Celebrity couple age gaps should be accepted regardless of whether the elder is male or female.
It’s Valentine’s Day week and my favourite actress at the moment, Florence Pugh, has been dating ‘Scrubs’ star Zach Braff since April 2019. They’ve had a seemingly happy and contented relationship for a good space of two years now. If you follow Florence’s instagram (as I do, being a huge Pugh fan), you’ll see many photos of the couple on holiday in Spain, a trip to Disneyland and one of Zach sleeping with the dog. Florence even appeared in Braff’s short film, ‘In the Time It Takes to Get There', which came out in 2019.
I couldn’t be happier for Florence. She seems like a lovely girl, a terrific actress and is entitled to date whoever she chooses. There’s just one thing that people seem to have contention with. Pugh turned 25 last month and Zach is 46 this year - that leaves a 21 year age gap between the two lovers.
Now, age gaps between celebrity couples are no new thing. Harper’s Bazaar published an article in May last year (which I looked at before writing this piece) listing 40 couples with big age differences. George Clooney (59) is married to Amal Clooney (who turned 43 this month), who he is 17 years senior to. Bollywood hottie Priyanka Chopra (38) tied the knot with Nick Jonas (28) - the joint lead singer of the Jonas Brothers - despite being 10 years older than him. Even moving beyond heterosexual relationships, Stephen Fry is 63 and his husband, Elliott Spencer, is 33 (old enough to be his son!).
Now, the concept of older men dating younger women is not a newcomer to controversy. As much as I hate Donald Trump, I do think the reaction to the 74 year old former President’s marriage to the glamorous 50 year old Melania Trump was out of proportion. People should be free to love and marry whoever they like regardless of age and I think the stigma about Trump being with a younger woman largely stemmed from the press’ dislike of Trump and his politics.
I was more surprised therefore to see the amount of flack Florence Pugh received for her relationship with Zach Braff. Pugh is a media darling at the moment - a Kate Winslet-style icon for acting talent and queenly elegance. I’ve been swooned by her acting many times as many men and women have too. There’s not many actresses who can go from playing Amy March in ‘Little Women’ (2019) to throwing punches in hotpants in a wrestling comedy (‘Fighting With My Family’ (2019)) with The Rock.
Forget her acting, in all her interviews, Pugh always strikes me as a very well-spoken, intelligent young woman (I’m saying young, she’s 25 and I’m 24 this year so she’s a little older than me and therefore I can hardly talk). So why are people so determined to bully and belittle her over the fact that she’s dating a man old enough to be her dad?
The Oscar-nominated actress stated in an Instagram video defending her relationship with Mr.Braff - “within about eight minutes” of sharing a photo of her boyfriend to mark his 45th birthday, she started to receive abuse and hateful messages. “Comments hurling abuse and being horrid” as she calls it...
These messages accounted for about 70% of the photo’s comments and “for the first time in my instagram life, I have had to turn off the comments on my page” she very sadly says.
Florence continued in impassioned style with the very powerful line “I will underline this fact, I am 24 years old, I do not need you to tell me who I should and should not love and I would never in my life ever, ever tell anyone who they can and cannot love”. She went on “it is not your place and really it has nothing to do with you. So if those rules are something that you do not like then please unfollow me, because the abuse you throw at him is abuse you are throwing at me and I don’t want those followers and I don’t want to be protecting my comments every time I post a picture of him”. Powerful words.
I watched Florence Pugh’s instagram video and was close to tears. Not just because I like her, but no one, especially not someone as talented as her, should have to justify their choice of relationship. People should be thinking of her as “the next Kate Winslet” and crediting her as an Oscar-nominated actress who has played Amy March and Black Widow’s sister in the space of a year and done more in 6 years of acting in the film industry than 40 year old actresses do in a 20 year career.
Instead they’re belittling her for going out with a man old enough to be her dad. Well, the abuse is directed at him, but I’m sure it hurts her too that people have so much contention with her choice of boyfriend as she said in the video. It just makes me feel sick that people can be so cruel!
It’s not just the women who get the flack for a huge age gap between them and their partners. Like I said, Donald Trump has been heckled and jeered at for marrying Melania. But I suspect that has more to do with the fact that Trump is a horrible person. Florence, on the other hand, is not. So why is she getting so much hate?
I suspect there is an element of sexism involved. Female politicians know a lot about this. Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon were constantly photographed and commented upon for flashing their legs rather than talking about their policies. Just ask Jacinda Ardern about that sexist interview on the AM Show when she was asked about her baby plans instead of her campaign promises as Labour leader.
I think we unfortunately still live in a society with two expectations placed upon women - to get married and have children. No one bothered about Boris Johnson not being engaged to Carrie Symonds, for example. Boris’ situation highlights further sexism as no one appeared to bat an eyelid that he is 56 and Carrie is 32 - that’s 24 years between them.
We have to assume that Johnson is the more famous one out of the Downing Street couple, being Prime Minister and all. Naturally, you would assume this would leave him the first to be at risk of scrutiny for dating a woman half his age. But I’ve not seen a single news article criticizing him for dating a younger woman and rightfully so. People should be able to date whoever they damn well feel like!
Out of Florence and Zach, Pugh is the more famous one. Braff is best known for ‘Scrubs’ (2001-2010), but he’s not one of the biggest and hottest movie stars at the moment, due next to star opposite Scarlett Johansson in ‘Black Widow’ (2021). Florence is at the centre of all the media coverage of Florence + Zach and she’s been professionally slaughtered for it. They don’t care about him, they care about her. Had a big actor around Pugh’s age like, say, Timothee Chalamet or Asa Butterfield started dating an older woman, they definitely wouldn’t get so much flack.
There definitely is a further sexism at work in what I refer to as “cougar culture”. You know, when an older, relatively attractive woman is caught in a relationship with a younger man. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher definitely knew a lot about this when they were married. Demi was 40 and Ashton was 25. They were constantly ridiculed by the press with Demi called a “cougar” and Ashton her “toyboy”.
Compare the media reaction to Ashton and Demi with the press coverage of “Brangelina” - when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were married. Brad is 57 now and Angelina is 45 and there’s an 11 year age gap between them. But Brad was seen as a hot player for pulling a woman as beautiful as Angelina while Demi was branded “desperate” for marrying boy toy Ashton Kutcher.
And think about grey-haired, nearly 60 George Clooney who is widely now seen as a sexy “silver fox” for pulling a woman as young and beautiful as Amal Clooney. Demi Moore and so many other older women dating young men (think Kate Beckinsale and Pete Davidson) were slandered as “past it”.
Basically, the double standards need to change. It should be as acceptable for an older man to date a younger woman as it is for an older woman to date a younger man. Maybe we should just forget about age, stop shaming big age gap relationships and concentrate on the fact that, as long as the relationship is consensual and legal, people should be able to date and marry whoever they bloody like. Florence and Zach included...
Meet Roshan Chandy
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
Roshan's Top 5 Films of the Week
1. A Quiet Place: Part II (in cinemas)
2. Cruella (in cinemas)
3. After Love (in cinemas)
4. Dream Horse (in cinemas)
5. Frankie (in cinemas)
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