This week, X Factor judge Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and former contestant and One Direction superstar Liam Payne set the celebritysphere alight after seemingly confirming their 'relationship' via Instagram. Haven’t times have changed from when relationships started and ended on MSN Messenger?
Whether this is true love or a giant publicity stunt, it is clear that Cheryl and Liam do have a considerable amount in common. Both are members of extremely successful bands that achieved fame through televised singing competitions, and have at times struggled with life in the public eye.
Still, when scrolling through Twitter, it is hard to ignore the depressingly predictable onslaught of abuse from die hard 'Directioners', tearing Cheryl apart like bloodthirsty piranhas. Disappointingly, not everyone expressing their anger at this news is a hormonal teenager driven by acne and self-loathing. My Twitter feed is genuinely full of adults who are outraged by the age difference between the couple, many going as far to say that the pairing is 'disgusting' and 'wrong'.
Disclaimer: I love Cheryl. She’s responsible for some absolute bangers and possibly the most perfect pair of dimples known to man. I laughed when she posed for those terrible lottery photos with her then-husband Ashley Cole, I miss the days when she proudly wore ‘Von Dutch’ caps and I cried along with her during Piers Morgan’s Life Stories. I don’t even really care that she can’t sing.
Still, whether you’re a fan or not, we should all find this double standard deeply concerning. We certainly would not be debating this if the pair’s genders were reversed. After all, Cheryl is only ten years and two months older than Liam, and we are constantly seeing older men with young and beautiful women.
Bradley Cooper is 17 years older than Suki Waterhouse, Jonny Depp is 23 years older than Amber Heard and Brad Pitt is 11 years older than Angelina Jolie. The list goes on. Man of the moment Leonardo DiCaprio is practically renowned for his antics with younger models when he isn’t winning (or narrowly losing) Academy Awards.
So why does everyone have such a problem when the tables are turned? Why is it that women receive death threats and men get high fives?
Cheryl’s current predicament reminds us of the fact that women risk being punished if they deviate from society’s norms - no matter how famous or successful they are.
In similarly eye-rollingly awful news, Emma Watson also received criticism after revealing that she subscribes to sexual pleasure research site OMGyes.com this week. If a glamour model exposing her breasts in Page 3 had spoken these words then I’m sure that no one would have battered an eyelid. However, a feminist activist and actor speaking frankly about exploring her sexuality is apparently scandalous.
For women in the public eye, exploring their sexuality is a minefield.
And it’s clear from recent celebrity news that if you don’t do it in the right way, while fitting the right stereotypical mould, with the right (male, older) person, then you’d better brace yourself for one hell of a backlash.