Russell Crowe, a man who once threw a phone at a hotel employee, has some thoughts about actresses in Hollywood, namely that they need to “act their age.” He has no idea how wrong and sexist his remarks are.
When shilling for his latest film (and directorial debut), The Water Diviner, the 50-year-old actor told Australian Women’s Weekly, “The best thing about the industry I’m in – movies – is that there are roles for people in all different stages of life… 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.” Remember, he said this to a women’s magazine. I have a feeling Russell Crowe is one of those guys who does something really jerky to his wife and when she gets angry he doesn’t know why and when she won’t tell him, he throws his hands up in the air and says, “Ugh, women,” and then sits down to have a beer and watch a rugby match like he never did anything wrong even one second of his life.
Anyway, he uses Meryl Streep to prove his point. “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,” he said. “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.”
Strangely enough, Meryl Streep agrees with Russell Crowe. She told The Telegraph, “I agree with him. It’s good to live in the place where you are,” pointing out thatCrowe even said that he couldn’t play his Gladiator character now at age 50. She tells the reporter that when she turned 40 she was offered three different roles of witches and turned them all down. Now, at 65, she is playing one in Into the Woods. Why the change of heart? “Because I felt it was age appropriate. I felt it was time, and it was not time at 40.”
Because I love Meryl Streep, I would like to believe that she didn’t quite understand what Crowe said, or it was given to her in an odd context. I would like to believe that if you ask Meryl Streep about roles for women in Hollywood, she would say that there are not nearly enough, especially for women her age. The fact that Streep, generally considered the greatest actor of this entire generation, is the one exception to this rule shows just how bad it is for women of that age. Of course Meryl Streep can play whatever part she wants, and of course she’s still getting offered roles at 65. She’s Meryl Goddamned Streep! What about all the other actresses out there who do not have three Oscars?
Now let’s try to be sympathetic to Mr. Crowe for a minute. I understand what he’s saying about women not being comfortable in their own skin. There are several actresses (Meg Ryan, for instance) who have done such damage to their faces with plastic surgery that it is hard for them to get work. I agree that this is a problem, and I bet Meryl thinks this is a problem too. And I have a feeling that is what she is responding to.
However, it is a problem because there aren’t enough roles for women over 40, so of course actresses need to continue to look younger longer than someone like, let’s say, Russell Crowe, who can get wrinkles and gray hair and look “distinguished.” These actresses inject and lift and burnish their faces so that they can extend their working lives as long as possible. If there were more roles for mature women, maybe they won’t have to go through such horrible facial mutilations to try to maximize their earning potential.
Earning is part of the problem. A study of the top 265 film actors by the Journal of Management Inquiry showed that actresses’ salaries plummet after the age of 34. However, men make their most money at the age of 51. Let’s ask Crowe how he feels about how much he makes in 20 years, when he’ll finally be on par with the actresses who are his age now.
A look at the winners of Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars also shows that men peak older than women. The average age for Best Actress winners is 36 and the average age for Best Supporting Actress winners is 40. The comparable male winners ring in at 44 and 50, a full decade older than women in similar categories.
And it’s not just the age of available roles, it’s the availability of roles in general for women. Only 15% of the top movies in 2013 featured women in leading roles. A study of movies made the same year shows that only 31% of speaking roles were for women.
Let’s get this straight: there are fewer roles for women and when those roles are available, they only get paid for them until their mid-30s. No wonder women always want to play the ingénue. I would only write for teen magazines if they were the only ones paying me too! Then Crowe goes and blames this all on the women, as if they are somehow creating the problem for themselves. Maybe if they could go to all the female studio heads and complain about it. Oh wait, most Hollywood executives are men. Never mind.
The problem is not that Crowe said what he said about actresses. At least he was being honest and we finally can see the sexism of the institution laid bare. No, the problem is that Crowe doesn’t even realize what he said was wrong. He thinks that everything is fine and dandy for women in films and the problem is that they want younger roles or are getting too much plastic surgery. It doesn’t occur to him that the problem might be, hmm, that the Hollywood system is inherently broken and only values women when they are young and beautiful and can pair 50-year-old male stars with 20-year-old romantic interests without anyone batting an eyelash.
Brian Moylan is a writer and pop culture junkie who lives in New York. His work has appeared in Gawker, VICE, New Yorkmagazine, and a few other safe-for-work publications.