The age divide
Men get away with dating younger women; but older women are laughed at for dating younger men
You’ve probably heard about the incident as well, given that it was splashed all over the entertainment media. At an after-party at the Oscars, Madonna finally came face to face with former husband Sean Penn, one of the victors of the night. The couple – known as the Poison Penns in their heyday – was meeting for the first time since their spectacularly acrimonious break-up. And nobody was laying any bets on it being an amicable meeting.
And of course, it wasn’t. Sean took one look at Madonna’s new boyfriend, the 22-year-old model named Jesus (honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up), who was accompanying the Material Girl to the event and sniggered, “What Madonna? Another kid already?”
Yes, I know, hilarious, isn’t it? How incredibly funny to see a 50 year old woman cavorting with a man in his 20s, right? I mean doesn’t the woman realize that she shouldn’t be going to bed with someone she could have given birth to?
I mean, really, when you do this kind of thing you’re just asking to be sent up – and not just by bitter ex-husbands, but by the rest of the world.
Ask Demi Moore, who has been the butt of jokes ever since she took up the much-younger Ashton Kutcher. Much mirth was occasioned by the fact that her boyfriend was closer in age to her daughter, Rumer, than he was to Demi herself. And when Kutcher posted a picture of his wife’s bikini-clad bottom on his Twitter feed, everyone duly tut-tutted that this was what a woman got for marrying a child.
In fact, the jokes got so bad at one point that the couple even appeared on Saturday Night Live to mock themselves in a skit. Ashton joked about being married to a much older woman and the camera panned to where Demi was sitting in the audience, kitted out as an old crone in her 90s.
Oh my, how we laughed!
But when you sit back and think about it, what is truly funny is how men with much younger wives are never made the target of such low-brow humour.
Look around you. The world is littered with examples of old (in some cases, very old indeed) men who are cavorting with women young enough to be their daughters, hell, even their granddaughters. But this is somehow seen as proof of their sexual magnetism, their virility that survives even into old age.
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has a wife about three decades younger than him. Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood left his 50-something wife for a 20 year old Russian waitress. Donald Trump’s wives get younger with every decade. Hollywood star Tom Cruise’s wife Katie Holmes is much younger than him. And now Mel Gibson has to give away half his billion dollar fortune to his 50-something wife after being caught canoodling with a 30-something called Okasana (honestly, what is it with these Russians?), with whom he now has a child -- his eighth, in case you're wondering.
But these men never become the target of tired old (no pun aimed at) jokes the way that the women do.
Have you ever asked yourself why?
Well, I’ve been thinking about it since I read that the Madonna-Jesus coupling is a thing of the past. Why is it that woman in their 40s and 50s stir up such strong sentiment when they go out with younger men? Why are we so unfazed at the sight of an older man squiring a young woman? And why are we rendered so uncomfortable at the thought of an older woman dating a younger man that we have to seek refuge in humour?
If you ask me, it’s because society demands that women above a certain age – once they’ve got married and had their babies – should become invisible to the predatory eye. Once they’ve served the purpose of procreation and have crossed their early 30s, they should retire gracefully into Mommyland and never be seen again as sexually active creatures with desires and cravings of their own.
And God forbid, that they should ever be seen with younger boyfriends. That is the last taboo, and one which can only be dealt with by a steady dose of humour.
Popular culture mimics this prejudice. You can have a 60-something Amitabh Bachchan romancing the 30-something Tabu in Cheeni Kum, and nobody thinks much about it. In fact, the audience is encouraged to think of her crusty old father, who opposes the matches, as a stupid spoilsport who doesn’t seem to get that true love trumps age.
But there’s shock, horror, all around when the gender roles are reversed in Hindi cinema. When Akshay Khanna falls in love with the much-older Dimple Kapadia in Dil Chahta Hai, everyone from his friends to his mother to the disbelieving viewer is outraged. What can he see in that old wrinkly anyway?
And I find it telling that while Amitabh gets his happy ending with Tabu, Dimple Kapadia is killed off at the end of the movie so that order can be restored to the universe.
Older men can get away with dating younger women. Hell, we probably even admire them for it. But an older woman who lays her eyes on a younger man, must be taught a lesson – and shown her place in the natural order.
Clearly, when it comes to sexual politics, the gender divide is as strong as ever.