Age against the machine

Clair Woodward
7 min readOct 1, 2020

Ironic that Hollywood — home of the eternally youthful and bouncy-titted — has made a stand against ageism. To mark the United Nations International Day of Older Persons, the Writers Guild of America West has demanded that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expand its new inclusivity rules for the Oscars to include age discrimination.

Photo by Nathan DeFiesta on Unsplash

“Conspicuously missing (in these rules) was any reference to age,” said the letter, written by WGA West Career Longevity Committee head Catherine Clinch. It continues: “For decades, members of the Writers Guild of America have lived under the burden of this painful reality — that older writers are the only diversity category that it is socially acceptable to discriminate against. Hollywood has not even created the façade of pretending to include older writers in the workplace. Diversity programs sponsored by the Writers Guild have been able to find employment and representation for members of all other categories — except for older writers.”

This is amazing on two levels. The fact that there is a UN day for older people, and that Hollywood writers are one of the few high-profile bodies actively calling out ageism. However, fellow over-50’s, don’t get too excited. There is hardly any media coverage of 1 October being a day for Older Persons+, and I’m not expecting a 70-year-old to be asked to script a Tinseltown blockbuster any day now.

The Generation Gap has become the Generation Chasm, shouting insults about property prices and eating avocado on toast at each other in an incessant echo. Boomers (and boy, am I glad I was born six months after the cut-off point to be one #innocent) seem generally hated by Millennials, who blame them for not having a home they can afford, or any way of moving forward in life or work. Boomers dislike Millennials for being lazy and entitled. I’d love every age to be able to work together and get on agreeably, but speaking as a 55-year-old woman who can’t get a job, I feel I’m the recipient of the shitty end of the stick age-wise.

When I was working in newspaper offices, I started to notice the age-creep. I was told that the young people on a newspaper webdesk referred to older print journalists there as “bed-blockers”. A younger writer did a piece on an 80-year-old fitness expert, and wrote: “I expected the door to be opened by a grey-haired, stooped granny in carpet slippers”, and that they were amazed to see a fit, slim, tall, blonde stunner when they met her.

In another office, I felt that some younger colleagues actively disliked me because of my age. I know I wasn’t the most digitally-savvy person, but I felt a certain sneeriness about the different experience I’d had in the workplace. People my age and older have worked through a revolution in the workplace as digital culture has changed everything, and we’ve done OK, but we do think slightly differently. This leads to a lot of eye-rolling amongst younger people, but sorry — we’ve got crossover skills which are no better or worse than those of digital natives.

The world of journalism and media has changed so much since I got my first job, using a golf-ball typewriter and Telexes, thirty-odd years ago, so it’s no wonder I can’t get another one. I see jobs advertised, and despite trying to keep up, I have no idea what most of them are — and neither would I want to do them. But having fewer older people as media gatekeepers means that our stories aren’t told — and especially older women. I marvel that Dr Michael Mosely seems to still be presenting EVERYTHING medical on TV, despite being a 63-year-old white man; count the over-60 women on TV and it’s largely Mary Beard and Joan Bakewell and umm…

It’s the same with TV drama. Nicky Clark has been running her Acting Your Age campaign for two years. It aims to increase the visibility of older women in performance; to have 60-year-old women playing the wives of 60-year-old men, and to have them not be face-lifted and Botoxed to look 35. It’s a tough fight. I love Netflix’s Grace and Frankie; older women having lives and all that. But Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are both in their early 80s and obviously not unfamiliar with a bit of facial work. Why are we not allowed to see women who don’t just look “good for their age”, but their actual age, when we’re still seeing rugged, silver fox men on screen who obviously think using moisturiser is for wimps.

Mind you, the “good for your age” thing can apply to men, too. I remember reading an interview with Michael Palin in an issue of Saga Magazine a couple of years back, where the writer said: “He’s 75, but doesn’t look it”. Now, nobody loves The Palin as much as me, but he looks comfortably lived-in, but still incredibly handsome. Nothing wrong with that.

