Got questions about Davidson and Beckinsale’s age gap? Speak to one of the many, many, many famous men who exclusively date younger women…
When it comes to unexpected celebrity couples of 2019, the pairing of Pete Davidson and Kate Beckinsale is… up there. OK, I’ll be honest: when I first saw a report speculating that the Saturday Night Live comedian and Hollywood actress were an item, I dismissed it as just another tabloid rumour. Beckinsale comes across as glossy, elegant and very much a grown-up: the sort of woman who could give kind, sensible break-up advice before recommending you a really good hair mask. Her vibe, quite overwhelmingly, is that of someone who always has fresh cut white flowers in the house.
Davidson’s vibe, in contrast, is that of a jovial, jittery eccentric who you couldn’t rely on to have much in the house at all, except perhaps a bag of weed. (The Times’ Ben Machell nailed it when he described Davidson as having “pure GCSE French exchange energy. He’s here. He’s weird. Girls love him”.) They make, it’s fair to say, a surprising pair. But they also seem to be genuinely enjoying one another’s company, and they’re both consenting adults. Ultimately, what’s the big deal?
Unfortunately, I think you know the answer. In many people’s eyes, the big deal is the age gap between Beckinsale and Davidson: at 45, she’s a full two decades older than him. A significant amount of the coverage of their relationship has zeroed in on this fact, describing Beckinsale as a “cougar” (shudder) and Davidson as a “toy boy” (ugh). On social media, the general consensus seemed to be that while Davidson had scored a victory for strange, pale boys around the world, Beckinsale’s interest in him was more suspicious. “A grown woman of 45 will never be serious about a 25 year old man unless she needs intensive therapy,” read one typical tweet.
Of course, as with any conversation about relationships where a woman is significantly older than her male partner, there’s a sharp whiff of sexism here. Some people are shocked that a woman can be both interested in sex and sexually attractive to others in her 40s and beyond. Others can’t believe that an ‘older’ woman would want to date a man in his 20s. But both of these responses are underlain by treacherous assumptions that deserve to be pulled apart and interrogated.
People who raise their eyebrows at a sexually active woman in her 40s have bought into the idea that women are fundamentally less sexual than men (absolutely no one is surprised by a 40-something man who dates younger women). People who are surprised that a younger man could be attracted to a woman in her 40s have accepted the lie that female beauty diminishes with age. People who can’t comprehend why a woman would want to date a younger man may feel uncomfortable with heterosexual relationships where the woman is the one with more power and (social, professional, financial) security.
But perhaps the most glaring problem with the response to Davidson and Beckinsale’s relationship is the hypocrisy of it all. Heterosexual romances with a large age gap are so common in Hollywood as to be almost entirely unremarked upon – just so long as it’s the man who’s older. And during an appearance on Saturday Night Live over the weekend, Davidson made exactly this point.
When fellow SNL performer Colin Jost pressed him on his relationship with Beckinsale, Davidson replied: “Apparently, people have a crazy fascination with our age difference. It doesn’t really bother us, but then again, I’m new to this.”
Davidson then proceeded to highlight the discrepancy in how his relationship with Beckinsale has been treated in the press, compared to other celebrity relationships where the man is significantly older.
Anyone with “questions about a relationship with a big age difference”, he said, could “just ask” one of the following men: “Leonardo DiCaprio, Jason Statham, Michael Douglas, Richard Gere, Jeff Goldblum, Scott Disick, Dane Cook, Derek Jeter, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee, Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, and whoever the president of France is, Mel Gibson, Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy, Kelsey Grammar, Larry King, Larry King, Larry King, Rod Stewart and Donald Trump.”
It was a point well – and wittily – made. Beckinsale and Davidson might make an unlikely pairing, but their age gap is by far the least surprising thing about it. And if we’re going to criticise Beckinsale for dating a younger man, we should really take Leonardo DiCaprio to task for exclusively dating 20-something lingerie models – and literally no one has time for that.
Images: Getty Images