A Force to Be Reckoned With
A female actor in her late fifties is offered a small part in what turns out to be potentially the biggest box office movie ever. She reprises the role that propelled her into stardom more than 30 years earlier: albeit much older, sadder and wiser. While her male co-star, also returning to a part that fast tracked him into Hollywood fame, is given a generous pass for his inevitable aging, she is not.
She is called old and unattractive. She is body shamed.
Carrie Fisher, who plays General Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is no stranger to critique and negative exposure of her personal life. Daughter of stars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, whose broken marriage was splashed on the covers of entertainment magazines and dailies, she grew up in the tawdry limelight. Her struggles with addiction, battle with mental illness, and yo-yo weight have been fodder for mass market gossip. She has exposed them herself in her funny and courageous memoirs and an award-winning one woman show.
Knowing that her detractors were out there, knowing she would be subject to more scrutiny of her appearance and the passage of years, she said yes anyway. She said yes out of fondness for the Star Wars franchise, and perhaps also because—like many other actresses in her age cohort—the good parts, the attractive offers, have tapered off. In the past few years, she has focused on productions of her autobiographical Wishful Drinking, appeared on an episode of 30 Rock, and done some work on British television.
This was, after all, an employment opportunity. So she got in shape, plunged into her role—barely more than a cameo at that—and still was subjected to scathing scrutiny of her face, her body, her demeanor.
Carrie Fisher’s economic status, given where she came from and the trajectory of her career, is not that of the average female worker over 50. But the signs are there: scantier offers, further between than most men of the same age.
A new study on long-term unemployment conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank (as reported in the New York Times) revealed that while, before the most recent recession less than a quarter of women over 50 were among the ranks of the jobless after six months, following the downturn the percentage rose to comprising half of all those unemployed.
When women of a certain age find themselves without a job, for whatever reason, they are stuck there much longer, observes Sara E. Dix, a senior researcher for AARP, the largest organization advocating for seniors in this country. They are less likely than displaced men of the same ages to be re-employed, she notes, and more likely to permanently leave the workplace sooner.
And when they face joblessness, older female workers find themselves in worse financial situations, often with gaps in their work histories due to family responsibilities, smaller lifetime pay checks and social security benefits, and less savings.
The issues survey taken by hundreds of UU women last summer informed the UUWF that, along with reproductive justice, economic justice is a leading concern. The intersection of ageism and sexism that seems to be happening at 50 for so many women is one of these. I welcome your stories.