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  • Dave Barry

Ageism and Sexism: Two Sides of the Same Rusted Coin

We've noted (and re-noted and re-re-noted) how ageism and sexism intersect. The culture is the petri dish for this sort of thing. And Hollywood, as petri dishes go, exerts a powerful influence worldwide. The problem starts with the sexualization of girls at a very early age. As the girls become young women and then grow older in the business from there, there is every expectation that they remain compliant with these very narrow, very youth-obsessed standards of beauty, that they persist in the prototype, that they maintain the illusion.

The end result is that girls and women, objectified from the get-go, are then devalued and simply erased altogether when they have the temerity to simply get older. Lillan Gish pointed out nearly one hundred years ago: "In Hollywood, men age; women can't." Not much has changed.

Scattered throughout this post are some of the findings from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative authored by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the founding director of USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity and Social Change (MDSC) Initiative. The study's findings help to reveal how lack of inclusion – lack of imagination, really – are the bedrock of these sorts of biases regarding gender, race and age. The intersection of ageism with sexism.

The study examined 1,300 Hollywood films with an eye toward diversity of all sorts (but especially girls and women) and across a broad spectrum of jobs in the industry from casting, to writing, to composing, to acting, directing and producing. The results are what you'd expect: "very Depressing." Few roles for women, fewer roles for women of color, fewer still for older women of color and so on and so on until, as Lynn Whitfield said at the panel, "at some point, older black women just fall off a cliff somewhere."

Please take a look at the statistics; they're sobering. But, they can also be galvanizing, so please free to get frustrating and then DO something. The About page on this site has some great suggestions about next steps.

And also, please watch Dr. Stacy L. Smith's TEDTalk on this "epidemic of invisibility" (below), the distorted portrayal of women in films, and why stories – and storytelling – are so crucial. And how Hollywood plays such a fundamental role in shaping the way we see, know and experience ourselves and the world.

You can view Dr. Smith's Inclusion Initiative in its entirety by clicking here. Below, is her TedTalk about the sexism and lack of age, gender and racial parity in Hollywood films.

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