Fay Weldon, a best-selling novelist, died a few months ago at age 92. Almost ten years ago she penned this article, Writer Of A Certain Age, for the New York Times. She reminds us that if you want to write a book, nowadays you’d better be male or young.
She’s got a good point. Back before book publishing (and everything else) became an industry, authors could be anonymous. Now you need a photo on the book jacket, preferably looking young, beautiful, and, yes, sexy. Older authors – especially older female authors – might as well hang it up, unless they’ve been established and secured their places.
It’s happening online, too. I’m constantly urged to get a “real” photo on my website. I try. Most of my photos are horrendous, even with professional photographers. I do not have a good smile. I have bad teeth. Just over 3 years ago I wrote an article, Can An Ugly Woman Succeed on the Internet?
For a while I didn’t use a photo on LinkedIn – just my cartoon, which looks more like me than most photos do. Someone wrote me a gratuitously rude, patronizing message: “You probably are a mature person. Flaunt it! People respect the wisdom of older people.”
Why was he assuming I was “mature?” What was the giveawway?
The simple answer is, “No they don’t.” And who wants to be? I wrote this article: I’m a smartass, not a sage.
Older women typically get treated with contempt. People under 50 don’t realize you’ve got an uphill battle just for respect. When you’re strong and fit, you’re described as “spry.” When you’re smart and knowledgeable, you’re dismissed as “spunky.” There’s always a qualifier. Linguist Deborah Tannen says women are marked; older people are marked even more.
Sadly, Fay Weldon reverts to the stereotype when she says, “There are more and more of us, and we don’t look nearly as nice as the New Young. We move slowly, get in their way on the sidewalk, lose our glasses, hold up the line using coins not cards, take forever texting, irritate by asking for help with smartphones, can’t manage tablets and take forever in the powder room.”
As a consolation prize, Ms. Weldon says we get to publish ebooks anonymously. Gee, what a treat! But if you want to promote your ebooks on website or blog you’ll be prodded for a photo, especially if you hire one of those youthful marketing coaches who, like literary agents, are mostly female these days.
OK, she’s 81. Maybe people in their eighties fit this description. But I’m getting awfully tired of bad jokes about losing memory, slow walking and more. I was always terrified of slipping in snow and as a child, I had a phobia about stair climbing, especially climbing down. I’m much better now but still slower than most. Yet now people say, “Slow means old age.”
The older tribes handled things better. They set their old people out to sea on an iceberg. They left them behind on long migration journeys so they could die naturally of hunger and cold. One tribe, I read somewhere, even cut up their old people and ate them.
Great idea. I’d rather be cut up and eaten than end up in a nursing home.