Dr. Cheryl Woodson

“Age is NOT a Disease,” but No One Seems to Know That.

Gray Panthers’ founder, Maggie Kuhn said, “Age is not a disease.” Not only do Hollywood producers NOT understand that, they’ve lost their minds. What idiot told Maggie Gyllenhaal that she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old male character. She’s just 37 years-old!! Seriously?

This is sexism as well as ageism. Female actors have what Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette called “the last f***able day,” meaning the last sexually attractive day. Male actors don’t have that limitation. They (and male TV news personalities) can lose their hair, gain weight, get wrinkled, and still retain their marketability and positions. Women get put out to pasture.

The reason is that Nature’s primary goal is procreation. In the animal kingdom, fertility and the resources to nurture the young are at a premium. The most accomplished male gets his pick of the high-fertility (adolescent) females, giving no attention to older, menopausal females. Nature doesn’t consider that humans have wrought social changes that downplay the value of fertility.

As unfair as this double standard is for women, men don’t get always get a free ride. Nature ignores older females, but it’s no walk in the park for younger males. In the wild, these guys live marginal, stress-filled lives until the main guy misses his kill. Then, the young’un who has developed enough strength and other resources puts up a challenge. He becomes the main man, and the other guys stay in “Nowhereland.” Some human polygamous communities function under these same dynamics. Raising the greatest number of children is the goal, and old men with assets marry young girls. Some of these communities actually kick the young men out, but with humans, older men don’t always get a free ride.

Sexism and ageism are powerful factors. AARP reported that members of the 50+ crowd who were unemployed five years ago, are still unemployed. A mentor of mine received a national award which only six people in her field have ever earned. That same week, her company downsized her. Several of my friends (male and female) have been passed over for promotions, only to find themselves training the younger person who got the position. Several others (again male and female,) have credentials, experience, and a track record, but lost out to a younger person who couldn’t command the same salary. Still others make sure to dye their hair before interviews.

I heard a literary agent say that he doesn’t work with older writers (of either gender) because “younger writers have many years of productive writing ahead of them.” Several writers have published best sellers after retirement. Doesn’t this literary agent know that a 65 year old American has an average 19 years of life expectancy? When you don’t have to work overtime, stay up all night with sick children, or worry about a mortgage YOU HAVE TIME TO WRITE. “Seasoned” writers also have the perspective of years and experience to enrich your stories. Another agent said no one was interested in stories about women over 40. Didn’t this agent realize that there are over 40 million women over age 40? Not only do we buy books, we also give the YA crowd the money to buy books and tickets to those popular young adult movies.

We humans have the ability to use our huge, evolutionarily advanced and complex brains to override Nature’s imperatives and respond to the social changes that we have created. We can assess a person’s value based on their individual talents, irrespective of their race, bank account balance, family name, culture, gender identification, or sexual orientation, and not because they are fertile, have a Y chromosome, or the date they came on the planet.

NOTE: Meryl Streep wants to support women who write projects for “us.” If you’re a screenwriter with a “grown woman” project, go to http://variety.com/2015/film/news/meryl-streep-women-screenwriters-lab-1201475337/ to enter her scholarship program. The deadline is June 1.

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