Friday, May 22, 2015

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Christabel Pankhurst, and Hollywood Ageism.




Maggie Gyllenhaal, one of my favorite actors is in the news for complaining at Cannes, or waxing philosophical, anyway, about ageism in Hollywood.

She says she was turned down for a job because she was 37 playing opposite a 55 year old man.

It's all pretty typical, of course.

I think Sally Field once waxed philosophical about playing Forest Gump's mom soon  after she played Hanks' love interest in another movie.

Hollywood is weird that way, even with actresses getting plastic surgery to look much younger than their age. Sally Field, today, looks just like Gidget.

But Hollywood is about male fantasy and a young man's fantasy is to be older, suave and respected by other men, and to have a young woman at his side, not his mother.

I must say, one of my favorite movies is North by Northwest, where Cary Grant plays opposite Eva Marie Saint.

Eva Marie Saint is still alive. Now, doesn't that tell you something?

But women were ageless in those days, I like to tell myself, sophisticated at 18.  It wasn't icky this May- December thing, back then. And Cary Grant was, well, Cary Grant. And lets face it, Eva Marie Saint is no saint in the film.

The poor did what they needed to to survive. Here's a bit from a record of marriage of  distant relations. When this working class couple got divorced in the 1910's for some reason, their kids were given up to other people, one daughter, Florida, going to my grandparents, who were wealthy.


From my research for my ebooks Threshold Girl and Furies Cross the Mersey, a lot of it looking at the 1911 census, etc, I can see that old men did marry young women back then and vice versa although most marriages were between people born within a decade of each other.

(My perception anyway.)

In the middle class, in Edwardian times, a man had to establish himself before being marriageable. And when he was ready to marry it was imperative to find a young woman with a good dowry to pay for a home and furniture for the first home.

And the young men had to 'ahem' get some sexual experience somewhere along the line - and since respectable single women were out of bounds, prostitutes were all they had access too.

Hence the problem of" the social evil' in the 1910 era, a main focus of social reformers and suffragists.

Hence the problem of brides getting a nice case of VD for a wedding present, as explained by Christabel Pankhurst in her 1912 book, the Hidden Scourge, a best-seller at the Montreal Suffrage Exhibition in 1913.

 Suffragists wanted women to have rights, all right, but they didn't want them to emulate the bad behavior of men. They wanted men to be become more like women, to stay pure, to stop whoring around.

(Well, it didn't work, did it?)

Hugh Blair (my husband's grandfather) was 35 when he married Marion Nicholson of Richmond, Quebec, who was 'an old maidish' 27. He married her against his parents' wishes. I think his 'other' fiancee, the one the parents preferred, was much younger, still under the protection of her mom.

In this case, Hugh preferred a worldly girl, as worldly as a girl could get in 1910, when any unmarried woman, even if she had a job teaching 50 students in the poor area of town, was considered weak and vulnerable - and in need of protection.

That's the middle class for you, kind of hypocritical.

The poor are more practical by necessity.

A while back a friend told me about his French Canadian grandfather, who married for a second time  in the 1930's, blending a family of 25 kids. When his second wife died, he married off each daughter 'the day she got her period.'

The Canadian census also shows that it is not uncommon, in 1912, for poorer men to marry much older women. Whatever worked for them and their situation.

A funny anecdote comes out of my story Furies Cross the Mersey, where I researched the Donaldas, the first women at McGill University in Montreal.

When women were first accepted at McGill in the 1880's, the Powers That Be weren't afraid of the 18 year old Co-eds falling for the other male students, who were,  after all, pimply young men.

They were only afraid that  the young men would get crushes on the girls.

That supposition seems ridiculous today...

And it's all about supply and demand. In a 1910 era letter I have on hand, an Old Maid teacher friend of Marion's says she is going out West, where you aren't an  Old Maid until 35.