chapter  2
May–December Paradoxes: An Exploration of Age-Gap Relationships in Western Society
ByWestern Society Justin J. Lehmiller and Christopher R. Agnew
Pages 24

In the cinematic classic The Graduate, 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) is seduced by the much older, but very attractive Mrs. Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft), the wife of one of his father’s friends. This seduction results in an ongoing affair that lasts for an entire summer. As the film progresses, the plot becomes a bit convoluted as Benjamin falls madly in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (played by Katherine Ross), who then becomes the target of his romantic pursuits. Although Benjamin and Elaine wind up together in the end, the relationship most often remembered and mentioned by viewers of this film is that initial affair between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson. This is partly due to the extra-marital nature of the relationship, which was somewhat scandalous at the time of the film’s release in 1967. The bigger reason why this romance sticks out in people’s minds, however, is because it violated societal conventions with regard to partner age differences in romantic involvements. That is, in Western societies, and most other societies throughout the world, heterosexual men tend to be older than their female partners, and it is not uncommon for them to be significantly older. Relationships that follow this pattern typically attract relatively little attention and scrutiny. In contrast, heterosexual romances involving a woman who is older than her male partner are relatively rare and people usually take notice of them. This has

been the case throughout history. Even today, more than 40 years after the release of The Graduate, the pairing of an older woman with a younger man in Hollywood is considered newsworthy by the popular media. In fact, such relationships are so novel that they have now become the primary focus of multiple television shows. Society does not tend to look favorably upon relationships in which the older partner is female, though, and the women involved are often judged in an especially harsh manner. In fact, rather than seeing them as women looking for true love, they are assumed to share Mrs. Robinson’s desire to seduce or sexually prey upon young men, being stereotyped as “cougars.”