On Gender and Age

Since I am in bed (or on the couch as it is) with a bad cold I have been watching films all day. Only romantic ones of course since my brain is so filled with snot that there is nothing else for me to watch. Or whatever… a bad excuse is better than no excuse, eh? First I saw the BBC adaptation of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall from 1996. I did because it features Toby Stephens for whom I have begun cherishing a grande passion (or however it goes according to Mr Rochester). The lead role is taken by Tara Fitzgerald who portrays the tormented Helen very well. It is fascinating to see her transform from young happy girl to tried wife of a malignant alcoholic and then into a happy and mature woman. Mr Markham (Toby Stephens) seems a little bit vague but then what Helen is looking for is stability and love not ardent fervour and I guess Mr Markham will be an excellent and happy match.
What struck me most was that while just now Toby Stephens has matured and made his way to one of literature’s great romantic heroes – Mr Rochester of Jane Eyre, Tara Fitzgerald has in the same series been transformed from young heroine to evil aunt Reed. First we have them together as a couple:
Tenant of Wildfell Hall

And then we have them as Rochester and Reed:
Mrs Reed


Ten years have passed and Toby Stephens has grown hotter while Tara Fitzgerald obviously has been reduced to an asexual, sick and bitter female. And their ages? Mr Stephens is 37, Ms Fitzgerald is 39.

The day’s other film was Sense and Sensibility. Marie, forgive me, I know thou likest not Jane Austen – but what would you have me do? I cannot continue watching Jane Eyre for crying out loud. Well, the thing is – there it was again. Also this film was made about a decade ago. In it Emma Thompson plays Elinor Dashwood who is quite young despite threatening spinsterhood. Another character is Colonel Brandon portrayed by Alan Rickman. Colonel Brandon is described as a middle aged man of about 40-45 years. In the end he gets the very young Marianne Dashwood played by Kate Winslet. In real life there is about 30 years of age difference between the two.
Well, now to my comparison. Both Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman star in the Harry Potter movies. While Mr Rickman seems to have grown younger in the ten years that have passed (just judging from the amount of grey hair):
Brandon Rickman
Snape Rickman

Ms Thompson seems sadly aged:
Dashwood Thompson

Trelawney Thompson

I can tell you that Alan Rickman turned 60 this year while Emma Thompson turned 47. I think this proves a point (though I do not think Severus Snape is hot), which is that male actors are allowed a longer span of time to do normal roles while the actresses must see themselves faced with character parts almost before they turn 40. Emma Thompson did try, we must allow her that, since she was around 35 when she played Elinor Dashwood who probably should have been about ten years younger.
And now my general point: men are regarded as alive and kicking when it comes to love and relationships and…well life much longer than women. It may be that we laugh at the idea of Elinor Dashwood being a sad spinster at the age of 25 but there is still some truth to it even though we might add ten or fifteen years to that number today. But while a man of 35 is only just a real grown up man, a woman of 35 is past her youth. Or is this too much? I think there is some truth to it even though this may be a bit extreme. And I think it sad and wrong. Let’s change it.
And I don’t mean that the men should turn to character roles when they are close to 40. Remember I am still harbouring that passion for Mr Rochester – no – we must have more female role models. And not only – we should change our ideas about what women are and aren’t and can and cannot do at certain ages. This is one of the large underlying issues left to treat in terms of equality. One of those issues you don’t think about first when talking about equality and therefore one of those that are important to bring to the light. Not least since our life expectancy is continually prolonged and thus proportionally minimising the female period of sexual attractiveness and vital activity. It is neither fair nor right.


October 13, 2006. Films, Television.


  1. confidentialattachees replied:

    Brava, Anna – I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes I think that things are never going to change, that this is the way it will always be when it comes to gender and age, but that’s not going to stop me from trying as hard as I can to change it. Thank you, Anna and everyone else who’s making an effort as well! We deserve better than being reduced to pathetic, unattractive spinsters once we’ve turned 40 and do not have the obligatory husband and child to show for it. And the Big White Men out there know it.


  2. Anna replied:

    I have thought of this many times and couldn’t agree with you more! you just influenced me to write an artical for a paper I’m working with, thanks!

  3. Yeoyou replied:

    Hi, just stumbled upon your side on my search for Toby Stephens pics 😉 That man really is hot!
    But on a completely different matter, I quite liked what you said about equality and age and stuff. as I just did a course at uni about age (which only slowly becomes a matter to study as gender is now) I was very interested in it. I would recommend to read Susan Sontag’s essay “The double standard of aging” where she discusses just this theme.
    :: Yeoyou ::

  4. confidentialattachees replied:

    Thanks for the reference. I’ll check up on that right away. Interesting if age could be the new gender in the humanities.

  5. Sofia replied:

    I absolutely agree! I found it very interesting that both Stephens and Fitzgerald were both in Tenant and Jane Eyre. Personally, I think someone older should have played Mrs. Reed. Rochester was PERFECT! (And that’s how I found this page – googled for pics! ;))

    Rickman to me seems a bit too old to be both the colonel and Snape, even though he’s such a perfect Snape, and on that note, I think Thompson was a bit too old for S&S as well – as Trelawney she’s great. Trelawney doesn’t actually look that old, just a bit dotty.

    But yeah, strange how men seem to get good parts as they age, whereas women don’t. Doesn’t seem quite fair.

  6. neil replied:

    Well-said! I agree!

  7. Christy replied:

    I have just come to your blog through a search for Toby Stephens as Rochester (I love him madly as Rochester, though he’s far, far too good looking, and have you seen him as Orsino in “Twelfth Night”? Sigh), so though I’m three years late, I thought I’d comment anyway. It was quite fascinating to read your analysis of gender and age in movies through these marvelous actors.
    However, I must point out that Elinor Dashwood is 18 years old in the book. I love Emma Thompson’s portrayal of her, but she really was rather too old for the role.

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