Winona Ryder At The ‘Age I’ve Been Warned My Whole Life About’

Article by Caroline Howard /
Forbes /
December 16, 2010 /
Click here to view original /

Winona Ryder, co-star of the new Darren Aronofsky thriller, Black Swan, alongside Golden Globe nominees Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, recently opened up about the professional “biological clock” of women.

“Being replaced by the young thing–I know that definitely happens in Hollywood,” the one-time It girl told US Magazine. “It’s harder to find good roles, and suddenly there’s new girls. I’m at that age I’ve been warned my whole life about.”

Aronofsky’s $12 million production, took in a $1.4 million opening plus $3.3 million the second weekend, an impressive limited release that is being compared to 2005’s Brokeback Mountain.

But enough about award nominations and money. Let’s talk about that age.

Ryder is 39. Her character’s storyline is that she is a past-her-prime prima ballerina supplanted by Portman, 29, who herself has Kunis, 27, in the rear view mirror. One bright new thing replaced by another and another and so on.

It’s an evergreen story of ballerinas, actresses, models and others who make their appearance relevant to criticism, as New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay recently wrote in “Judging Bodies In Ballet.”

While dancers and models typically age out in their 20s, actress lead roles typically stop coming sometime in the next decade–an issue explored in Rosanna Arquette’s documentary, Searching For Debra Winger–save for a few grand dames such as Helen Mirren (65) and Meryl Streep (61).

It happens in the workplace too. We’ve all heard it before: The time when professionals are positioning themselves for a top spot is generally a woman’s prime child bearing-and-rearing years. CEOs hit their stride in their 40s while the average age to make partner is somewhat younger; ditto for academics seeking tenure. Even women who aren’t in the executive pipeline are cut off from higher paying, managerial positions because they decide to off-ramp or ramp-down for family.

Ryder hits this theme in a recent GQ interview: “If I wanted to have a family now, would I be able to come back to work in a couple of years?” (Which is a bit disingenuous, really, because she’s kept a low profile for the past years anyway.)

More to her original point, working women often do achieve success only to be supplanted when deemed past their prime. Psychologist Dr. Lauren Rosewarne finds that “society renders women of ‘a certain age’ invisible and unattractive, i.e. synonymous with a failure to contribute meaningfully to society,” notes Liz Scherer on the blog Women Grow Business.

Including the workplace. Dr. Rosewarne continues: “Aside from the obvious self-esteem issues that plague some older women, there are innumerable broader consequences of their invisibility…such as women’s access to the labor market.”

Growing older (and having children) is a female inefficiency. Ryder’s statement about “that age I’ve been warned my whole life about” means, simply, aging carries severe penalties for women–professional or not.

The big work here is social change. Individually, “Women need to overcome their own insecurities about age, support older, age-peer role models in authority roles and challenge dogma,” says Scherer.