Is there extreme ageism in writing?

Once while at a writing seminar I heard a pretty well-known published author say do not write a mature woman or agent or publishing company won’t take you on. Do not write your main female protagonist older than 25. If you want your work read and to gain an audience it is better to leave off making them of any other ethnic group other than white and blonde with blue eyes.

I was puzzled. But yes, I had long ago noticed these things so I asked what about experience that’s acquired with age.

She said that only happens in the real world. In the fictional literary world one can be 15 with the knowledge of a 45 year old. Actually, readers prefer that.

A female character passed 25 is hard to sell.

The speaker informed her audience that no one wants to read about old women unless she’s a goddess who does not age.

Someone else called it to her attention that this is blatantly ageism, racism, and sexism.

She admitted that it is but argued that society has been brainwashed for centuries to believe no one else can be interesting if you aren’t young, blonde, white, and with blue eyes. She stressed that she was giving advice to get your foot in the door not for what you have to write for your entire career.

Another asked about the authenticity in writing? Isn’t that like writing a lie you don’t feel anything for?

She laughed and said, “Sure, it is but you want a publishing house to pick up your manuscript and support it. Don’t you? It only can be about authenticity if you don’t want to make any money or you are writing an autobiography. If you want to make money you have to write what the public wants to read.”

I was thinking. “Not if I have to sell my soul. I don’t.

This was several years ago and since I started actually paying attention to the critiques she rattled off that Saturday afternoon. She was right. You can close your eyes and pull a random book from a book shelf in the fictional section and open it and the character are all going to be the same book after book. Row after row of the same characters with the same attributes. If there’s anyone else in the story it’s usual stereotypical.

I raised my hand saying “Well, my main character starts out under 25 but she ages and she isn’t dying anytime soon. She has a kid. She isn’t white nor blonde.”

The woman looked me in the eyes and said if she’s black she must be suffering. It would be wise to eliminate the child or make the child a boy.

I nods. “Well, she’s suffering a lot but she doesn’t accept it. She fight back against her abusers.

After reading my excerpt she passed it back to me saying. “This will not do. Rewrite it. Rewrite to what I just listed and it will sell. Tone down the woman’s sassy attitude. Write her lost, confused and suffering and the main male protagonist have to save her. That’s what sells. Don’t write her strong and having a will of her own. That’s a major turn off for the reading crowd. People love to see women crying, weak, and suffering. Kill Ana off before she reach forty and put Bea in her place to carry on the series. Erase Ana’s family. They are unnecessary to the series.”

I asked what am I to do about Azazel? He’s an Immortal.

“Write he’s so grief-stricken after Ana’s death that he falls in love with Bea because of her strong resembles to her mother.”

I didn’t tell her “I’m not writing an incestuous story to appease no one.”

I am writing this because she wrote me a few days ago saying, “I read the book but you didn’t take my advice. Therefore, I can not endorse the book .”

I wrote back through my publisher who wanted her to write a review. I said, “Thank you for the consideration. I am sorry you didn’t find the book to your liking.  However, I don’t write stories that I have to go against what I feel comfortable in writing. I started this series because I was tired of reading the same story over and over. I was nearly finished with the series when I visited the seminar and there was no way I was redoing 13 books and standalones to match your attributes. Yes, there are characters in the series meeting these guidelines but not all of them.  I wrote it to be different. But yes, I have seen that you were correct and I appreciate your advice.”

She wrote back saying, “I am glad you stood your ground and fought for your characters. Future writers will someday thanks you. I wish you well.”

I believe like Toni Morrison said — ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.


