The Planned Obsolescence of Women

A friend of mine recently went to the Apple Genius store to put some more memory into two aging laptops.  He wanted to buy brand new laptops for himself and his wife; but figured he could patch up the two old ones for his twin boys to do school-work on.  Only to be told that his laptops were considered “vintage”.  (Turns out, vintage is only a good thing when it comes to wine.)  Vintage Apple products – or those that were manufactured 5-7 years ago – and obsolete products – those older than 7 years – are considered unserviceable by Apple.

And it’s not just Apple.  Any smart-phone user today knows the struggle. Batteries that eventually stop taking charge.  Continuous software updates that make it harder and harder for old devices to keep up.  Plugs, switches and buttons that wear out.  Even the fun case you store your phone in has to keep being upgraded because they keep changing the size of the phones with each consecutive model.

So what is planned obsolescence exactly?


Well, it’s companies saving costs by spending only what it takes for a product to reach its “shelf life”.  This “shelf life” or “use by date” guarantees that consumers will have to keep buying a new phone or new laptop or new car every few years.  Products aren’t built to last; they’re built to last until the next wave of upgrades or the newest model rolls out.

This isn’t a new idea.  The term “planned obsolescence” was coined as far back as 1932, when Bernard London, a Russian-American real-estate broker, proposed that the government end the Great Depression by placing artificial expiration dates on consumer products to stimulate spending. (source)

So what exactly do I mean by the “Planned Obsolescence of Women”?  Well, in our current consumer-driven culture, women are viewed as a commodity and as a commodity, have a planned obsolescence, or a sell-by date.  After a certain age, women are no longer considered attractive, marriageable, employable or desirable.  So what does this mean for women of a certain age trying to navigate the online dating scene?  What does it mean for women who haven’t found “the one” by 35?  And if all men desire younger women, where does it leave the over-30 unmarrieds, divorcees and single moms?

Hollywood is a prime example of how woman’s employability declines after a certain age, while men’s continues on.  Below are some infographs about the age of leading Hollywood actors and their female counterparts (click on the pictures to enlarge).  Notice how the actors keep getting older and the actresses keep getting younger?  Why are men in Hollywood considered viable as they age – and women are cast aside from roles the moment they start having wrinkles? (source)

Men in Hollywood vs. their Female Counterparts

And it’s not just Hollywood that’s guilty of shelving women by a certain age.  In some countries, you’re downright unmarriageable.  In China, if you’re single and over the age of thirty, society considers you a “leftover woman”.  (A lovely term that brings to mind a doggy bag of picked-over, re-microwaved takeout food.)  Since 90% of women in China marry before the age of thirty, you’re obsolete if you’ve reached this age without being married.  At thirty, what’s viewed as a woman’s commodity – her youth and sexual appeal – have reached their expiration.  (source)

And it’s not just Chinese women who are considered disposable by a certain age.  The Co-founder of OK Cupid did a data dive and found men’s preferred ages for women were 20, 21, 22 and 23.  According to the infographs, while women preferred someone close or slightly younger than their own age, men, regardless of whether they were 20 or 50, all desired women in their early twenties. (source) .  And beyond dating, studies show remarried men are likely to wed a younger spouse. (source) .

Just walk through Times Square or take a glance at the magazine covers at the grocery checkout. The advertising world is oversaturated with billboards and images of half-dressed women selling everything from alcohol to cars to perfume.  They say sex sells in advertising, but more than that, the idea of women as young, sexualized objects is sold.  Even magazines geared towards older women don’t feature older women.  Studies of women’s magazines have found that despite aging readership, magazines are featuring more and more young women. (source)

How does advertising of women as products – and products with a sexual expiration date – affect how men view women?  Does constantly being bombarded with skinny, sexualized prepubescent bodies of models as young as fourteen and fifteen in magazines and on billboards affect men’s desire?  (Is it any wonder then that men perpetrate as many as 94 percent of sexual offenses against children when they are constantly shown to view young girls as sexualized and desirable?)  And how does it affect how women see themselves?  How does it affect their self-esteem to be viewed as undesirable, unwanted, a leftover or simply invisible to the male gaze?

Is there perhaps a primitive, biological force behind why men choose younger women – to propagate their seed and ensure the continuation of the next generation?  Or is the constant bombardment of images sexualizing young women affecting how men and women view desire and themselves?

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