Gendered ageism goes mainstream

Kathy Lette’s new novel is a #MeToo for older women in the workplace.

Age Discrimination in the workplace

Age discrimination in the workplace is a serious problem

You know that concerns about gendered ageism in the workplace are starting to break through into the wider consciousness when a best-selling novelist makes it the theme of her latest book.

Kathy Lette’s novel, The Revenge Club, tells the tale of ‘four scorned women’ – in publishing, tv journalism, acting and movies – and how they join forces to show up the male bosses who have pushed them out of their jobs.

Tilly is a novelist, for instance, whose publisher fails to promote her for years, doesn’t even read her latest book, tells her she is past it in the most crude ways and replaces her with young influencers who he preys on. Cressida is an actress whose lawyer husband encouraged her to shelve her career to bring up her kids who finds that he is having an affair with a younger actress. Penny is a TV journalist who finds herself out of a job after her male and far less able colleague is given his own show. And Jo works in Hollywood and has been sidelined and humiliated by her boss for being ‘a moody hot mess of a menopausal woman’.

The four, who met at university where they were in a band together, plot revenge, with Jo infiltrating male spaces by dressing up as a man. The writing is full of the usual Lette one liners and it zips along. She has particular fun when it comes to sexist insults, although, unfortunately, many are based on the kind of underlying combination of ageism and sexism that older women often suffer.

The insults Tilly’s publisher, who is the same age as her, throws at her include: “From fifty on, a woman is like Somalia. Everyone knows where it is, but nobody wants to go there.” He comes out with all the usual cliches, telling her that male-written characters are more interesting because they have lived ‘bigger’ lives and advises her to teach or see being dropped by the publisher as ‘a lifestyle downscaling opportunity’. Cressida, when she starts to revive her acting career, is given vaginal dryness adverts and parts as a granny [she’s in her 40s]. Penny is told by her co-presenter that TV is a visual medium and that a photo she posted without make-up made her look like something out of a House of Horrors.

They plot to take each man down in turn, their motto being: “Never go to bed angry: stay awake and plot diabolical retribution.” That retribution includes exposing predatory behaviour or investment in shady investments or, in Tilly’s case, rewriting her book slightly and pretending it is by a man [with the publisher then pouring praise on it].

With the help of Tilly’s children, particularly her daughter who is an expert at hacking, the women publicly humiliate the men. There’s a twist near the end and it finishes with the realisation that sexism is something that needs to be confronted continually.

Despite some ups and downs, the novel is basically a call for a #MeToo movement for older women and an appreciation of the value of female friendship – and not just the friendship of older women, but across the generations. Not all the men are sexist, however, and Lette’s acknowledgements end with: “Let your cups runneth over with love for the sisterhood. This novel is a love letter to all of you…PS Boys, I’m glad you slipped within my covers. Now, please, come and join us at the barricades.”

*The Revenge Club by Kathy Lette is published by Head of Zeus.








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