About unholypursuit

A. White, an award winning former librarian, who is also a long time member of Romantic Time and Publisher's Weekly. A. White has been writing for over fifteen years. She took classes in creative writing in college, specializing in ancient myths and legends. and later at a local community center while living in Chicago. In college she won the national contest to verbally list every country in the world, it's capital and ingenious language. Her works are mainly horror, fantasy, extreme, and sci-fi as well as, as some may says, "the truly strange predicament and puzzling." Books that I've written are "Clash with the Immortals, and eleven others which are part of the "Unholy Pursuit saga,". She has been working on the Chronicles since 2007. She wished to complete them all before introducing them to public so the readers wouldn't have to for the continuation to be written. The ideas of the book come from classic literature such as whose work greatly influence the world world such as Homer, Sophocles, Herodotus, Euripides, Socrates, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle and many more. The "Book of Enoch" influenced the usage of Azazael as a main character and love interest. I created the primary main character from the Chronicle of Saints. I wanted to show them as real flesh and blood with thoughts, desires and yearning as any human. Not as they are so often depicted. So I created one of my own to show her as a real human that everyone can relate to.
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20 Responses to Is there extreme ageism in writing?

  1. Reblogged this on Stevie Turner and commented:

    My characters are more often than not middle aged, because they’ve lived a bit and are more interesting than 20 year olds still going through the bed-hopping process. Or is bed-hopping just what the public wish to read about? Oh dear…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I prefer to read about older, more experienced characters or a character learning as they grow and mature. To me, these characters have more depths to offer a reader.

      In my humble opinion, it makes the story more believable. Because my kids could barely get out the door every morning to catch the school bus so I wondered were everyone else kids different from mine’s so that they can write about all these worldly wise kids doing exceptional things.

      I think…I don’t know, but I think the bed-hopping process is what the public wants to read about. Young, beautiful bodies bed-hopping from one partner’s bed to another. And turning love in an emotional battlefield, but fails to mentioned there are diseases nowadays that will only make you sick but will kill you.

      One of my favorite ones to question the legitimately of is the sexy bad boy who horribly dumped the late teen girl years ago. Unusually during the summer of their high school graduation. Sometimes with not so much as a goodbye kiss but somehow he ends up back in her life after he has gone away, out into the world and sow his wild oats for a few years. He’s usually rich and handsome so that’s the ticket to get away with murder.

      Meanwhile, she’s still in the same small town, their or her childhood neighborhood or wherever he left her, doing pretty much of nothing and everything changes and become brighter the moment he rides back to town. Things will be better and different this time around because he came back a better person. She doesn’t make him work for her affection. She simply goes nuts the moment she learns he’s back in town. He offers some lame explanation as to why he dumped her years ago. And boom! Everything is lovey-dovey and they ride happily into the sunset because he learned there’s no love like hers.

      Well, that well-known published author was right. Despite in reality he would’ve gotten punched in the face, this is what sells. But it’s patriarchy, sexism and ageism at it’s best.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Phil Huston says:

    Funny, I wrote about the same thing yesterday. This has been going since forever. Patriarchy and ageism. In the 12th century a female law professor had to dress like a man to do her job. In 1946 Orson Welles wanted a (not so young) woman for a nazi hunter in “The Stranger”. He got shot down and an aging man handed to him. Hmm. well, good for you. This is not a blatant advertisement and you may delete it if you wish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phil, thank you for your post. But I don’t think you nor I are alone in questioning this notion and why is it still carried on to the point of being ridiculous?

      I think a lot of people are starting to wonder this exact same thing.

      Yes, I have read about the female lawyers of early to mid-middle ages. At least they existed and were allowed to practice because by the middle to late Middle Ages into the Age of Enlightenment I don’t recall reading about any female lawyers or any other type of professional positions held by women. That’s why Elizabeth the First and her sister Mary Queen of Scots were so unusual.

      Most of these careers were influenced by the Muslim invasion of Europe just many other things were from the about the 6th to 12 century after the fall of Roman occupation.

      The overly oppression of women was adopted from the Roman culture not the Muslim nor the ancient Celtic or Saxon. It interesting to trace where a way of life comes from. Later when Christendom which was deeply influenced by Judaism was instilled, things took it a step further into what we know it as today. The form of Muslim faith we see today didn’t take room until about 9-11th century. Before then, women could be teachers, doctors, lawyers and etc.

