Where Are Real (Older) Women?

Enough already. Not enough already.

Where are all the women heroines of a certain age? The age beyond young thing and even beyond middle age? I know there are millions of us out here, heroines in many ways, but where are we in the movies and on TV?

Some characters cling to the upper middle age category for a few years. They teeter through their roles as hard-driving lawyers or policewomen in high heels and tight dresses, assuring us they are still sex bombs, thank you. And also smart.

But once they retire, it’s as if they plunge off a cliff in those high heels.

If a hot young thing character mentions her older mother or former female boss, she’s usually dead, in a home with dementia, or playing cards in Arizona.

Well Rounded WomanBut watch out if the mother does appear! Most likely she’s one of the following: 1) a Jewish, Italian or Southern bossy busybody who bakes and barks; 2) a devious, resentful neurotic who plots and schemes; 3) a hippie throwback who grows pot in the country somewhere and has visions (aka hallucinations); 4) a gypsy who’s been living in Spain or South America; 5) a self-centered socialite who cruises the world with a 30-year-old boy toy; or 6) a combination of one or more of these.

Her sole purpose in life – and in the story – seems to be to make her family miserable. Unless she’s dying, she doesn’t stay long. She often gets kicked out or runs off to her next family member or adventure.

Why can’t we see more older women in movies and TV shown as we really are: enjoying our lives, taking care of ourselves and others, facing challenges, doing interesting things, or maybe just learning to relax successfully?

Movies like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” portray older women (and men), but despite their spirited natures, they are not part of modern lives and families. In fact, they have banded together as a way of avoiding isolation. James Bond’s boss – M – played by the great Judi Dench in the Bond movies, is a strong character, but she gets killed off in the remote highlands of Scotland. There are exceptions, of course. Helen Mirren successfully and believably transitioned from middle age to older age during the 14 years she played Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison on “Prime Suspect.”

Meryl Streep, like Katherine Hepburn before her, has successfully swooped into the certain age category. In “It’s Complicated,” “Hope Springs,” and “Jules and Julia” she plays real older women – sensual, alive, attractive, intelligent, funny, vulnerable. In her latest movie, “August: Osage County,” she is family matriarch Violet, a hard-to-take harridan. She is heart wrenchingly damaged and takes it out on those around her, including her three daughters. During one scene, she assures them that while men get more appealing with age, women do not.

As Violet, she has been nominated for her 18th Academy Award. Golden Globe hostess Tiny Fay quipped recently, “She is brilliant … It’s good to know there are still roles for Meryl Streeps in their 60s.”

I recently saw the movie and think she deserves the nomination, if not the award. (It would be her 4th.) Violet is a morbidly fascinating character (see Number 6, above).

But I truly hope I don’t see her often on the big or small screen – and that she is not considered a role model or a typical older woman.