Hollywood has been known to ostracise the older woman; casting her as the evil, old hag, or the sickly, bed-ridden woman. So it has been incredibly refreshing to see both a film, and popular television series that is top-lined by post-retirement women. The Netflix television series, Grace and Frankie, along with the latest release of Book Club, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Diane Keaton among others, are just two examples that represent the needs, aspirations, and lives of older women.
Book Club, a relatively low-budget comedy about four female friends in their 60s and 70s, is breaking the mould by considering the sex lives of post-retirement age women. The film is based around a 40-year friendship that is anchored around monthly book-group meetings that revolve around gossip and laments about their sex lives.
Within the first 10 minutes of Book Club, Vivian (Jane Fonda) instructs everybody to get laid. Diane (Diane Keaton) grabs a man’s penis on a plane, Sharon (Candice Bergen) is diagnosed with a ‘real lethargic pussy’ (her cat, but still…) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) delivers a perfect punchline to the suggestion that ageing vaginas are a subject worthy of Werner Herzog: “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams!”
A 2011 study showed that 60% of older female cinema-goers were tired of seeing themselves being portrayed as ‘sexless grandmothers’. Other statistics show that more than 40% of Americans aged between 65 and 80 are are still sexually active… So, why is it only now that this subject is being discussed? Some sources suggest that the millennial generation has a more liberal attitude to sex, and gender. With an average demographic of 18-35, a younger generation seems to be gaining interest in the lives of an older generation.
Grace & Frankie, portrays the chemistry of two former co-stars Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin collaborating once again to create a truly enigmatic, uniquely original show that focuses on two women of a certain age. Grace (Jane Fonda), a snooty, self-medicating WASP, and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), a former hippie who smokes pot, burns sage and makes lubricant from yams, are forced to live together. When both their husbands, Sol (Sam Waterson), and Robert (Martin Sheen) leave them to get married to each other, Grace and Frankie forge an unlikely friendship that blossoms into this perfectly charismatic TV show.
Not only does the show manage to explore female sexuality in the older generation but the possibility of a homosexual relationship in your 70s. Sheen and Waterson are both fantastic in their roles; trying to orchestrate coming out whilst keeping their respective families peacefully together.
Sexual activity is explored through varying themes of age, prostitution, gender and sexuality. During Season 1, before Sol and Robert get married, Sol and his ex-wife Frankie decide to have sexual relations again for the last time, representing the notion that sexuality and gender are fluid.
One of the more humorous aspects of the show is Grace and Frankie’s business venture; making the vibrator geriatric-friendly. Although it’s a comedic element of the film, it’s an issue that is hardly expressed in modern-day film.
Bill Holderman suggests that, “I do think [Hollywood] is male dominated and that [the subject of older women’s sex lives] is still, sadly, taboo in our culture – particularly in America…”
Do you think older women should have more screen time?
You can catch Grace & Frankie on Netflix now, or Book Club at cinemas today.
Text: Millie Bull
Images: Eric Charbonneau, Time, The Pool, Film Daily.