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This pattern has rarely been deviated from, and what is particularly interesting in the case of these actors is that there was only a six-year age gap between the two — yet year-old Bancroft was cast to play a woman in her 40s while Hoffman was cast to play a character nearly a decade his junior.
This is one of the earliest examples of the double standard in the way male and female actors are treated as they age. American Pie — source: Universal Pictures A further example of the way older, sexually active women are often portrayed is embodied in another character that no doubt springs to mind when we think of the tendency for this relationship to be played for comic effect: She is a classic example of the attractive older woman who is granted no subjectivity or character development of her own, at least in the first installments of the series — in this case she is not even granted a name.
- Older Men and Younger Women
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She is a comic device and a fantasy figure for the young male characters, and by extension the target audience for the film. These women are marked as extraordinary by the implication that when women become mothers they become instantly less desirable, having apparently surrendered their own sexuality.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the reaction to the outfit Susan Sarandon wore to the Screen Actors Guild awards in January and it is appropriate to revisit this now, in this discussion of cultural attitudes towards older women and their sexuality. It seems that for as many people who commented positively on her appearance that night, there were just as many who felt the need to shame her online for her wardrobe choice.
Exceptions to the Age Rule and Hope for the Future While this article has primarily dealt with heterosexual couplings on-screen, there have been more varied and positive depictions of age gap romances to be found in recent same-sex relationships in cinema.
Perhaps it is the difference or absence of exploitative power dynamics in these relationships, or the fact that the narratives do not make the age gap a central point, but these are encouraging examples of how older women can be depicted as sexually active and as well-developed characters without the two being mutually exclusive.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl — source: Sony Pictures Classics One of the key issues I have highlighted with the representation of older women in romance narratives is their lack of subjectivity, and the same can be said of the young women who are paired in relationships with older men.
However, there have been examples in recent years of stories of young women becoming involved with older men, told from the female perspective, resulting in a shift in tone from some of the films listed in the opening of this article. For example, British offerings such as Fish Tank and An Education handle these relationships deftly and maintain a sense of subjectivity for their young female leads, as does the wonderful The Diary of A Teenage Girl.
So is it still an issue that there seem to be greater numbers of older men romancing younger women onscreen than vice versa? Once, my older sister reported that she found out a boy in her class was a whole month younger, and it was unanimously decided that that ruled him out entirely.
Younger (TV Series – ) - IMDb
When one of our aunts remarried a man a decade younger, a tizzy broke out between the three of us — what was she doing? I didn't know why then, but when I look back I can see that it was all about keeping with what we'd been taught was the status quo. We'd been raised to think that a man should be the head of the household, the main breadwinner, someone we girls had to look up to and respect.
Wouldn't it make sense, then, that he'd be older, too — richer in life experience, to guide us through our lives?
Theresa Ambrose Scientists have suggested that this inbuilt proclivity for older men is evolutionary — that women are drawn to the "alpha male" who is wiser, older, more experienced and powerful. It's a clear parallel with the idea that the male partner should be taller than the woman — which, as Tracey Spicer wrote last weekis a result of unconscious bias that subtly reinforces gender stereotypes and expectations.
There was always talk, too, of the idea that men mature at a slower rate than women.
The Age Gap in Romance Films
This is especially pronounced during formative teenage years, but once we get into our twenties, does it really matter? Some of my most disastrous romantic affairs have been with men five years older who still behave like emotionally stunted children. I struggle, too, to prescribe to this idea when it's profoundly steeped in archaic gender essentialism. When women date younger men, it can raise eyebrows, but when men date younger women, no one blinks.
It's almost perceived as a fetish — the older woman, always on the prowl, preying on the innocent young man Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in a still from The Graduate, one of the most classic examples of the "predatory older woman" stereotype on screen.
Indeed, the frequency with which these relationships are characterised as sexual deviance is tiresome, insulting and objectifying.