Between his androgynous style and ambiguous song lyrics, Harry Styles has always been known as a rule-bender. Recently, however, Styles has gained acclaim for bending a whole new set of rules: those of a younger man dating an older woman.
In January, the 27-year-old singer and actor reportedly started dating 36-year-old Olivia Wilde, the director of Don’t Worry Darling, a highly-anticipated film Styles is set to star in. This news broke following pictures of the two holding hands at a wedding, causing the internet to go berserk with several news outlets reporting on their possibly romantic relationship.
The issue here isn’t simply about whether people are too invested in their reported relationship, because people have long been enthralled with celebrities and who they may—or may not—be dating. Rather, the attention cast on their potential romance combined with the gendered narrative surrounding it highlights a deep-rooted double standard imposed by patriarchal norms targeting women dating younger men.
The way the media has portrayed Wilde and Style’s potential relationship has ingrained, gender-based flaws. Tabloids and Twitter users alike have painted Wilde as a bad mother and cougar preying on a young, vulnerable man, while famous men like Leonardo DiCaprio are rarely criticized for dating women over 20 years younger than them. We accept that male celebrities will date significantly younger women, but we’re uncomfortable when that power dynamic is subverted.
Jason Sudeikis, Wilde’s older former fiancé, has the same age difference with Wilde that she has with Styles. Social media was quick to acknowledge this point, as one Twitter user commented: “People can stop calling Olivia Wilde a cougar now… the age difference between her and Harry Styles is the same as the gap between her and Jason Sudeikis.”
People can stop calling Olivia Wilde a cougar now. The age difference between her and Harry Styles is the same as the gap between her and Jason Sudeikis…
— Dara Lazarus (@dararae92) January 4, 2021
This isn’t the only double standard that’s been applied to women linked to Styles—or women celebrities at large. When Styles’ and Wilde’s hand-holding made headlines, fans of Lizzo pointed out that few people assumed that Styles and the singer were dating when they held hands at an award show last year. This demonstrates a facet of the intersectional struggle women of colour have long endured, because it sheds light on the belief that male celebrities have specific ‘types’ of women that they date—which excludes women of colour.
One Twitter user wrote, “When Harry held hands with Lizzo they were just friends. When Harry holds hands with someone who is apparently “his type” they’re dating. Y’all see the problem??”
When Harry held hands with Lizzo they we’re just friends. When Harry holds hands with someone who is apparently “his type” they’re dating. Y’all see the problem?? pic.twitter.com/ERLczcWJhq
— audrey ¹ᴰ in my reputation era (@cherrysswift) January 4, 2021
Another added: “interesting that the media and articles have automatically assumed that harry styles has dated/been with every single woman he’s friends with EXCEPT Lizzo…wonder why that is.”
interesting that the media and articles have automatically assumed that harry styles has dated/been with every single woman he’s friends with EXCEPT lizzo…wonder why that is
— amirah is ia (@jalboyhamirah) January 4, 2021
Hollywood offers a long history of actors and actresses dating one another with varying age gaps—some that have raised some eyebrows, others that go overlooked. But upon closer examination, it’s clear the trend of age-gap disapproval lies predominantly with women dating younger men, as the notion of female submission to men’s apparent wisdom and prestige has become normalized. The Hollywood age gap phenomenon isn’t just a matter of the public obsession with celebrities and who they romantically engage with. Instead, the phenomenon shows where we’ve gone wrong in forging judgments about our favourite celebrities by interpreting stories with a patriarchally inculcated bias.
Our focus on female celebrities like Wilde should be appreciating their skill and contributions to the entertainment industry. Wilde has proven herself as a talented actress and filmmaker.
Women have long been at the centre of gendered narratives for the wrong reasons. Going forward, we should keep an open mind and stay aware of where our criticisms come from when we judge celebrity relationships like this one.
We should also focus on allowing consenting adults to have the relationships they want without casting judgment—even if doing so goes against our interest in their personal lives.
celebrities, Harry Styles, misogyny
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