The heavy burden of the ingénue … and the old hag


I used to work somewhere where the chief editor, who was and is a great writer, wrote or edited a lot of articles, often on short notice. This usually led him, last minute, to groping for a word to describe a preternaturally talented, unusually gifted musician. He always landed on “ingénue” even though he was almost always writing about a male musician. I brought up the misuse every time (as copy editor/proofreader), and he’d answer, “Oh, really?” And then substitute “ingénue” for “wunderkind”. Every time. I think of this every time I see the word “ingénue”.

This also springs to mind every time I read an article about women over 40, for some reason. Particularly when I read about actresses over 40 who opine (if not complain) about aging and the bitter, brutal competition they face in Hollywood. Or women who have fallen victim to the sad, repetitive story of being cheated on/thrown aside for the much-younger nanny. (Amy Schumer poked fun at this trope in a recent Inside Amy Schumer sketch – in the end, the “nanny” doesn’t need to be a hot, young, naive woman. Men are pigs, as the sketch posits, and will stick it in any available hole.)

A recent article about (almost-unknown) actress Lauren Weedman (I remember her well from two shows that missed their mark despite starting with promising premises – Hung and Looking. I eventually came to hate-watch Looking because its promise was so squandered in my mind). Her husband cheated with a young nanny, and she divorced him. Weedman put a comical spin on her suffering:

“There’s something so damn interesting and damn depressing about men being attracted to much younger and naive women. Leaving behind their old, aging, bossy wives—like that old biddy Gwen Stefani. Just today I read that the definition of “ingénue” was a girl that was young and naive. My entire life I’d thought that it meant “young and pretty.” It never dawned on me that naive was a selling point.”

And that’s just it, isn’t it? “Ingénue” does not really mean what people think it does.

It’s not as though some of these over-40 women feeling the short end of the stick today were not once the pretty ingénues themselves.

Thus when I read an article in Salon recently that discussed Amanda Peet‘s frank article on aging in Hollywood, I could not help but think … isn’t that just what happens? The younger, fresher faces float in and seem effortlessly to usurp yesterday’s crop of ingénues?

You’d think so, but check out what Peet wrote:

“Recently, I was told I was ineligible for a movie because I wasn’t “current” enough. I’m constantly pushed out by younger talent, like Alicia Vikander. You might think, Wait, she’s 27 and a gorgeous movie star, and you’re 44 and a low-tier, TV-mom-type; you’re not in the same ballpark. But she is squeezing me out. She’s in the hot center and I’m on the remote perimeter. The train has left the station and I’m one of those moronic stragglers running alongside with her purse caught in the door. Everyone’s looking at me like, Let go, you bullheaded old hag! There’s no room for you.””

Even swallowing the idea that, yeah, she’s in mom-role territory and should not have to be competing against women 20+ years younger than her for those roles, this is ridiculous. In the real world where I live, we want to think (and are led to believe) that there’s this inclusive space for everyone (and as the article points out, there are the Helen Mirrens and the Charlotte Ramplings of the world – eternally graceful and untouchable, which give the illusion that women of a certain age are more than welcome on the silver and tv screens. But are they?). Still, I’d argue that the Peets of the world had their day – and perhaps pushed over-40 women off the platform before their time.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re on the other side of 40 (even if the whole Hollywood circus is becoming more incredulous in its casting. Yes, a 27-year-old should definitely play the mother of a pre-teen just because a woman in her 20s is photogenic – who cares about reality?).

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