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...
New Zealand’s people’s Prime Minister is a real-life successor to ‘Borgen’s Birgitte Nyborg. Confident, charismatic and compassionate, Boris should take advice from her…
Right-wing populism has been on the rise ever since the 2015 European migrant crisis. Whenever there is a mass immigration movement, there is always an anti-immigration sentiment and countries across Europe and the Western world have been turning to right-wing populist leaders in search of a quick fix to the often racist questions of “why are people stealing our jobs?”.
It all started on June 23rd, 2016 when the UK voted to leave the European Union. This Euroscepticism has been around ever since the end of World War II, but was skyrocketed to the forefront of British politics thanks to the campaigns of UKIP and their toad-like leader Nigel Farage. In America, the population elected a madman - a racist, misogynistic creature named Donald Trump who wasn’t even a politician to begin with, but a billion-dollar businessman promising to “build a wall” between the USA and Mexico and “make America great again”.
Even Scandinavia, the most progressive and liberal sub-continent in the world, swung right. In the 2015 General Election, Denmark’s anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP) became the country’s 2nd largest party. In 2018, Sweden’s Swedish Democrats - a party with fascist and white nationalist roots - won 62 seats and became the 3rd largest party. And, in Holland - another former hotspot of progressive liberalism - Geert Wilders’ anti-islamic Party of Freedom (PVV) only narrowly avoided becoming the largest party with 20 seats against Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) with 33 seats.
The good news is that the surge in right-wing populism is now on the decrease. The decline of this very extremist form of conservative politics was fast-forwarded by Donald Trump losing the 2020 US Presidential Election to Joe Biden. Thank goodness Donald is conceding now and on his way out albeit kicking and screaming!
Meanwhile, in the UK, UKIP currently has not one single seat in the House of Commons. I wonder how much of this is down to a general belief that the party had its moment in the sun in the run-up to Brexit and achieved its biggest goal, but now has little function given the deed is done and Britain is out of the E.U.
I’d also put down the decline in right-wing populism to an overall, shared desire for a strong state in the current Covid crisis. In a world with a 1.97 million death toll and Covid infection rates showing no sign of slowing down, people are in desperate desire for equality and unity and want a government that’s always ready to step in and lend a hand. This is a central idea of left-wing politics where the role of a big state is always promoted.
You’ll probably hate me for saying this, but I voted Tory at the last election. Not because I passionately support their policies, but because I always see them as a “safe pair of hands” and certainly much better fit for leading government than the crypto-communism preached by Jeremy Corbyn. It’s not that I wouldn’t love to vote Labour either. I certainly would have done so had I been old enough to vote during the Blair years. His promises of a Third Way between the Left and the Right always appealed to me and the fallout of the Brown-Blair deal and return to the more hardline left-wing practices of Labour’s early days has left the party limping on ever since.
What Labour really needs is a leader like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern. Whereas the rest of the world has swung right in the late 2010s, New Zealand has always been a progressive, liberal capital. The country has had three female Governor Generals in Dame Catherine Tizard, Dame Silvia Cartwright and Dame Patsy Reddy. Current Prime Minister Ardern is also NZ’s third female Prime Minister after Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark. And, recently, Ardern appointed New Zealand Maori Nanaia Mahuta as the country’s first-ever indigenous female Foreign Minister.
The 2020 NZ General Election saw the election of “the most diverse parliament we have ever had in terms of gender and minority ethnic and indigenous representation”. Ardern’s Labour Party has 16 Maori MPs (an expanded group who have Pacific islands heritage), the first MP of African origin, Ibrahim Omar, and Sri Lankan origin MP Vanushi Walters.
10% of the MPs in the elected, 120-seat House of Representatives identify as LGBTQ+ including Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson who is the first openly gay man to hold the latter office. Simultaneously the Green Party won as much as 10 seats in parliament and the majority of them are women, indigenous politicians and LGBTQ+. The majority of MPs elected into parliament are also significantly younger than previously and many of them are millennials.
At the centre of it all is Jacinda Ardern who became the world’s youngest female head of Government at the age of 37 in 2017. She describes herself as a social democrat, a progressive, a republican and a feminist. But I, being a Film and TV buff, prefer to see her as a real-life successor to ‘Borgen’s Birgitte Nyborg.
