On Girls at Jezebel and an interview with Flurt magazine

My Genderal Interest column this week looked at this past Sunday’s much-discussed episode of Girls: Age Is Never Just a Number: How Girls Got Older Men/Younger Women Right. Excerpt:

The storyline works because we live in a world where 42 year-old men are taught to find 24 year-old women more appealing than their own female peers. Ask 20-something women on OK Cupid or other dating sites how many they receive from men 15 and 20 years older; ask women in their 40s how many guys their own age seem primarily interested in pursuing much younger romantic partners. The “cougar discourse” doesn’t change the reality that most heterosexual relationships with a substantial age gap still feature an older man and younger woman pairing.

As she so often does, Hannah reverses the stereotype by being the sexual aggressor — and Joshua’s intensely grateful reaction suggests not just surprise at her boldness but also, perhaps a kind of relief that a woman in her mid-20s finds him still desirable. Forget the dick-wringing from male writers about how a hottie like Wilson would never go for a young woman who looks like Dunham. Not only does that woefully underrate the sex appeal of the Girls’ star, it also obscures the reality that having a younger woman walk into your house and make the first move is a classic middle-aged man’s fantasy. Joshua’s eager, bewildered gratitude is only a surprise to those hung up on the spurious hotness differential between Dunham and Wilson. To anyone familiar with the older man/younger woman dynamic, his hungry response is instantly recognizable.

Two weeks ago, I did an interview with Canada’s Flurt Magazine; it ran yesterday: A Different Side to Hugo Schwyzer. I’m grateful to Danielle Paradis for a nice write-up.

15 thoughts on “On Girls at Jezebel and an interview with Flurt magazine

  1. “…where 42 year-old men are taught to find 24 year-old women more appealing than their own female peers.”

    How many times did you revise that sentence to avoid writing:

    “…where 42 year-old men find 24 year-old women more appealing than their own female peers.”

    …or…

    “…where 42 year-old men find their own female peers less appealing than 24 year-old women.”

    ?

    Whether they find or are “taught to” find is irrelevant. Does it matter whether you were “taught to find” Eira so appealing that even though you were:

    “…angry at the universe – very angry, because I was not ready to be in a relationship again”

    …you succumbed anyway?

    (Eira sounds like a bad ass, so to me her appeal is a no-brainer, but maybe I was taught to think that, but still.)

    The outcome is the same.

  2. Hugo, you are just determined to spend all your life obsessing and wringing your hands over age-disparate relationships, aren’t you (unless of course, it’s a cougar thing, because double standards are at least standards of a kind)? Shall I be the 53rd millionth person to point out that your own history gives you no moral authority to judge anyone else’s relationships?

    • The wonderful thing about advice is that the only qualification you have to have is someone asking for it. People DO ask Hugo, and his writing at Jezebel is because of his experiences. Why don’t you go back to sleep?

  3. Yes the “are taught to” stuck out as an odd use of passive voice as well. Who is doing the teaching? And just as importantly, why? Whom does it benefit to teach men to redirect attention away from older women to younger? And why is it working so well?

    (And in the answer to these questions, let’s not infantilize younger women as being more manipulable or naive than their older peers. Unless you are talking about women younger than about 22, they are not. Most of them know exactly what they are getting into with an older man and exactly what makes them the object of desire.)

  4. I think one of the issues at stake here is that a great many people approach relations/relationships more in terms of what they are looking for in themselves and not really what they are looking for in a partner. It’s not always validation or evidence that they’ve “still got it”, but it often comes out that way, particularly if there are a lot of insecurities in the mix. Often, certain pervasive gender relationship issues are more like a symptom than a cause. What we should be asking ourselves is why so many aging men feel the need for this kind of validation and why they feel they must seek it from young(er) women (i.e., what do younger women “have” that they are looking for)? What is going on with the kinds of value we place, culturally, on older women that is contributing to the “invisibility” issue? What is our society telling us about the way certain relationships “should” look and why?

    This is anecdotal of course but one of the things I tend to note among my female colleagues (which I do not so much note among my male colleagues) is that having a student hit on us (undergraduate college-age) is not overall particularly pleasant, or validating, or welcome. I’ve even had a colleague say directly, “He’s more than 15 years younger than me. I’m really not OK with this. He should be dating his classmates.” And yes, while I know that there are women who actively seek and enjoy the attention of younger men, my experience has largely been that most older women I know are not seeking whatever it is that younger men “have”, and that deserves a few well-pointed questions.

  5. Re: I’ve even had a colleague say directly, “He’s more than 15 years younger than me. I’m really not OK with this. He should be dating his classmates.”

    Wow.

