Hollywood Structures: The Age Gap in Relationships

A photo of the Hollywood sign at sunset.
"Hollywood sign" by provangardt is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Pixabay)

Recently, it was reported that 31-year-old rapper Drake shut down a restaurant in Washington D.C. to take 18 year-old model Bella Harris on a date. And while the pair has denied that a date occurred (Harris doing so on Instagram, saying she had been in New York), Harris also has posted an image on Instagram of the pair embracing with the caption “no place I’d rather be 💙” While Harris is at the legal age of consent, the pair first met when Harris was 16 years old. And rumors of the two dating become more alarming when looking at some of the pictures she also posted on her Instagram after their first meeting.

So, there is a lot of unpack here. Drake is not doing anything illegal, but he is 31 which makes him 13 years older than Harris.These two people are in very different places of their lives. Harris just graduated high school in June 2018, and one has to wonder whether this relationship would be allowed to continue if the pair were not famous.

But Drake and Harris hardly holdy the largest age gap in hollywood — many other celebrities such  as Emilie Livingston and Jeff Goldblum, who have an age difference of 31 years. What is worth thinking about is that we know with this relationship the couple had known each other for two years before they began dating.

And  Drake isn’t the only high-profile celebrity dating younger women., 34 year-old reality TV star Scott Disick is dating 19 year-old model Sofia Richie, daughter of Lionel Richie, who in 2017 said he was “scared to death,” about their relationship. The pair is still dating and posting pictures together with some discourse on different websites about if their relationship is okay.

Additionally, actor 43 year-old Leonardo DiCaprio is dating a 20 year-old model, Camila Morrone. And in an article released on Slate in 2016, the author writes,

“…to public knowledge, DiCaprio has never had a relationship with anyone who’s been old enough to avoid a military draft. In fact, about half the time, his romances have ended when his girlfriends have hit that fateful mid-20s mark, aging out of DiCaprio’s love like they’ve hit the upper threshold on the kid’s menu at Cracker Barrel.”

And to add onto the list of male celebrities who are dating significantly younger women, 46-year-old comedian Dane Cook is dating 19 year-old singer Kelsi Taylor. And again with just a little bit of time spent looking on both of their instagrams, their 26 year-age gap is contested highly.

All of these examples are to show a specific pattern that appears to be occurring with older men in Hollywood. These powerful celebrities are finding young models or singers or actresses who are hoping to gain the same type of fame as the men they want to date. There is a clear power dynamic in Hollywood, and the public eye allows famous men to get away with dating these younger women.

While there is no direct evidence of sexual grooming in many of these cases, when older men begin to date women who are just becoming legal adults, there are always questions about if something like grooming has occurred. Sexual grooming is defined as people building relationships with often younger people with the intention of using the bonds they created in order to establish a sexual relationship or abusive relationship. The practice of grooming seems to be like sexual coercion enacted over extended periods of time through emotional manipulation and abuse.

Last summer, famous singer R.Kelly was accused of holding women in a cult, where he manipulated, abused, and groomed the women into believing they were there due to their own personal choices. But the singer has been long accused of sexual assault of younger women. In 1994, Kelly reportedly married 15-year-old Aaliyah. Their relationship was a clear case of grooming, considering that Aaliyah first met Kelly because he was her mentor, and controlled most of her life when they were together. Since then, Kelly has been accused of sexual misconduct and in 2016 the then 49-year-old Kelly was dating a 19-year-old model.

And here’s where this all comes back to Drake. What is perhaps equally as concerning as his relationship with Harris is his relationship with 14-year-old Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown. The pair apparently text regularly about boys and her life in general, and the internet has begun to call out what seems to be Drake grooming another young woman. While we do not know if something similar happened with Drake and Harris, it is still easy to see signs of grooming in what we know about Drake and Brown’s relationship. And if a 30-year-old was semi-regularly texting a 14-year-old outside of the Hollywood setting, it would most certainly not be tolerated by the public.

While there are many different factors at play within all of these relationships, one is that fame prevents these male celebrities from ever really being punished or facing repercussions for their relationship with younger women who are aspiring to be more famous and successful. Additionally, the clear, recurring difference in power between these men and women in all of these relationships seems to be functioning structurally within Hollywood, allowing for this cycle to continue. So while Drake might not have been setting out to prey on his new girlfriend, Hollywood culture has accepted and protected men who date younger women, so he is allowed to behave this way, and will continue to do so. And Hollywood will allow for men to groom younger women or manipulate them because people in Hollywood or the public very rarely call it out, and when news outlets or people on social media finally say something, these comments are ignored. As a society, we need to begin holding our celebrities and all men to higher standards and working against the structures that let them continue to date or prey on young women.