I Will Not Go Quietly 😶
On rejecting ageism at the movies
I bought a MoviePass recently, which is being billed as the Netflix for movie theaters. At ten bucks a month it’s a steal and I’ve been catching quite a few shows. I barely even bother to look up the reviews since the only real sacrifice is my time. Which is how I ended up viewing Daniel Day Lewis’ new movie, Phantom Threads.
I had little idea about the story except that some smart people I knew liked it. I felt a creeping dread as I watched the plot unfold. That old, familiar storyline slowly coming into view: A man delivered from his middle-aged discontent via a much younger love interest. Baptized in the font of young pussy — when I’m feeling less kind.
This is the exact plot line that sends me over the edge. We are marinated and pickled in the narrative of May-December romances as a mid-life pick me up. Even more galling is that every woman over the age of forty was portrayed as a drunk, shrewd business woman, or dowdy servant. None was a love interest for anyone, and the overall tone was that they had agreeably stepped into a loveless, sexless phase of life.
My boyfriend loved the movie and called it feminist, which elicited my signature eye roll. This is a story by and for men. Specifically, middle-aged ones with enough of a sense of self to see themselves as flawed, but lacking imagination as to how that might be rectified.
In one of the final cringeworthy scenes, Lewis and his love interest dreamily hand the baby off to Day’s sister who smiles at the couple as they walk off arm in arm.
I kept looking around the theater at the other women and wondering how was it possible we weren’t rioting? I can’t be the only one fed up with this hack and stultifying story line. Every permutation of this male fairy tale has been told, lauded, and retold.
So far I am alone in my critique, but I am right about this. Daniel Day Lewis can’t give a bad performance, and the movie is a visual feast, but it relies on a deeply sexist and tired premise.
Do I sound bitter? I am about this. I’m exhausted with a force-fed, media diet of sexual retirement. It isn’t fair to be subjected to this nonsense and then have to be quiet about it. We pretend this doesn’t have an effect on our own biases and assumptions, but the evidence says otherwise.
Take the reverse; younger men suddenly wanting to date older women. This isn’t a new idea but the volume of interest has increased significantly in recent years. My theory is that this trend has been galvanized by porn. Age is being fetishized and changing tastes.
It was tempting to think this good news until I actually tried to date a few. I found it off-putting to get naked with someone who has a lot less sun damage than I do. I like my age reflected back in my partners.
In my twenties I dated a few men significantly older than myself. Even if it didn’t go poorly (and sometimes it did), I don’t think well of the men in hindsight. My girlishness was a balm for fragile egos. I was especially attractive to men who didn’t have the resources to meet their female peers where they stood. I see this clearly now as I watch from the other side.
I’m not willing to go with the flow, which in this case means I shrug and resign myself to no longer being viable to my peers. It’s not a biological imperative when you have no intention on making babies anymore.
I can’t make anyone want me, of course, but I don’t have to smile graciously as I am relegated to the giveaway pile. And, I won’t agreeably consume media that casts women over forty as matronly babysitters, fit only for friendship. Or worse, spent hags who have opted themselves out of love by having the nerve to get and look older.
Does Hollywood have no other story to tell? This one is breathlessly rehashed year after year, and then trotted out as the new Oscar contender. Young woman as a blank slate agreeably taking on the task of cracking open the older man is the single, dullest storyline in cinema today. And yet, these are the scripts that get funded and the movies made, over and over.
I am not critiquing young women, they didn’t cast themselves in this nonsense or write it. The ones I know are lovely humans with a great deal more to offer the world than salvaging a man twice her age. They aren’t benefitting from this storyline either, extolling youth begins to condition them for the acceptance of being discarded with age.
It matters what kinds of stories are told. What we inhale, we expel.
Age has been good to me. The story of my life is nuanced and richly textured. I float into complexity. I am relevant to men and women, and I want to see those stories told on the big screen.
Here’s what I know for sure: I’m no babysitter.