Friday, October 4, 2013

What's My Age Again?

I came across this headline being commented about on Tumblr the other day:
There were some really interesting comments on how the BBC couldn't pass up this headline by talking about two popular actors in such terms, including one blogger who found this irritating because it played off the issue of how Hollywood continually casts older men with younger women in romantic relationships. It seems that the BBC is playing into this with such a headline and I think the issue deserves further discussion.

There's a certain kind of sexism at play in how women in Hollywood are viewed as actors. Okay, there's a lot of sexism, but I'm only going to focus on a certain part of it today. Think about the last film you saw involving a romantic relationship onscreen. How old was the male actor compared to the female actor? Generally there's an age gap, with the man being older and the woman being younger. This is such a trend that it's a gag line in the trailer for the upcoming film Last Vegas.

Now, I don't mean to criticize age gaps in couples. I for one am a 22-soon-to-be-23-year-old with a massive, crippling crush on a 32-year-old actor. I had a friend whose parents have a 10 year age gap between them. I have friends who have dated people older or younger than themselves. It isn't necessarily about the gap, but the fact that Hollywood continually makes the gap only between an older man and a younger woman and heavily criticizes women - such as Demi Moore when she was married to Ashton Kutcher - who are older and date younger men.
Why is this an issue? This article begins to describe the issue. Again and again, male actors are paired with younger women, which creates a problem for older female actors. They will not be cast as romantic leads because they are considered no longer sexy or viable for such relationships by Hollywood's standards. Men continue to be cast as romantic partners, but after a while, women are cast as sexless mothers, or grandmothers, or widows, or partner-less people, or not even cast in roles at all. I cannot think of a movie where a relationship consisted of an older woman and a younger man without making fun of the entire relationship or showing why it wouldn't work. Such things are rarely shown for the older men/younger woman relationships and if they are made fun of, it's a sort of knowing, sly acceptance of,  "Aw yeah, you get lots of sex and she gets a sugar daddy!" which is considered far less disturbing than an older woman dating a younger man and being a "cougar."

Again, I'm usually not terribly concerned about age - unless I know the couple personally and I have a legitimate reason to be concerned. Or in the case that it's harmful or exploitative to one of the parties involved (AKA: pedophilia. Major problem). I generally assume it's up to a couple to figure things out, and if they're in a relationship that's more than just about sex or money or appearances, and they really care about each other and having a decade or two between them isn't a problem, then whatever; I'll try to stay mum on the issue. However, society and history has built up a lot of reasons for why I feel uncomfortable about age gaps of certain sizes between men and women - creepy arranged marriages of young girls to men older than their fathers, men leaving their partners for younger women, the idea of having a trophy wife or someone who looks continually young, the obsession we have with youth, the fact that women can be mocked for whatever age they are attracted to. Attracted to someone younger? Wow, you must like immaturity or have an obsession with youth or prey on young men. Attracted to someone older? Wow, you have a complex with experience and authority or you just care about social position and money. Apparently if you don't find a partner within whatever specific designated age range society finds acceptable, you fail.

To reiterate, yes, birds of a feather flock together and relationships between 900-year-old time lords and young women may likely end in tears.

Too soon? Too soon.

But the point being is that Hollywood continues to portray heterosexual relationships in a very limited age format, which is rather annoying and harmful to women's already less than perfect treatment in film. Men are encouraged to have such relationships while women are mocked for it and told they have to stay young or else they cannot be considered a love interest. And now other forms are continuing this way of thinking and... well, it's a problem. And one all the more complex when age itself is complicated on its own.


  1. The only time I can think of that I've seen the age gap the other way round portrayed fairly tastefully was in the BBC comedy series "Me and Mrs Jones" last year, which was about a woman falling for her son's friend. At the same time, she's still only meant to be in her early-mid thirties (
    I remember Louise Brealey commenting last year (or whenever the 'Afternoon with Mark Gatiss and friends' panel was) that she's at the age now when roles are for mothers or other non-main woman roles, even though she looks young enough that I thought she pulled off playing an older teenager in The Trojan Women quite well. This sparked discussion between her and Martin Freeman about how men are still offered lead romantic roles and action roles etc well into, well, the rest of their life basically, because everyone's been conned into this idea that men (and their appearance specifically) get better with age whereas women decline.

    I'm not reading over the above for coherency. I'm tired. If there's anything glaringly out of place, I hope you understand what I mean :P. Thank god I didn't attempt to update my own blog this evening (which was the original plan).

    1. No worries, I wrote this post in a rush so I completely understand. I remember that comment from Louise Brealey now - will have to reread that article where she talks about the Trojan Woman and see if she discusses it there too. Note to self: when looking for discussion on feminism, check out Louise Brealey interviews first :D

    2. Louise Brealey is a great reference, yeah. Throughout reading this, I kept thinking about her and how she would love reading this, or at least have a great opinion on it!

    3. Ohhh, if Louise Brealey read this, I would cry from happiness. One of these days I need to write a post about how awesome she is. Why I haven't gotten around to it yet is beyond me...