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Dial M for Menopause: Women over 50 in TV

Updated: Feb 8, 2023


Sandra Oh as Eve in "Killing Eve" - Gareth Gatrell, BBC America

This could be misconstrued, but I have a thing for shows helmed by middle-aged female characters. Especially ones who are difficult to define, have patchy judgement and do questionable things. The messier the better, in fact.


Depictions of Older Women in the Content Revolution


In today's vast TV series landscape, we're increasingly seeing content from different perspectives that in the past never had much chance of being developed let alone green-lit. So although huge strides have been made in shining a light on stories featuring a female lead - that have actually been created and written by female content producers - it feels like we have to bang the drum a little louder to see more authentic representations of older women on the screen.


The drive for female led material has been partially propelled by the explosion of content we've been experiencing for the past decade - the much cited "Golden Age of TV" that, according to some, harks back to the 1980s. And when it comes to TV shows with women pushing or over 50 at their heart, it seems we're still pointing to shows like The Golden Girls or Murder She Wrote for noteworthy benchmarks in terms of audience and longevity.



"The Golden Girls," starring Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Betty White and Estelle Getty TOUCHSTONE/EVERETT COLLECTION

We are still consistently seeing older women portrayed stereotypically as either a nosey neighbour or someone's quirky mother. Of course there are some great contemporary TV series featuring older women but they seem to overwhelmingly be in either the comedy, comedy-drama (Grace & Frankie, Dead to Me) or crime genres (Prime Suspect, How to Get Away with Murder).


Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in"How to Get Away with Murder" MITCH HAASETH/ABC

Introducing the meandering, manic and not so magical, Big M


We can't talk about middle-aged women without mentioning the other dreaded 'm' word: menopause. Why is it a dirty word for TV and film makers? The subject of menopause has been explored very little in drama, which is ironic considering menopause IS drama.


By 2025 there'll be over one billion women going through one of the stages of menopause. That's 12% of the world's population according to the United Nations World Population Prospects 2019. Yet the surface of what is an enormously challenging phase of life has barely been scratched.

I struggle to name shows that deal with menopause in any meaningful way, possibly because it is a phenomenon so misunderstood, and not only by men. More often than not the great taboo surrounding menopause means that women find themselves bumbling into its throes completely unprepared.


There's much to be done in redressing the lack of content featuring older women and the myriad of stories that can be told about them; the big M alone could be categorised as a reverse coming-of-age story. Although more about the journey than the destination, it can be a turning point for some women that creates a natural stepping off point into some very juicy drama territory indeed: the mid-life crisis.


The change of life is not just about the cessation of periods. Falling hormone levels create such havoc both mentally and physically that no aspect of life is left unaffected and everything from cognitive function and personality to libido can be turned on its head as a result.


The possibilities for drama abound


Older women who have reached a crossroads in their lives; the shadowy figures who get up every morning and multitask their way through the day; the ones in crisis, navigating the mess of peri, post and menopause proper and who really have no more f@cks to give; the ones deemed past their used by dates and who happen to look their age; rude and offensive they may be or just fed up with being tolerated.


Where are these invisible women who make the world turn?


The stats for women initiating divorce in their 50s are apparently through the roof - and that was pre-pandemic. I'd like to see some of those stories on the screen. Where are the tv shows that chronicle the older woman’s experience dealing with mid-life crisis, attempting to re-enter the job market, struggling with career dilemmas, or empty nest syndrome, having an affair or dealing with the existential issues that crop up after a certain age? Where's the matriarchal ruler of a successful business empire? The professional hotshot with a car crash for a personal life? The mild-mannered woman who risks all for a second chance?


How many similar stories have we seen from the older man’s perspective?


I believe there's a huge audience who desperately want to see older women doing ALL KINDS OF THINGS and being ALL KINDS OF CHARACTERS. They might not be very pleasant or likeable, that is the beauty of human existence and the magic that makes a story provocative and compelling. I actively search out these types of stories and greedily gobble them up when they appear: Eve in Killing Eve; Judy and Jen in Dead to Me; Clare Underwood in House of Cards. These complex and shaded characters have cropped up here and there but are still very few and far between considering the size of this demographic and the appetite that exists for this type of content.


I'd like to see more, and I don't think I'm alone.


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