In Adam Price’s excellent Danish political drama series, Sidse Babett-Knudsen starred as Nyborg - the centre-left leader of Denmark’s Moderate Party; hoping to pave a path between terms like “Socialism” and “Liberalism” that her political opponents wave around so insignificantly.
Like Birgitte, Ardern sits in the middle of the Left-Right spectrum - the so-called “Third Way” that catapulted Tony Blair to a landslide victory in the 1997 UK General Election. It’s interesting too that Jacinda once worked within Blair’s cabinet office.
Ardern certainly boasts progressive policies. She says “New Zealand is likely to become a republic in my lifetime” and campaigned on a promise of a referendum on weed legalisation. But she also advocates a lower rate of immigration with a suggestion of a drop of around 20,000-30,000 and describing it as an “infrastructure issue”. She claims “there hasn’t been enough planning about population growth, we haven’t necessarily targeted our skill shortages properly”. She does, however, want to increase the intake of refugees.
I’ve always sat more on the centre-right of the political spectrum; generally favouring a light regulation of the free market and lower taxes. However, anyone from any side of the political divide should support Jacinda Ardern’s intention to halve New Zealand child poverty within a decade. In July 2018, she announced the beginning of her government’s flagship families package. Among other provisions, the package gradually increased paid parental leave to 26 weeks and also paid $60-a-week to families of low and middle income with young children. In 2019, the government simultaneously began rolling out a school lunches programme with the aim of assisting in reducing child poverty numbers. It has also made other efforts to reduce poverty such as an increase in main welfare benefits, expanding free doctors’ visits, providing free menstrual hygiene products in schools and making additions to state housing stock.
The best world leaders, in my opinion, are always the ones that think with their hearts as much as their heads. Tony Blair did this to the controversy of many - I maintain the belief that he genuinely thought he was doing the right thing when invading Iraq. Ardern, meanwhile, became a symbol of compassion thanks to her loving response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings where 51 people were fatally shot and 49 injured in two mosques in Christchurch.
Ardern visited members of the Muslim community at the Philipstown Community Centre on March 16th, 2019. A photo of her wearing a headscarf - filmed through a glass window - was widely shared and described by The Guardian as an “image of hope”.
That’s not to say Jacinda doesn’t have a backbone to all her beauty and benevolence. Just look at the way she rebuffed a sexist question on the AM Show about her baby plans. She claimed AM Show host Mark Richardson was “totally unacceptable” when suggesting women should have to reveal their pregnancy plans to employers and called out the systematic prejudice exercised by employers deciding whether or not to hire women based on their plans to start a family.
And just look at the brilliant way Jacinda has handled the Covid crisis. Boris Johnson, take note - back in June, New Zealand eliminated Covid-19. This was a result of tremendous effort on Ardern’s part to control the spread of the virus. On March 14th, she announced the government would require anyone entering the country from midnight on the 15th to isolate for 14 days. She stated that the new rules mean New Zealand has “the widest ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world”. She later, on March 19th, announced that New Zealand’s borders would be closed to non-citizens and non-permanent residents before declaring a nationwide lockdown on the 25th. You’ve got to be pretty tough to pull that off and Ardern did so in style!
She did all this and gave birth to a baby! On June 21st, 2018, Ardern became only the second elected head of government to give birth while in office - the first was Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1988. And Jacinda was the first female head of government to attend the UN General Assembly with her infant present.
Ardern’s division between her roles and responsibilities as a mother and a politician is very ‘Borgen’. In that series, Birgitte Nyborg divided her time running Denmark with looking after her two young children and faced a barrage of sexism which Ardern is more than used to, especially when a creepy Australian journalist named Charles Wooley branded her “attractive” and questioned her and hubby Clarke Gayford on the conception of their child.
Most of all, though, she walks the fine, delicate line in the middle of Left and Right. Perhaps the meanings of “L” and “R” are becoming indistinguishable from one another as her compassionate, people’s based approach to politics has appealed to both sides of the political spectrum. She is a true people’s Prime Minister and the 21st century exponent of Blair’s Third Way.
With her in charge, I have hope for the future of politics in the 2020s. Boris Johnson should take note…