Let’s stop praising men who deign to date women almost their own age | Barbara Ellen


Keanu Reeves comes across as a sweetheart, but I’m not sure he actually deserves a sainthood for dating artist Alexandra Grant, who, at 46, is still nine years younger than him.

Nevertheless, their recent appearance on the red carpet (Grant, elegant with natural grey hair) was hailed as refreshing, even groundbreaking. So it goes with the twisted maths of male-female age-appropriateness, especially in Hollywood – a man seen with anyone who isn’t half his age is hailed as a feminist god walking among us.

But why wouldn’t Reeves date Grant? She appears to be smart, talented, fun, a catch. But this is beyond one couple – this is about the gender politics of success and how society tells successful men that they “deserve” not only a beautiful, but also a much younger woman.

At least this (smallish age gap) counts as a novelty. Usually, we nosy types find the larger age gaps intriguing. Some such relationships defy the odds and work. Others look unhealthy, especially if one party is not just younger, but also young, period – too young for them to have much hope of real agency in their relationship. Then there’s that other kind of age gap, with the freaky gendered socioeconomic dimension – where snagging a much younger woman becomes as much a signifier of male success as a mansion or a Porsche. Here, the younger woman is less a human being than a male acquisition or achievement. I always wondered why some men were forever moaning nastily about gold-diggers.

It finally dawned that perhaps it’s because they are intoxicated with this idea of womankind confirming their financial success. “Look, everybody, I’m so successful, I’m being played by gold-diggers!” There lies the essential tragedy of the money-obsessed – it even contaminates their sexual and emotional life.

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For women, the rules are different. Helena Bonham Carter has just been in the news with a much younger partner and you’d have thought that witchcraft (bubbling cauldrons, the lot) must have been involved for this 53-year-old to lure this younger man into her aged lair. It barely matters that Bonham Carter is beautiful, talented and successful. That, these days, she’d be called a cougar rather than a crone. Still, society decrees that a woman’s status is rarely improved by her having a much younger male partner; if anything, it’s sacrificed.

If all this is a grisly tangle of double standards, then the irony and comedy deepens with the realisation that Reeves and Grant (two people who just dig each other) would be likely to attract as much suspicion from some quarters as large age gaps do in others. That, to certain eyes, Hollywood star Reeves has “settled” for a 46-year-old and, in the process, horribly let himself – and all chauvinist mankind – down.

If this red carpet incident proved anything, it’s that the age gap is as socially and sexually politicised as ever.

Don’t cry for Samantha, Dave was bad news for Britain

Samantha and David Cameron



Samantha and David Cameron: her frocks are another casualty of Brexit. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Does anyone know the whereabouts of the world’s tiniest violin? I’m talking microscopic, and I need it urgently. Samantha Cameron has spoken at a business event about how the unpopularity of her husband, former prime minister David, might be adversely affecting her luxury fashion brand, Cefinn. As in, some people don’t fancy buying expensive clobber from the wife of the man who caused Brexit and then, well, you know, scarpered.

This isn’t an attack on Ms Cameron. She wasn’t responsible for calling the referendum and she readily admits that being part of a famous couple could also help sales. There might be just a small problem with self-awareness: she says she rarely goes into overdraft, which leads one to wonder: could this have anything to do with her being not only the wife of a former PM, but also the daughter of a baronet?

Generally, I’m so kindly disposed towards Ms Cameron that, after perusing the Cefinn website, I’m prepared to receive free clothes (perhaps that Carly Cropped Faux Fur Coat – £420?).

On receipt, I could report back to Cefinn on whether I’m overcome with hostility towards said garment. (perhaps chuck in the Riley Funnel Neck Blouse £170, in every colour, just to be sure?). “Bribery” is such an ugly word – let’s call it “customer feedback”. As for David Cameron being bad for business, tell the nation something it doesn’t know. It’s darkly amusing that in the chaos and rubble of our times, there’s yet another casualty – in the form of Samantha Cameron’s frocks and jumpers not selling as well as they could do.

This is why we need that tiny violin – not just for Samantha, but for ourselves. If only this were the biggest problem the UK faced.

If breakfast with Trump is top prize, can I be a runner-up?

Donald Trump



Donald Trump: not an appetising prospect over the dining table. Photograph: Brad Mills/USA Today Sports

How much would you pay not to have breakfast with President Donald Trump? What if I threw in the chance to miss lunch and dinner too?

I’m asking because Trump has once again managed to cause controversy via the medium of food. Many will recall how, earlier this year, he served the Clemson Tigers football team a White House banquet of hamburgers and fries. Now Trump is accused of holding lotteries to dine with him, but not following through. In what’s been criticised as a fundraising scam, winners are fobbed off with photo opportunities or nothing at all.

Why is Trump, man of the people, trying to avoid chowing down with the wonderful ordinary folk he professes to represent? Then again, who wants to watch Trump masticate anyway? Imagine that, sitting opposite you, tucking into egg and soldiers. Watching those weird tiny hands struggling with adult cutlery, a person could clean forget elementary table etiquette: “Which fork should I use to stick in your neck, Mr President?”

Trump’s fundraising team missed a trick. Instead of dining with the president, they could have offered people a cast-iron guarantee that they’d never have to encounter Trump while eating. A solemn promise of Trump-free digestion all day. That really would be a reason to get the wallet out.

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist



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