The other day, I succumbed to reading click-bait on Stuff. There is a truck-load of rubbish on Stuff, and I totally know this, but every so often I weaken and read some of it, in spite of my resolve not to. The piece, provocatively titled “I Only Want to be With Younger Women”, was about an older guy – 56, and two failed marriages behind him – expressing his preference for only going out with women half his age. He doesn’t like being judged for this, he complains to agony aunt Jennifer Souness, who “has had an unusual life, first as a model, and then running an escort agency” – i.e. in the businesses of women-as-entertainment. Never mind that the complaint was probably well doctored for maximum controversy, it still pushed all the right indignation buttons.
The truth is, we have probably all been guilty of using someone as entertainment at some time in our lives. When I was younger, I saw older guys who were on the prowl as suitable for entertainment only. They weren’t relationship material. I never bothered to stop and think if these guys wanted more – I just assumed they were only after entertainment, too. When I say older guys, that didn’t include guys in their fifties. I mean, yuck – that was like my father – wasn’t going there! At one stage, however, I did have a live-in relationship with an older guy – he was all of 35 – but I never saw it as a forever thing. I was young, and had time to waste.
The thing was, older guys were willing to pay for everything, in the hope of the reward of getting their leg over a younger woman. They were just so easy to string along – for a while, anyway. The other thing was that I felt so prized by them, because in fact I was a prize for an older guy. For someone with low self-esteem, as I had, that was a powerful additional sweetener. Younger guys just took my youngness as the normal thing. All young people had youngness. Older guys with status and money can often ‘buy’ as many young women as they want, should that be their lifestyle preference, but for the average bloke, a younger woman is a prize.
Looking back, I wasn’t right in what I did, but I don’t judge myself for being callow in my youth, either. The fact was, I was role-modelling myself on what I saw men doing. The freedom men had, the risks they took, the adventures they had, the promiscuity they indulged in if they could – they were all things I aspired to in my new-found place as a young adult with the world at my fingertips. Historically, women simply did not get the same amount of fun and freedom. Instead, they had centuries of being hobbled by patriarchy, had the burden of being the moral gate-keepers imposed on them, and confined to the private domain. In the initial era of birth-control, the only role models for how to have fun, freedom, and empowerment were men, so that’s the behaviour I attempted to emulate. I’m not sure how much has really changed since then.
Now, from my eyrie of sixty, I can see the deteriorating impact callous behaviour has on our own personal characters. It doesn’t just wash off, it sticks, and does something unseen to us, but which is somehow noticeable at the same time. I can see how for the short time I played this ‘using people’ game’, I had to harden my heart to be a successful player. I also lowered my standards about the quality of the men with whom I engaged. I saw promiscuity as just another game. I eventually evolved away from those behaviours. I can’t claim to having had an epiphany that I was aware of, I just moved on. I suppose that in the end, that life just wasn’t really for me.
So far, our most visible and audible role-model for having freedom, power, and a place in the world, has come from the patriarchal model. It’s not a good model, with its ‘power over’ ideology, which using people as entertainment is a part of, but there hasn’t been much in the way of choice. Challenging this continues to be gruelling work, as the ‘power over’ structure serves those already with the most wealth and power very well. It’s also heady stuff for those who find themselves in positions of power, which they don’t normally have in everyday life.
So, what about the older guy who only wants to be with younger women? Maybe he is being used in return, so no harm done? Perhaps – perhaps not. Could be that everyone gets scarred from this game of use-and-discard.