Figures gathered by the Labour Party’s Commission on Older Women have substantiated something that we all know already: Women over 50 are a rare sight on our TV screens. We all know this already because we can see with our own eyes that these women are all but invisible every time we switch on the news.

Apparently there is some received wisdom that men gain gravitas as they age. They become “silver foxes” or “authoritative”. Women on the other hand simply become invisible. Grey haired women are not silver foxes. Apparently they’re an embarrassment to be excised from our screens lest they offend viewers and remind us that women are not simply decorative objects whose worth is measured in terms of youth and attractiveness.

Is it too much to expect to see a vaguely representative picture of the population when we switch on the box? After all, the majority of people over 50 in the UK are women (53.1%). Yet the overwhelming majority of TV presenters over 50 are men (82%).

Miriam O’Reilly has written openly on this blog about her experience of being forced out of her job simply because she was a woman and no longer young enough for the liking of the powers that be at the BBC. Too few women are able to take the brave step that Miriam took. The introduction of £1200 fee to take a discrimination claim to tribunal, will only deter more women from accessing justice.

Even if a woman has the guts and the cash to challenge her employer in a tribunal, only one in three sex discrimination claims end up with a positive result for the claimant. On age discrimination, the figure is less than half.

Interestingly, women TV presenters under 50 are much better represented (48% of TV presenters under the age of 50 are women compared to 49.7% of women under 50 in the general population) – although there’s a whole different issue about how younger women are represented in entertainment and the media more generally. While younger women get pigeonholed and objectified, older women simply get airbrushed out altogether.

So who decides that the likes of Anna Ford, Selina Scott, Miriam O’Reilly and Moira Stewart are past it and not fit to grace our screens? Not the viewers, that’s for sure.

Posted on May 16th, 2013 by Scarlet Harris filed under: Blog

One Response to Airbrushed out: Women over 50 are a rare sight on our TV screens

  1. Comment made by Jean Rogers Equity Vice President on Jun 13th 2013 at 11:08 pm:

    The same happens to actresses over 40 too. They disappear from our screens, particularly in film, but it also happens in theatre. The same is reported of female singers and club acts, theatre directors, choreographers, pop singers. Women are fine until they get to 35 when their potency is questioned and they are on the way to being replaced by younger models and a life of invisibility beckons.