Leonardo DiCaprio, who is verging on 50 years old, has never dated anyone over the age of 25. Thanks to his recent public split with fashion model Camila Morrone—just months after her 25th birthday—DiCaprio’s dating tendencies have resurfaced online as a trending topic. From an onslaught of ridicule on social media to a viral chart made on Reddit and playful prodding during Kenan Thompson’s speech at last week’s 74th Emmy Awards, it seems that no matter their interest in his career, consumers of pop culture are united on this one front. DiCaprio’s uncompromising consistency in dating exclusively young women is strangely comical.
Starting with Gisele Bündchen in 1999—his first publicized relationship—DiCaprio has maintained a strict mould for the women he dates publicly: White, under 25, a fashion model, and often an immigrant to America. As he has grown older, so have the age gaps between him and his partners. Morrone is 23 years younger than DiCaprio, making him more than twice her age when their relationship began.
While the outlandishness of DiCaprio’s love life produces some degree of humour among members of the public, the lighthearted Buzzfeed articles and tweets obscure a darker underbelly. The women he begins relationships with are certainly consenting adults in the legal sense, and there is no evidence to explicitly state that any of DiCaprio’s relationships were unhealthy. Yet the power dynamic between an older man with his wealth and influence and a young woman entering one of her first romantic relationships is often imbalanced, which raises concerns regarding manipulation, grooming, and conforming to the age-old gender standard of male control and female dependence. These issues should not be normalized through casual jokes. Indeed, if Zendaya’s sheepish reaction to Thompson’s speech proves anything, it shows how uncomfortable it can be for a woman to be seen as just a romantic interest, even hypothetically, and especially as the butt of a man’s joke.
As many of DiCaprio’s ex-girlfriends are fashion models, they are already viewed largely for their physical appearance and hypersexualized by the general public. Given that many of his partners are immigrants, their exoticization and what it means to be a “foreign” woman in America come into play. This further ensnares women into various oppressive and dehumanizing stereotypes related to their ethnicity. When women of certain identity groups are hypersexualized, this not only reduces them to their appearance value but fetishizes their ‘exoticism.’ Women of different cultures are forced into yet another vessel of comparison between one another, where they are pitted against each other as ‘instruments’ of men.
If the entertainment industry is a puppet show, then patriarchal conventions are pulling the strings. DiCaprio is attractive, rich, and never settles down. These toxic masculine attributes are expected, if not revered, within Hollywood. The women that famous men sport on their arms must hold an appropriate amount of social capital by being pretty accessories. Accessories won’t complain when objectified for profit, when their paycheque is substantially smaller than that of their male counterparts, when their age negatively correlates with work opportunities, or when faced with workplace sexual harassment. DiCaprio and his dating preferences are a minor constituent within a larger network of misogyny that views women as profitable sexual objects.
The entertainment industry is the primary source of the media we consume, hinging on the subordination of women and the validation of men. Celebrities and the content they produce act as powerful catalysts for social trends; they influence what is normalized in contemporary cultural discourse. By exclusively dating women who meet a narrow set of social expectations on the public stage, male celebrities such as DiCaprio trivialize relationships with harmful age gaps into comedic exchanges and perpetuate an often unattainable, destructive standard for women to reach. The standards that are glamourized in the entertainment industry have a wider set of consequences than what appears on the surface. This ultimately works to tighten the grasp of patriarchal conditions on the norms of our everyday society. When we joke about DiCaprio’s love life, women aren’t getting the last laugh.