By now you’ve seen the Los Angeles Times headline: “Leonardo DiCaprio, 47, and Camila Morrone, [take a guess], have reportedly split.” You’ve read, perhaps even retweeted, the theory that DiCaprio “hated 9/11 so much that he can’t even date women who remember it.” Surely you’ve glimpsed the House of the Dragon and Rehearsal memes, Titanic jokes, and topical references to Affordable Care Act age restrictions related to the couple’s split and DiCaprio’s documented history of dumping formerly 22-year-olds once they become 25-year-olds.
Jezebel’s Kady Ruth Ashcraft has posited that Leo is but a humble “anti-aging ambassador,” and Lifehacker’s Meredith Dietz has suggested the 47-year-old is actually the one getting dumped—perhaps “once a woman’s brain finishes developing, she realizes she doesn’t wanna be with [DiCaprio].” Even the worst person you know has joked about this man, too.
This level of unity is rare for the internet. And while none of the jokes at DiCaprio’s expense seem intended as political statements, here I am, annoyingly finding a positive takeaway from all of this anyway: Together, we’ve put our differences aside and collectively made it uncool and worthy of aggressive mockery for older men to date much younger women!!
It’s always been gross (and, I’d argue, innately predatory) for adult men to date barely legal women, or specifically, for nearly 50-year-old men to date 20-year-olds. Yet for years, any attempts at conversation about the creepiness of these dynamics was immediately shut down by angry, overly defensive men who know far too much about varying states’ age of consent and statutory rape laws.
The conversation about how perfectly legal relationships and sexual activities can still be skeevy as hell should be an ongoing one. One thing we’ve learned this week, it seems, is that perceived feminist moralizing can set off men’s fight-or-flight instincts—but they’re far more responsive to casual jokes about how dating someone who could be your daughter is pathetic and embarrassing, (even if it is totally legal).
DiCaprio, bless his soul, is clearly in the throes of some midlife crisis: Every under-25-year-old he dates and every 25-year-old he dumps comes off as a desperate cry for help, rather than a demonstration of alpha male sexual prowess. Let this be a lesson for men in their 40s trying to date 24-year-olds: It’s sad, it’s weird, it’s arguably even cheugy!
I want to be clear: I’m not declaring the internet taking the piss out of DiCaprio as solely a feminist victory. Calling someone in his situation “creepy” or “predatory” still brings out the freaks who want to tell you that actually, the age of consent in Connecticut, Maryland, Indiana, North Carolina, and 27 other states is 16, oh and also, Me Too is ruining men’s lives. (It isn’t.) However, now you can point out how lame it is for a man in his late 40s to regularly date women in their early 20s and get a few laughs—and maybe even 100,000 retweets—and that feels like…progress??