Let me apologize in advance for how long this rant has the potential to be. I’ve been bothered by this for a while now, as my best friend, and partner in crime, Suz can attest to. She’s listened to me bitch about this on more than one occasion. And bless her heart, she never tells me to shut up and get over it. Since this is a fandom-related blog, I’ve decided that it’s important to discuss social issues I’ve been dealing with in relatable terms. I also have no desire to discuss more personal relationships in such a public format.
Every few weeks a well-enough-intentioned acquaintance whom I’ve recently befriended on Facebook will start asking questions about my fascination with Mary McDonnell. While I rarely shy away from discussing Mary’s work or my affection for her, these conversations cause a bit of aggravation for me because the term ‘role model’ invariably gets thrown out by the other party as the summation of my Mary Situation. Now don’t get me wrong, Mary has many, many characteristics that make her worthy of being a role-model: her feminism, her charitable endeavors, and her genuinely kind spirit. All these qualities certainly inspire and push me to become the best version of myself. However, to simply refer to Mary as my role model is to deny a very real and important facet of her appeal – my attraction to her.
This just in! Sarah is physically attracted to Mary McDonnell!
I do not hide the fact that I’m attracted to Mary. I am very specific – if hyperbolic – in my language, using clear indicators of physical attraction which are far too numerous to include here but include any number of references to her legs, her mouth, her décolletage and/or my being in love(lust) with her. The fact that these indicators are so consistently construed as an attraction-free, role model paradigm is not only a microaggression against my identity, it’s a sign of our society’s heteronormativity and ageism.
Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the inherent ‘default’ sexual orientation; every other orientation then exists as a deviation from the norm. It is the belief that people are straight until proven otherwise. It is the reason that when I meet new people, they ask if I have a boyfriend, not a girlfriend. It is the reason that playful toddler-aged boys are called “future ladies’ men” and why it is considered “a shame” when attractive, successful men come out as homosexual. These ideals are instilled in us from childhood. All one has to do is think of the numerous fairy tales they were taught as a child. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid – heteronormative conditioning. This conditioning is so thorough that when a woman is literally standing in front of someone discussing her attraction to another woman, so often the listener infers a platonic admiration from the exchange.
When the moment of clarity dawns on these acquaintances, as it always does, their realization that I’m physically attracted to Mary is almost always followed with some variation of “How old is she?” Even more predictable is the “she’s old enough to be your mother!” response upon being informed that Mary’s in her 60s. I do not, in any way, see her age as a barrier to my attraction. Instead, her age is one of her most attractive features. And if one were privy to my far more personal crushes, they’d soon learn that I tend to be attracted to women significantly older than I am. Mary is the rule, not the exception.
I guarantee you, at no point, am I ever surprised by how old she is. So, I’m quite well aware of how her age compares to mine, thank you very much.
Here’s the kicker though: why does it matter? If you were to replace Mary’s name with say George Clooney’s or even Sean Connery’s there would be no such similar surprise. Often male celebrities are fawned over well into their 60s or even 70s. The older they get, the more distinguished they’re thought to be. Why then, is it so abhorrent to people that a woman in her 30s could unquestioningly – and unapologetically – be attracted to a woman in her 60s?
My friend has literally never been reminded that this man is old enough to be her grandfather.
It’s because our ageist society instills in us that a woman is only attractive and desirable in her prime years – prior to her turning 40 (or increasingly 35). A few years ago, Allure magazine conducted an aging study that found men believe female beauty peaks at 29. This means that women – just as they are coming into their own, gaining life experience and the confidence that comes with it – they’re relegated to the category of undesirable. Youth is prioritized over knowledge, experience, confidence and wisdom. Ageism goes hand in hand with heteronormativity because women are held to a standard of beauty that aligns with the expectations of heterosexual males. This doesn’t just hurt queer women constantly forced to defend their attraction to older women – it impacts all women.
The moral of all this: don’t automatically assume that every single person that you meet day in and day out is heterosexual. They aren’t. When someone clearly tells you that they are not heterosexual, do not attempt to force them back into your narrow view of society. Instead, try to understand why your view of socially accepted attractions is so narrow and expand your horizons.
And finally, Mary McDonnell is smoking hot, whether you agree or not!