ByD.C. Fenoff, writer at
Writer. Adult-ish. Oh, And I Really Like Crossword Puzzles. Twitter: OaODCFenoff
D.C. Fenoff

As the universe tells, things are in a constant state of motion. Of change, if you will. If something refuses to change, more often than not it will either be left behind or face the critical point of extinction. This very principal holds true for even one of the most stubborn and powerful industries we thrive on today: the entertainment industry. Over the past few decades, we've gradually seen a change in the way women are perceived, played, and written for in films and TV. With stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Viola Davis, Melissa McCarthy, Scarlett Johanssen, and Shonda Rimes becoming some of the most powerful people in the industry, it's fair to assume things are definitely changing for the better and in the right direction.

But even as far as we've come in film, the industry still has much further to go, particularly in one arena: The way it views and handles the roles offered to women over 40. Luckily, one branch of the industry has seen this as an up-and-coming trend and as the definitive path moving forward and wants to capitalize on it. I am, of course, speaking of the television medium. Let's look at the ways in which women are pushing back against ageism on the small screen.

They've Always Been There

Bea Arthur brought feminism to the front and center in 'Maude'
Bea Arthur brought feminism to the front and center in 'Maude'

It may have taken us a little while longer to realize it than we would prefer to admit, but women leading TV isn't something new. It starts from the early days of I Dream Of Jeannie and Bewitched to The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Maude to The Golden Girls and right into the '90s with Roseanne, Charmed, and Buffy. The roles have changed, but leading women have always been there. Though it took some time for them to step out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary, these earlier roles were the initial stepping stones that provided the path that so many actresses over 40 are able to walk today.

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Even though these roles were majorly given to women in their "Hollywood" prime, TV has been making great strides to show how far the medium has come in casting the actress to match the age. It's not just the casting, either — the roles have adapted as well.

Single Mothers Stand Proud And Endure

Anna Faris and Allison Janney tackle family life relying on eachother in CBS' 'Mom'
Anna Faris and Allison Janney tackle family life relying on eachother in CBS' 'Mom'

Unless you've been there, it's kind of difficult to imagine just how hard it is to be a single mother. In decades past, such a thing was completely unheard of on TV. That a woman should be without a husband or various other male companion was a thought not even dared be spoken in pitch meetings, though some of these older TV shows never really had a problem with single fathers, such is the case with programs like The Andy Griffith Show and Bonanza. It was around the late '80s/early '90s that TV got the idea that women, without men at their sides, could choose to do this all on their own. This went double for women of a certain age — just take a look at sitcoms like Reba and Grace Under Fire, then later dramas like Gilmore Girls.

Today, Allison Janney's character blows away the rest of the cast in CBS' Mom. Initially thought to be a cartoonish, plucky comic relief character, Janney was able to bring layers of emotion, experience, and humanity into a sitcom that captures the all-too real struggle of being a recovering addict. She's a female character in the prime of her life and she's more than two-dimensional — another great step in the right direction.

In sitcoms, as funny and hysterical these ladies make things, the real life struggles they endure on a daily basis are never ignored or brushed off as a minor inconvenience. The truth is, it's hard to work a full-time job and raise a family; even working part time can prove overwhelming. It's that kind of struggle and following success that show older women have evolved in this role to outshine the expectations and limitations of their predecessors.

Who Runs The World? That's Right, Women

Famke Janssen will take the reins of her own deadly corporation in 'Blacklist' spin-off
Famke Janssen will take the reins of her own deadly corporation in 'Blacklist' spin-off

The new century brought in a cavalcade of new talent, people beyond excited to bring some great and interesting female roles to primetime TV. These writers, producers, and executives all grew up watching the talent of former female actresses blossom into the roles for which they became household names. And they've also watched as a good majority of these women faded into obscurity or were forced into roles that were more than a bit of an insult to their talents.

Along with this new era came shows like How To Get Away With Murder, Grey's Anatomy, Law and Order: SVU, Veep, and The Good Wife that all placed actresses over 40 years of age at the front and center of modern TV. The audience finds their connections with the various ensemble cast members, of course, but with these distinct series, it's impossible to imagine any of them surviving without the leading ladies that have been placed at top billing. These programs showed that when given the right roles, older women can be both powerful and intelligent without having to constantly check in on what their male counterparts think of their processes.

Owning Sexuality Isn't Just For Bond Anymore

Taraji P. Henson's breakout role in 'Empire' is anything but held back
Taraji P. Henson's breakout role in 'Empire' is anything but held back

No one ever paid any mind to the fact that James Bond is a notorious womanizer without even the slightest regret in regard to the sea of broken hearts left in his wake. James Bond could be in his mid-fifties to his early sixties and still be considered one of the most eligible bachelors and sexiest men on the planet. No matter what, he was always able to snatch up a woman half his age. But, unlike the movies, TV has given rise to a new wave of older women unafraid to showcase how they too can own their sexuality.

The 2000s really saw a rise in leading ladies who held no hesitations about allowing their male counterparts to see they weren't the only ones with a little something to show off. It became possible to cast off the restrictions of the domestic housewife or perky secretary to be attractive and hold major positions of power that rivaled that of husbands, partners, and even potential foes. With age comes knowledge, experience, and a certain respect and uniqueness of the female form and it's perfectly fine for women to show it off and own their bodies and own the power that comes along with them.

Jessica Lange's time on 'AHS' certainly spoke volumes about what a woman over 40 was capable of achieving
Jessica Lange's time on 'AHS' certainly spoke volumes about what a woman over 40 was capable of achieving

On American Horror Story, throughout her entire four-season tenure, Jessica Lange was easily the fan-favorite of every season. I credit a good chunk of the current casting trend in TV to Lange's unmatched success on the horror-anthology series. She experienced a career resurgence thanks to the creative minds behind the show and set the stage for many more women, like Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, and Angela Bassett to do the same.

Things are getting better for women in the entertainment industry every day. To think it was only four decades ago that Marilyn Monroe and the leading ladies of her generation would've been forced into roles of the housewife, sex pot, or dumb blonde that became synonymous with career girls of the time. We've come so far and even though we still have so far to go, we can all take comfort in the fact that things are definitely changing for the better and they will continue to do so as long as we keep watching and keep demanding our leading ladies be that of those who hold prowess, power, experience, and radiate unrivaled independence.

Who is your favorite older female character on TV today?


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