Instagram photos surfaced Wednesday of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s 13-year-old daughter Willow lounging on a bed with shirtless 20-year-old male actor Moises Arias, who is (apparently) famous for playing a diminutive wheeler-dealer many years ago on the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana. The picture was quickly deleted, but not quickly enough to avoid criticism from fans. Apparently, the 13-year-old and the 20-year-old are just friends, and the picture was part of a creative photography session.
This is not the first time Willow has been accused of acting too mature for her age. The recent music video for her song “Summer Fling,” which by the title alone sounds too mature for a 13-year-old to be singing, shows the youngster holding hands and canoodling with a man who looks old enough to be her father, and the song includes lyrics such as “You tell me that I’m the one / I tell you it’s just for fun.” My father would have locked me in our house for days for saying something like that at 13. Granted, this music video has been criticized for being too mature, but many people had to approve of it in order for it to be produced: songwriters, actors, producers, stylists, and makeup artists. And let’s not forget Willow Smith’s parents.
However, reading about Willow and her eagerness to grow up, I cannot help but think, “Why are we surprised?” In a recent edition of “Civilities,” the Washington Post’s advice column “covering LGBT and straight etiquette,” a concerned mother asked for advice about her 19-year-old son, who just came out to her about his homosexuality and his boyfriend, a man 20 years his senior.
The desperate mother asks for advice, pointing out that this man began dating her son when he was still in high school. She explicitly says, “I think he’s a predator. . . . Please help!”
The advice columnist, an author by the name of Steven Petrow, tells her that before she jumps to conclusions she should “drop the sharp tone and accusatory remarks, especially that you think [the man] is a ‘predator.’” He goes on to cite examples of famous couples who have a large age gap between the partners. “Alec Baldwin is 26 years older than his wife,” Petrow says.
Holding up Alec Baldwin as the gold standard of decency would be a stretch for anybody. But it’s especially hilarious that the author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners would even mention Baldwin, whose pastimes include yelling “fag” at anyone who inconveniences him, as a person to emulate. (And even then the comparison isn’t totally clear, given that Baldwin’s wife is 30 and well out of high school.)
Petrow basically advises the mother not to worry so much because these age gaps in homosexual relationships can be common. That may be true, but why is it okay? I’m sure if society didn’t frown upon it, straight relationships between fifty-year-old men and 15-year-old girls would be common as well. As it stands now, a relationship between a female high-school senior and a male in his late 30s or early 40s would strike many people as, if not technically illegal, at least pretty creepy. It’s certainly hard to imagine such a heterosexual relationship getting the “Who are we to judge?” treatment from a Post advice column.
If you Google advice for young women who want to date older men (and by “young,” I mean my age, early twenties) the number of articles telling them “age is just a number” versus articles telling them to “be careful because the man probably just wants you for your age” are split just about down the middle. However, if you search for advice for a younger man who wants to date an older man, the articles are overwhelmingly more positive. In fact, I struggled to find any blogs or articles where the young man is told to be cautious. Why is it more appropriate for a gay man to pursue a high-school boy than for a straight man to pursue a high-school girl?
Same-sex marriage has ushered in a new phase of “not judging” anyone or anything. A mother concerned about a middle-aged man’s pursuit of her teenage son is called “accusatory.” A lesbian “throuple” should be allowed to raise a child in a polygamous relationship because who are we to judge? The abundant acceptance of same-sex marriage is enabling those who want to push the limits of what we as a society accept. Who knows what will be acceptable in another ten years?
Willow Smith was surprised to learn that people still frowned on her lying in bed with a 20-year-old man, but that may just be because she’s ahead of her time.
— Christine Sisto is an editorial assistant at National Review.