But there is an implication that there’s something wrong with being older. If we’re lucky, we might get to live to the UK average of 81 years. What are we supposed to do in the last 30-odd years of our lives? Commit suicide so as to make way for younger generations? Have endless facelifts and go shopping at Topshop in order to get down with the kids?

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

It drives me nuts to see those close-ups of wrinkly hands used to illustrate old age by lazy picture editors, but at least they haven’t had some revolutionary collagen treatment to restore them to youthful plumpness. There’s nothing wrong with being wrinkly (don’t you just want to touch the lovely soft skin on Dame Maggie Smith’s face?); in carrying a comfortable few pounds extra, in not being much bothered with the canon of Billie Eilish, in liking clothes that are comfy? Even in the new breed of publications that are targeting an older consumer appear to be celebrating the , it’s the “fabulous” oldies in particular. The 0.01% who look so amazing that brands are using them as models or ambassadors. The ones who can still fit into the clothes they had at 21. The ones who have the money to start a new career aged over 50. Not a beige cardigan or copy of The Puzzler in sight.

It’s lovely that these mags are starting, but will they make any money? I guess one of the reasons they are starting is that mainstream newspaper supplements aren’t interested in writing about older people, despite the fact that so much of their advertising comes from mail-order brands for walk-in baths and slip-on shoes. Most of their readers might be over 50, but their fashion pages don’t reflect that, unless you get the odd ‘mother-daughter’ fashion feature (and not all of us have kids, but that’s another matter…)

Ageism is losing companies money. A recent Sun Life insurance report, Retiring Ageism, discovered that 35% of Britons felt neglected or under-represented when they hit 50, with 29% of those over 50 saying that this neglect prevented them from them from trying new things. And probably buying new things as well, as the report discovered that few brands post social media content featuring anyone over 50 (eg in all of John Lewis’ entire 2019 Instagram feed, only one post featured someone who appeared to be over 50. And as we know, Ver Kids are really flocking to John Lewis). Just imagine if business properly looked at Boomers, and the money they have that Millennials resent so much, and targeted ads at them. They might spend more. And that might give more young people jobs in the process.

Retiring Ageism also reported that only two in ten people over 50 felt that newspapers represented their age positively, despite a YouGov survey showing that half of all current news subscribers to print and online products are aged over 55. This means that those who are handing over cold, hard cash to keep the vital newspaper industry alive are the least-served by what they see in what they pay for. This, frankly, is NUTS. Papers are so keen to win over Millennials to future-proof themselves that they’re forgetting the people who are loyally keeping them alive now.

The same applies to television. Much as I adore the BBC, their rush to appeal to the next generation of licence-fee payers (and good luck with that one) with US buy-ins, and the possible disappearance of the wondrous BBC Four means that there’s less for those of us who are happily paying our licence fee. They need to take a leaf from Channel 5 controller Ben Frow’s book; the channel is doing very nicely indeed with their populist but upmarket schedule which is happy to have an older demographic, thank you very much.

I worked in magazine development a few years ago (fancy that! New magazines!!), and one of them was a project for women over 50. Even if I say it myself, it was a bloody good product, only scuppered by the company buying a company which had a Proper Old Person’s magazine. The research we did showed that one of the most important things readers were looking for in a publication was to be given new information that they could share with their friends. Things they hadn’t been told a thousand times already; things that made them think differently or put a new spin on beliefs they already held. Things that excite and challenge. Hey, just the things that younger readers want too!

Us (just about) Boomers and Millennials aren’t really so far apart, and we really have to work to narrow the generation chasm. But us over 50’s must fight to make our voices heard, and to make ourselves and our lives visible and acceptable, so that today’s kids who aren’t having a happy time now at least won’t have to endure a miserable and ignored older life.



Clair Woodward

Journalist, editor. Writes about arts, entertainment, life. Follow and commission me — Twitter @clairywoowoo