Boycotting the Hollywood Age Gap

What Women Really Think
June 21 2011 10:14 AM

Boycotting the Hollywood Age Gap

Everyone who is online and reads lady stuff knows by now about the Bechdel Test for movies, which was based on a joke in the comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For" where one character tells another she's refusing to see movies that don't feature two named female characters that talk to each other about anything but a man. Well, I'm proposing a test of my own, to save myself the pain of seeing a movie that's advertised as being some kind of intelligent indie film but is yet another example of cliched sexist fantasies being passed off as realistic story-telling. Call it the "Marcotte Test": no more movies or shows where the hero is a decade or more older than his love interest.  And if she's under 25, the time span gets shortened to five years.  Exceptions will be made for anti-heroes whose attraction to younger women helps establish how deeply flawed they are as people (see: Don Draper).

I hate to be a hard ass about this, because I do believe that there are many happy romances between people who are more than ten years apart, but in reality, most people tend to partner off with those who are close in age to themselves. ( The average age at first marriage is less than two years difference in the United States .)  And when people do expand beyond the few-year range, there is usually some discussion about the age gap, and some struggle to overcome it.  But if you only learned about love from Hollywood movies, you'd think that most women needed a man who was nearing or past puberty when she was born, and men are disgusted by women with whom they share generational touchstones with. Sorry, but I just don't know many dudes who say things like, "Yuck, I can't be with someone who was actually buying records when Kurt Cobain was still alive. We'd have way too much in common!"

Advertisement

This test was developed while I was mindlessly reading the preview for the new Ewan McGregor movie " Beginners " in Entertainment Weekly .  It's supposed to be one of those quirky comedies about a man who faces some hard times and learns to grow up and find true love, but my enthusiasm for the movie drained when I realized that McGregor, born in 1971, was being paired off with Mélanie Laurent, born in 1983.  If you want to make a romance a symbol of someone's maturation process, it seems uniquely stupid to make said romance with someone who was still pooping her diapers while you were starting to get your first real crushes.

Once noticed in this movie, it began to bug me across the board: Ryan Reynolds is 11 years older than his love interest Blake Lively in "The Green Lantern".  Ryan Gosling, who is 30,  is being paired off with 22-year-old Emma Stone in "Crazy, Stupid, Love". Even Tom Hanks in "Larry Crowne" is 11 years older than Julia Roberts.  I'm sure there are more that have passed my notice; these were just the highlighted movies in the magazine.

Again, none of this would bother me if it was dealt with honestly or was rare as it is in real life.  But when it sits on the screen with no acknowledgment or explanation, it leaves the impression we're supposed to think of the characters as peers, since they're still just close enough in age you can assume they're supposed to be the same age. Which, in turn, thwarts the onscreen image of what a woman actually looks like at any given age.  Ryan Gosling is allowed to be and look 30, but are we meant to assume that a woman around that age should look 22?  Are we really meant to believe that still-radiant Julia Roberts is the same age as puffy-eyed Tom Hanks?  What women look like at any given age is being subtly erased in movies when we're supposed to assume smooth-faced Mélanie Laurent is roughly the same age as Ewan McGregor, whose face is replete with the lines of looming middle age.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.