character as portrayed was intelligent, witty, capable and enthusiastically sexual. (Ma'am)

This notable aspect of the drama had Theresa May clutching at invisible pearls from the podium on the Tory party conference stage, which she had dad-danced onto only minutes before and declaring "It wasn't like that in my day" (cue conference hilarity because it's funny isn't it, that women over 40 have sex)

So Julia was all of those things as detailed above and the crucial reason why this show isn't part of any golden age for women on TV is that Julia was dead by the end of Episode 3.

All of my energy is going into not believing that it was "the sex what done it" because let's face it the rule was being broken royally.

Women in film who enjoy sex must NOT be over 40 and if they are by some weird "PC gone mad" rule of inclusion, having sex they absolutely CAN'T still be alive for long afterwards, because my god, what's next?

Women over 50 having sex, or over 60 or over 70?




Like in "Black Earth Rising" when John Goodman is getting no solicitor work done because beautiful women of all ages keep trying to have sex with him, even in the same room as his comatose daughter. Is that the sort of believable "not at all a male fantasy" version of the truth you mean....

No wonder the legal system is arguably broken.

Anyway back to erasure.

I can think of only one show that is on the Golden Age list and that does not, a golden age make.

"Killing Eve" ticks all my boxes and especially my campaign "Woman Adjunct Test" because it features two women prominently one young, one middle-aged, at the same time, with the same amount of screen time and they're not doing anything at all to move things along for a bloke.

The story is about the women, not a man with a side order of sexy woman, embittered women, woman in peril to be saved, or his mum WHO HE LOVES SO MUCH.

The programme offers a tiny glimmer of hope that women at the heart of the story can be interesting. Their sexuality is a dramatic point which features as a side issue, not the reason they're there and their bodies are driven by the only organ that really matters, their brains.

We need to see more of this, otherwise no matter how many strong, young, women we see leading feminist campaigns in media, the most influential media we have, is telling them a different story.

It's saying that a woman's value in the TV & film industry is built around her youth and sexuality.

Her perceived desirability and the currency this carries, as determined by men. Women's sexual expression mustn't be curbed but when that is the only reason for a woman to appear and when the sexuality of middle aged women is traduced to a joke, or a statement of desperation, or tied into mental unbalance, then oppression becomes the driver and it insults men of all ages.

The crisis in masculinity we're seeing is fed by the notion that men can age and can and should be having sex with much younger women as a right. The "trophy" partnerships played out on our screens  betrays the fact of a sentient women, who loses value only because she ages.

The women of the ME TOO and Times UP movement, who led the change and led the accountability, the women who outed Bill Cosby, all lost their careers. We know sexually predatory behaviour is about power not sex but sexual currency is a huge part of exploitation and exploitation once normalised is entrenched.

Although believed and applauded now for their bravery, the women of ME TOO face an industry which has no place for them as artists.

Women who age are expected to keep working, as we know from the WASPI women campaign, that prolonged careers are a fiscal imperative everywhere but in acting. Working women don't see themselves on screen equally represented, whilst at the same time the fight continues for equal pay in every other sphere of life.

The stories we tell must reflect society as it is. The message of the erasure of middle aged women is that our lives have no value and our stories aren't deemed interesting.

Female actors over the age of 40 still need to eat and have somewhere to live.

Nothing more than a calendar prevents them. Nothing more than a calendar deems my campaign which highlights blatant, sexist ageism,  not newsworthy.

So as I mentioned earlier, what shall we tell our daughters?