In a Benjamin Button-type scenario, as Leonardo DiCaprio ages his dates get younger and younger, from current 22-year-old girlfriend Camila Morrone to 23-year-old ex-girlfriends — at the time he dated them — Lorena Rae, Georgia Fowler, Kelly Rohrbach and more.
The common theme in the public response to DiCaprio’s dating is a condemnation of the age gap between partners. Ricky Gervais said it seems that DiCaprio outgrows his girlfriends faster than it takes to sit through "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." But where does this condemnation come from, and is it our business to condemn a relationship between two consenting adults?
Public shaming of seemingly promiscuous relationships is not new in the United States. Our Puritan ancestors enforced a rigid set of social rules around how, when and to whom we could express our romantic interests. This judgmental attitude lives on in articles, like this one, which creates algorithms and formulas to calculate which age gaps are acceptable and which are abominable. For the most part, the average person sticks to this silent rule.
But in Hollywood, DiCaprio certainly isn’t the only one dating outside his age bracket. Rupert Murdoch is 25 years older than his wife, Jerry Hall. Jay-Z is 12 years older than Beyoncé. Ellen DeGeneres is 15 years older than Portia de Rossi. Kris Jenner is 25 years older than her partner Corey Gamble.
The age-gap debate has a lot of fronts, from the psychological arguments to the religious and historical implications. But the lens most choose to look through is a feminist one: Is the Hollywood trend of older men dating much younger women a symptom of gender inequality or are we robbing adult women of their autonomy by even suggesting that they’re victims of the patriarchy?
When we condemn age-gap romances, we are publicly shaming relationships between two consenting adults. We all have to agree that if the relationship is consensual, then both parties want to be there — both have made a conscious decision to date each other.
So where does the argument that men shouldn’t date much younger women come from?
At face value it looks and sounds like a feminist argument, but it’s based on a lot of assumptions. We assume that women in these relationships are only valued for their youth and beauty. We assume that the age gap affects the power dynamic in the relationship. We assume that the couple simply won’t mesh.
These assumptions aren’t completely false. Looks certainly are a catalyst in the formation of these relationships because we are more attracted to younger-looking people. The power dynamic can certainly be skewed when your partner has 25 years of life experience on you. Couples with higher age gaps do tend to have shorter relationships.
But these trends are not absolute and our reactions to these couples are much more visceral than logical. The fact that we don’t react with the same disgust when women date younger men or when we see this phenomenon in same-sex relationships is proof of the subjectivity of our arguments.
When we assume that DiCaprio is dating Morrone for her looks and youth, we’re assuming she has nothing else to offer. When we assume that younger women have less control than their partners in the relationship, we’re assuming that they’re willing victims. It’s not enough to slap a feminist sticker on this point of view and ignore the sexist undertones.
Our discomfort with these relationships may come from a Puritanical echo, assumptions about a woman’s value and autonomy and our own experiences with relationships.
We have to be careful of projecting our own opinions onto the choices of grown women. For every assumption we make, there’s evidence to point to the other side, because at the end of the day the jury is still out on this one.