I was thinking this week about the stories I started out reading and watching, and how few of them had older women in that were actually good role models. I really struggled to think of any!
Thank goodness for J.K. Rowling and the fabulous Professor McGonagall and Mrs Weasley – talk about strong, witty, kick-ass women! Who wouldn’t want to be like them? If I’d had those books to read when I was younger perhaps I would have viewed ageing differently.
Thinking about how older women are portrayed to younger audiences made me think about all the animated Disney movies I grew up with, and that my children watched – especially my daughters. And the more I thought about it the more frustrated I felt. So I wrote this:
I know you mean well. I know that you want to tell great stories and entertain, and obviously make bucket loads of money too. I get that. So, let’s forget for a minute the anatomically impossible tiny waists & giant eyes of Disney Princesses, and the repetitive narrative that females need saving from others or themselves, and just for a moment look at how you portray older women.
Where are the good role models for our daughters? We’ve got Snow White’s stepmother who is so jealous of her youth that she’d actually go so far as to kill her, all whilst desperately doing all the magic she can just to stay wrinkle free. Okay, so not her then!
How about Ursula? Wicked sea-witch, again out to destroy her young nemesis and steal her man away just to feel desirable again. Erm… maybe not.
Maleficent? Devil horns and so full of anger and jealousy because she doesn’t feel included or seen anymore that she takes it out on the beautiful, young princess. Nope… although, hats off to Angelina Jolie for the live action version which turns the tale on its head and creates a much better story.
How about the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella? She doesn’t cause any harm, so maybe you feel that she’s a good role model? Possibly, but she’s also portrayed as a twee, overly sweet-old-granny, bumbling along – is that your idea of a perfect aging woman? I hope not.
I know that characters in stories are never supposed to be the perfect role models, they are simply there to illustrate a particular characteristic, flaw or problem. I get that, really I do. In fact, nobody, real or fictional, is ever a PERFECT role model, because we’re all imperfect in myriad ways and that’s okay.
But, I do think that it’s important that books, movies, advertising etc. stop consistently portraying older women as youth-obsessed, jealous, petty, unnattractive, feeble or evil characters. It’s lazy story-telling to be honest. And it simply doesn’t reflect real-life. It does however perpetuate the idea that youth is the most prized attribute for a female. Excuse me for a moment whilst I YAWN! It really is quite boring, we’re talking about a stage of life that lasts for less than a third of our life – and for the first decade and a bit of that we’re little children. If we spend around two thirds of our life as ‘older women’ why isn’t that the way we are represented most?
I love that you are making an effort to address negative stereotypes and I’m looking forward to seeing more stories where the princesses sole aim isn’t to fall in love, or where we see two queens on the throne (no pun intended). I hope that tackling ageism is also on your list. Let’s see some older women who are the heroines, sharing their wisdom, kicking ass, and being looked up to by the younger princess as who they want to become. Show our girls that ageing is nothing to be scared of, that the short years of youth are just the training wheels for life, and there is so much more to come. Inspire them to be independent, strong and vibrant for their whole life, not just one tiny chapter.
What films or books do you know of that have great older female characters in? Let me know in the comments below as I’d love to compile a list so we can share them with the young girls in our life and make sure that they have some great older role models to look up to.