Women in Hollywood are too often crutches propping up the status of their aging male leads.
By now, you’re well aware that Renee Zellweger’s face, not the actor, has been making headlines. News feeds have been blowing up with speculation and ridicule over the Bridget Jones star’s supposed “new” face asking idiotic questions like, “Is That Really You, Renee Zellweger?”
The same culture whose favorite pastime is holding a magnifying glass to the faces of aging female stars also swoons over manly sport and drinking: Enter the Dos Equis dude, aka “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”
Debuted in 2006, he’s appearing more frequently on our TVs now that the NFL season is in full swing and his latest commercial doesn’t disappoint. In it, he is everything we’re told a man should be: charming, well-dressed, confident, and surrounded by women.
One thing he’s not? Young.
The stark contrast of how the two “characters” are treated is commentary on a larger cultural ill: When it comes to decay, Hollywood and the media are in the business of preserving sexist double standards.
Just Google “Teri Hatcher face,” or “Nicole Kidman face,” or “Ashley Judd face.” Virtually the face of any aging actress and the results will include mountains of commentary and critique on what the women have or haven’t had done and praise for the ones who have “kept it together” (seriously, it’s 2014 and it’s still “news” that women over 40 are even considered attractive).
In contrast, the Dos Equis brand banks on the fact that older—much older—men are still considered sexually attractive long after their sperm bank goes broke. But is “The Most Interesting Man in the World” proof that our culture treats aging men and women differently?
As a contrary dude friend recently asked me, “Yes, but didn’t we make fun of Kenny Roger’s post-plastic surgery face as well as Michael Jackson’s life-long transformation?” For which I have a “yes, but” in response: Yes, but the difference is that women are expected and instructed from the time we’re children watching our mothers slather on “anti-aging” cream to remain forever young or to do our darndest presenting the appearance of such.
And women in Hollywood feel this pressure to an exponential degree—many of them starting Botox and plastic surgery in their 20s. Even when they meet our approval, 40-plus-year-old actresses such as Jennifer Garner have to fight for roles other than that of “mother” in an industry where only 30% of characters in Hollywood films are female and a depressing 15% of protagonists are female.
Men suffer no such limitations. In fact, research shows that as leading men age their female love interests don’t. Look at any film featuring mature blockbuster studs like Denzel Washington, Liam Neeson, or Tom Cruise and one factor remains constant: Their female counterparts are 10, 20, even 30 years younger.
Similar to Cruise and Washington, the Dos Equis dude, though aged, is ageless. In fact, his age actually adds to his James-Bond-esque sex appeal (and don’t even get me started on James Bond). Forever surrounded by fawning young women, “The Most Interesting Man in the World’s” sex-appeal isn’t diminished by his leathery lined face and grey hair. There appears no need for him to drastically alter his appearance in an impossible attempt to look like his 20-something-year-old self. The character, played by 76-year-old Jonathan Goldsmith, epitomizes our cultural idea of the bachelor/sexy single older man—a stereotype that depends on the presence of multiple young female conquests as symbols of status and power, his age and worth juxtaposed with theirs.
In his latest commercial we see the MIM (Most Interesting Man) as his younger self; performing all kinds of physical feats from walking on fire to embarking on what looks like an Arctic expedition. But what’s most interesting about the commercial is that as he ages, the MIM actually seems to become more attractive to women who notably do not age. That’s because the “sexy older man” trope plays off its female-gendered partner—the young girl.
Camonghne Felix recently wrote about the phenomena of “the young girl” in an article for ForHarriet.com. In it, she talks about her own experiences as a young girl at the hands of older men and draws a correlation between her story and greater cultural ideals of female youth and beauty and male power. While what Felix describes is statutory rape, she also talks about the controversial rumored relationship between 25-year-old hip hop artist Tyga and 17-year-old Kylie Jenner. As she points out, it’s not as if all or even most young-girl-older-man relationships are abusive, but that they all reflect very real power dynamics based on gender and age:
“I am not asserting that Kylie Jenner, or necessarily every young woman in a relationship with an older person is being treated outside of their own will. What I am asserting is that the appeal of the Young Girl to heterosexual older men is no innocent attraction, and that it is a male-centered construction embedded in our culture that perpetuates a deeply irresponsible misogynistic dynamic.”
Zellweger’s face, the Dos Equis dude, and the appeal of the “young girl” all have this powerful gendered dynamic in common. Zellweger was that young girl at one time (though even then we blasted her for her “sour face” and unconventional looks). She tried to still be that young girl and failed us. For that, she has to pay.
Meanwhile, an almost 80-year-old dude is celebrated as “The Most Interesting Man in the World”—a sex symbol whose power demands the devaluing of aging female forms like Zellweger’s—without them, he’s just an older dude attracting women his own age.
And perhaps that’s the ultimate “fuck you” to women in Hollywood—that they are too often crutches propping up the status of their aging male leads. As Amanda Hess points out in her article for Slate, valuing women only for our youth, for what we can offer men, ultimately denies us our own humanity. And that is a tragedy that affects all of us.
Jessica Schreindl is a freelance writer and TV producer in Seattle, Washington. She is a contributing writer for Mic.com and has been published on Feministing.com. She graduated with her M.A. from Syracuse University where she studied film history and documentary filmmaking.