Actor, model and fitness promoter Milind Soman, who turned 52 on November 4, posted a photograph of himself with girlfriend Ankita Konwar, prompting outrage and support in equal measure on the Internet.
Milind Soman's posts have always created a flutter. However, this time, the Internet is divided on how to respond to the fact that Milind's girlfriend, reportedly a flight attendant, is less than half his age.
Forget the Internet warriors, the media, too, is divided on how to report the news. While some have pegged her age at 18, others have said she's 23. Either way, there is at least 29 years between them.
The Free Press Journal decided to celebrate this by calling Milind an “Ageless Wonder!” and adding that he’s ‘living every man’s dream’. This left us wondering what the average man, according to Free Press Journal, really thinks about women and relationships. Do all men dream of dating women so young?
Even though the two may be in a consensual relationship, the media pegging it as ‘every man’s dream’ is problematic, given how older women are discriminated against in various spheres. Popular culture, including cinema and advertising, continues to reiterate the idea that it's only young women (under 30, just to be clear) who can be considered desirable. Derogatory terms like 'aunty' are freely thrown around at older women while men their age are still thought to be "boys".
Such gendered and ageist statements also don't take into account the inherent power structures that are prevalent in a relationship where the man, who belongs to the privileged gender, is significantly older. The headline may make for clickbait but responsible journalism, it is not.
If all this sounds like a stretch, go back a few months in time and look at the coverage that French president Emmanuel Macron and his significantly older wife Brigitte received. From accusing Brigitte of being a "cradle snatcher" to wondering how Macron could possibly be attracted to someone of her age, the media and the Internet went all out
Many more publications with wide readerships have had no qualms about characterising Milind Soman's relationship as aspirational.
GQ India, in June this year, said: “At an age when most men either dream of dating a younger woman or pulling off the salt-n-pepper look, here’s a man who is living the life. And while most of us don’t end up with either, Milind Soman doesn’t seem to have too much trouble with either” and “So while you can rest easy with your girl, we suspect there’s a part of you wanting to live Milind’s life”.
Another piece, again by GQ India, says that his relationship “guarantees him a longer life”. To justify the claim, the piece quotes a “recent study” that older men thrive off the energy of younger women and hence live longer.
The Free Press Journal article goes on to say: “At the age of 51, Milind Soman, is living every man’s dream. He looks fit, has that grey look and even has a girlfriend who is half his age”. It further adds that “some can’t handle this love story”, making it sound like any criticism can only come from a place of jealousy.
The media often glamorizes problematic trends in the name of "public interest" stories.
As senior journalist Ammu Joseph earlier told TNM, “One persistent problem is the tendency to confuse “the public interest” (which is supposed to guide ethical journalism) with “what interests the public.” Gossip does interest much of the public but is it in the public interest for news organisations to purvey hearsay as fact?”
Further, Ankita Konwar, his girlfriend has been termed a "lucky lady" because she has Milind as "her man". On the one hand, Milind has been congratulated for getting such a young woman as his girlfriend and on the other, the young woman is told that she's "lucky" to be in such a position. If the genders were reversed, a male Ankita would surely not be told that she's "lucky"!