    It’s amazing to me how so many people on the liberal-feminist side of the aisle will tolerate so many other sorts of lifestyle choices- gay marriages, Christians dating/marrying Jews, people choosing not to have children, even people choosing abortions….but then they’re suddenly anxious to define arbitrary age ranges that *legal adults* should date within.

    Why *should* those undergrad boys be dating their classmates? Or undergrad girls, for that matter? How about you let them make their own choices if they want to date someone 15 years older? Personally, I think it’s ideal for 19-21 year old girls to be dating men about 10-15 years older: those older men have more maturity, economic security, are in a better position to be a protector and provider, etc. and it allows women to start getting ready for having children earlier, with a man who can provide for them. Those are the kind of relationships that society should ideally be encouraging, not wasting your late teens and early 20s on unproductive hookups with frat boys. But, you know, I’m not quite as anxious as Hugo and his buddies to shame everyone who doesn’t match up to my ideal standard.

    If you don’t want to date people in the traditional undergrad age, fair enough. Plenty of us do. If I had someone 14 years younger than me express interest, I’d be delighted. I think most men would, honestly.

    • Women–feminists in particular–are sensitive to this because of the anxieties brought on by the loss of sex appeal they experience as they age. They will shame men, and whoever agrees with this concept, until they’re blue in the face. As evidenced by Ellen, Amanda Marcotte, Andrea Dworkin, and the countless unattractive femi gargoyles: men should not be allowed to have a preference.

      Have they chastised Kim Cattrall’s cougaresque character from Sex & the City? Nope.

      P.S.

      Women,

      Stop your whining about men successfully getting younger, consenting women. Its nauseating and just makes you look pathetic. Women have the right to fulfill their sexual desires anyway they see fit, right? Well, guess what, so do men.

    • My point in using the quote had nothing to do with what kinds of relationships an undergraduate “should” have but was to demonstrate the often disparate reactions between the men and women that I have known when it comes to being romantically approached by someone significantly younger than they are. And it was this disparate reaction that warrants some cultural inquiry, particularly in terms of power and consequence disparities between people who are separated by more than a decade.

      Though I would add, for someone who leverages criticism based on my perceived “liberal-feminist” bias (whatever that means) on what constitutes an appropriate relationship, you seem to have some significant bias yourself. I am not outright opposed to any and every age-disparate relationship on principle, but your reply implies that you oppose *any* relationship that does not fit your narrow standard of reproductive “propriety”.

  6. I just saw a picture of Denis Kucinich escorting his 31 years younger wife Elizabeth to the Oscars. Even progressive feminist men, who most likely are more than aware that they’ve been taught to prefer younger women, choose them anyway.

    That’s why I ask why the reason matters. We can waste keystrokes forever debating the reason. For me the issue is:

    1. Is it a problem?
    2. Can we change it?
    3. If we can’t change it, then what do we do?

    When are men going to stop choosing younger women? When will this worldwide cultural revolution happen? Will it happen in our lifetimes? In Heloise’s? Until then, women that want loving, stable relationships with opposite sex life partners will need to watch the clock in ways that men won’t, unless you can suggest another way to manage.

    • “Even progressive feminist men, who most likely are more than aware that they’ve been taught to prefer younger women, choose them anyway.”

      Again with the “been taught to” passive-voiced stuff. Who is doing this teaching, why are they doing it, and why is it working so well? (Hint: The answer to the first question is “No-one”).

      • You missed my point. The reason is irrelevant.

        Every time I see an article about the “reason” men choose younger women, whether it’s biological, cultural, alien parasites, or just something in the water, I want to break a mirror and chew the pieces. The genre is more prevalent than even “man shortage” memes, or the annual “OMG I’m (some age) And Single. WHY DIDN’T I SETTLE!!!!!,” or the “I Thought I Could Get Pregnant At 40. I WAS SO TRAGICALLY WRONG!!!!” article/book that pops up every five years or so.

        Everyone has a theory as to why men choose younger women. No one has a solution. The closest I’ve seen is that we need to “talk about it.” We’ve been “talking about it” since we invented the wheel.

        If it’s a problem, then what do we do? And if we can’t change men’s preference for youth, how do women manage that? Maybe it’s fun to speculate about the reason, but it’s not getting us anywhere.

  7. I’ll stop, I promise, but here’s another progressive male feminist that can’t seem to overcome what he’s been “taught to find” attractive. Apparently seventy-one year old Patrick Stewart is engaged to thirty-four year old Sunny Ozell. If women “slide into invisibility” even for male feminists and remind them of “the cruel reality of aging” even if the male feminist is in his seventies while she’s just barely on the wrong side of thirty five, what’s a woman to do? Male interest in feminism seems to end with a woman’s childbearing years.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2009/05/08/sunny-ozell-patrick-stewa_n_200997.html

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