Reel Women: Russell Crowe Absurdly Thinks Actresses Are Lying About Ageism in Hollywood
Russell Crowe pretty much just inserted his own foot into his privileged male mouth. It’s hardly news that actresses face sexism, ageism, and other sorts of unpleasant -isms in Hollywood, but the actor thinks their complaints about ageism specifically are “bulls---”—which is both a willfully ignorant and completely sexist opinion. Hey, Mr. Crowe, ageism in Hollywood, much like dry land in ‘Waterworld,’ is not a myth.
Perhaps the best place to declare your sexist opinion isn’t in an interview with Australian Women’s Weekly, but that’s exactly what Russell Crowe did:
To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that (the roles have dried up) is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue, and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21 year old.
Meryl Streep will give you 10,000 examples and arguments as to why that’s bullshit, so will Helen Mirren, or whoever it happens to be. If you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as an actor. If you are trying to pretend that you’re still the young buck when you’re my age, it just doesn’t work.
What Mr. Crowe fails to realize or perhaps refuses to understand, is that there’s not really a diverse assortment of roles for women in general, regardless of age. Yes, Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are great examples of older women who are still landing a variety of roles and absolutely killing it—but if you’re not Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren, your options are limited to wife, girlfriend, mother, or accessory to the male lead. When we can only name a handful of older, incredibly successful and talented actresses, that’s a problem.
I haven’t worked in a long time, so it’s nice to have a challenging role. I think part of the reason I didn’t work [as much] was you don’t want to do just another watered-down role that you’ve already done before (…) And if the parts aren’t there, I just can’t. You can’t get up at 4:30 in the morning and sit in hair and makeup if you’re not excited about the role.
Once you reach a certain age, the roles for actresses become even more limited than they were before. While younger actresses have a little more variety in their choice of parts (Scarlett Johansson and Emily Blunt, for instance, are revolutionizing a woman’s place in action and sci-fi), older actresses go from playing the young wife or mother to the older wife or mother, or even grandmother. Their roles reflect our ongoing gender stereotypes, while Hollywood reinforces them. Meanwhile, men are allowed to play all types of parts at any age. No one scoffs when Tom Cruise or Liam Neeson plays an action hero, and certainly no one is turning up their nose when these prominent male actors are paired with much younger leading ladies as love interests. But to have an older actress paired with a younger male actor would elicit jokes about how she’s a cougar.
If Crowe doesn’t believe that ageism in Hollywood exists, that’s probably because he’s looking at it from a privileged white male point of view. Women are consistently pressured about their appearance thanks to unfair beauty standards—hey, Russell Crowe, you know something that is actually a myth? Objective beauty. Hollywood (both behind and in front of the camera), magazines, and tabloids perpetuate the idea that aging is repulsive. Men are silver foxes, while women become hags. Under the weight of this pressure, women get plastic surgery in the hopes of freezing their faces in time, and are then condemned for the decision to get plastic surgery by the very people who mocked their aging faces in the first place. (Examples: Kim Novak at the 2014 Oscars, Meg Ryan, and Renee Zellweger.)
Of course, Crowe goes on in the interview to shove his foot down his throat even further by revealing that maybe he has a grudge against women based on his feelings about a curiously anonymous actress:
I have heard of an actress, part of her fee negotiation was getting the number of children she was supposed to have lessened. Can you believe this? This (character) was a woman with four children, and there were reasons why she had to have four children – mainly, she lived in a cold climate and there was nothing to do but fornicate all day - so quit arguing, just play the role!
First of all, his description of the role is insulting: the woman has four children because she lives in a cold environment, where her tedium leads her to have sex constantly because what else is there to do?! She has four kids because she can’t keep her legs shut. Ridiculous. And so what if an actress wanted to negotiate the number of children down—perhaps, if she interpreted the role the same way Crowe did, she found it unnecessary and offensive.
The bottom line is that ageism does indeed exist in Hollywood. And while guys like Crowe are free to continue playing whichever roles they like, women continue to find themselves relegated to gendered roles. Maybe Mr. Crowe needs to take a look at some of the studies performed by Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender and Media, including studies of the occupations and aspirations of female characters in television and film, gender disparity and stereotypes, or a more recent study titled “Gender Bias Without Borders,” which examines the roles of female characters in popular films in 11 countries.
Or maybe the great Geena Davis just needs to sit down with Russell Crowe for a little chat. I’d like to watch him react to the hard facts (which are hardly myths) on camera.