      Hmmm, I’m not familiar with this work of Orson Welles. I’ll look it up. Thanks for bringing something new to my attention. Well, I’m not surprised at all considering this era and what the movie was about but sounds like it was based upon the infamous “Lady Nazi” If so, the woman was not so young but very beautiful as to how she got through to so many men.


  3. Manny says:

    Sure, there is but nobody talks about it. I have always viewed this as a sly way of promoting pedophile behavior. I mean most YA literature make it sound romantic for a grown man a$$ to date a child. What wrong with that man? Can’t he handle a grown woman his own age? Or it’s acceptable for teenagers to get physically emotionally involved in relationship as if they’re adults. They aren’t equipped to handle that sort of involvement yet. No wonder so many are depressed. They have never knew the thrill of having a crush they weren’t having sex with.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lula says:

    Extreme doesn’t begin to describe how much ageism exist in literature along with sexism and racist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Lula it’s going to continue to sell and do well until women stand up and put an end to it. American women no longer live in an era where their youth and beauty solely determines how well she lived or some cases…if she lived at all.

      Today, most women support themselves even if they’re married. There aren’t many men who can afford to live in an well-to-do area solely on his own paycheck. It takes two paychecks nowadays to afford the surb life. So, she works outside the home.

      Although, women livilihood no longer depends solely upon the man she can attract. I’m in no illusion believing that a woman’s looks doesn’t open many doors for her because they do. The more beautiful she is, the higher she is likely to rise in the world. The wealthier man she is able to attract. But unfortunate when she starts to age if the man is only with her for her beauty and has never grown to love her as a person he’s going to get rid of her for a younger woman. This very thing has created so much hate and animonsity among women that needs to be stopped. That’s another reason ageism needs to be looked at for what it is.


  5. Jonas says:

    There’s too much ageism in literature and have been for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Alisha says:

    Not only is there ageism but there’s a lot of sexism in literature also. For example, if a story is about a girl. It isn’t going to be popular unless like that lady at your seminar said if someone is mistreating, killing, or hurting her. Having a normal girl’s life isn’t interesting according to public’s opinion. She must be suffering some kind of way? Why? Or if she’s allowed to live she must be dumb as a bag of rocks. Whereas with a boy, it can be about just him and his dog and people will still rave over it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mainly the sexism in literature exist because male writers are given higher priority over female writers and they write sexist things. For thousands of years all the writers were males. Society has become insensitive to it that no one really sees it as being sexist or offensive to women. Women been conditioned since birth to accept things that actually belittling them. This is perhaps the generation of women in over ten thousand years who has been able to speak up about these things without facing, in many societies death.


  7. Interesting. I have thought about ageism in many areas of our society, but not really in female protagonists. Thanks for writing about this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Brendan, thanks for dropping by stop. Yes, there are many are in society ridden with ageism. It’s sad we are living in the 21st century with a medieval mindset.

      I hadn’t considered it for years until I stopped one day and ponder over all the popular stories. If there’s a woman in it she’s always young and beautiful. I see nothing wrong with creating such characters but I started to notice 85% of the book I picked up was the same protagonist: Female, young beautiful, between 12-25. I am sure writers can be more creative than that. So why aren’t they writing them?

      I searched for others with an old woman if she’s there. She’s always crazy, angry for no reason, or a joke or she’s soon killed off. I started to question why? I realized they don’t sell very well because of society perceptions of older women.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Saksgirl says:

    It’s true, there’s lots of sexism and ageism in literature. It’s getting much better with indie authors putting out most of the books.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fraser says:

    Yes, writings are filled with ageism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, they but it is up to the public to demand changes.
      One of the funniest shows I watched on PBS were Keeping Up Appearances and Waiting for God and all of these cast members were middle age to elderly but the shows were funny.


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