Toxic Romance: Ageism

You may have seen the term representation being thrown around more often lately, with what is going on in the news cycle. (If you have somehow made it to this post, but have seen nothing else of late please email me and detail the exact dimensions of the rock you’re hiding under. Then check out our post on Black Lives Matter and begin to educate ya self). 

Anyhow, I’m going to unequivocally say right up front that the reason you’re hearing about representation so much is because it matters. It matters so, so much. For a child—particularly one who lives in a community where they do not see many people who look like them—to turn on a television show and see someone who looks, acts, or thinks like them is imperative. For centuries the only available and positive representation was for straight, cis, white males. In the year of our lord 2020 AD etc etc, we as a society are really only starting to move past this starting point, all things considered. In speaking about representation recently, race is generally the main factor, and while of course equal representation of all races is crucial, it is not the only way to represent humans. Representation of different gender identities, sexualities, abilities, classes, cultures, and ages are also very important. And age representation is the reason I’ve gathered you all here today, so let’s dive in. 

For those unfamiliar, ageism is essentially judging someone solely based on their age. Though technically it could be used to judge a 14 year old incompetent of a particular task, the term was coined in 1969 in relation to the Federal Discrimination in Employment act, which specified that at age 40 is the minimum age at which you report having been discriminated against based on age. As our society moves towards being the oldest it’s ever been (by which I mean there are currently more humans over the age of 65 than there are humans under the age of 5 for the first time in history) it’s time to talk about what it’s like to be middle aged and above. And even more than that, it’s time to talk specifically about being a middle aged woman, as representation of older men is actually pretty plentiful. In 2002, BBC news found that older men outnumber older women on television by 70% and things haven’t seemed to improve in the last 18 years (the whole lifetime of a new adult, I’ll point out). In fact, in 2015 Maggie Gyllenhaal revealed she had been rejected at the age of 37 to play the love interest opposite a 55 year old man because she was “too old.” 

This lack of representation of middle aged love interests is certainly not exclusive to Hollywood. If you’re reading through our site, you’re probably pretty familiar with the trope that readers of romance books are exclusively young women who are waiting for their lives to begin, or spinsters past their prime. While these are lovely (please, I beg of you, the sarcasm) stereotypes, there’s really nothing to back them up. In a 2015 survey, Nielsen BookScan found that the average romance reader is between 30 and 54 years old, and 40% of all romance readers are aged 45 and above. And for the record, 16% of romance readers are male, and their age ranges fell right in line with female readers who were surveyed. 

According to another survey conducted by Romance Writers of America, 70% of romance readers discover their love of the genre between the ages of 11 and 18, thus beginning a lifelong reading journey. As romance readers age, you might expect that they would be interested in reading about heroes and heroines their own age (remember that whole representation thing I was talking about say 2 minutes ago?) but the publishing industry has not made that easy. Though in the past there have been attempts at marketing books featuring older heroines, they have not generally been successful.

The subgenre known as Seasoned Romance (featuring heroines aged 30 and older) is not well promoted in the industry. This is arguably a fault of marketing departments who have been conditioned into only being comfortable selling younger heroines to the masses, thinking that this results in the highest rate of return on the investment of their limited department funds. As we’ve mentioned in articles before, the best way to get anyone’s attention, particularly in the publishing business, is by way of money. By purchasing romance books featuring these seasoned romance heroines, you put your money where your mouth is and prove to the industry that there is indeed worth in books featuring older couples. 

If you are new to the Seasoned Romance subgenre, here are some jumping off points to get you started, and if you’re not new but don’t see your favorite listed here, comment and tell us what we’ve missed! 

  • At Your Service, Sandra Antonelli 
  • From the Ground Up, Jennifer Van Wyk
  • A Change in Tide, Freya Barker
  • Soaring, Kristen Ashley
  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  • Love Game, Maggie Wells
  • A Bad Bit Nice, Josie Kerr
  • Knocked-Up Cinderella, Julie Hammerle
  • We Own Tonight, Corrine Michaels
  • Now that You Mention It, Kristan Higgins
  • Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure, Courtney Milan
  • Nobody’s Baby But Mine, Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Note: if you are interested in the topic of ageism outside of the realm of romancelandia, check out Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.