Culture Feature

Florence Pugh and Zach Braff

Photo by Stuart Hardy/ABACAPRESS.COM/Shutterstock

Florence Pugh has recently been the subject of much media buzz thanks to the age gap between her and her partner, Zach Braff.

Pugh, who is 24-years-old, has been dating Scrubs star Zach Braff, who just turned 45, for nearly four years. As Pugh's star has risen thanks to hit films like Little Women and Midsommar, media and fans alike have begun to question Braff and Pugh's age gap. Finally, tired of all the abuse, Pugh posted the following video to her Instagram account on April 9th. Watch the video here.

In the video, she firmly warns fans against commenting about her relationship on her posts. "I will not allow that behaviour on my page. I'm not about that. It makes me upset and sad that during this time when we really all need to be together and supporting and loving one another... a few of you decided to bully for no reason," the star said candidly. She goes on to say that she has been working and earning money since the age of 17 and paying taxes from the age of 18 and can make her own decisions when it comes to relationships.

"I'll underline this fact,' Pugh said. "I do not need you to tell me who I should and should not love and I would never in my life who they can and cannot love. It is not your place and really it has nothing to do with you. I don't want this on my page, it's embarrassing, it's sad and I don't know when cyberbullying became trendy or a points system. I don't know why it's a cool thing."

More recently, in an interview for Elle UK, the actress spoke out about the online abuse again, saying "I know that part of being in the spotlight is that people might invade your privacy and have opinions on it, but it's bizarre that normal folk are allowed to display such hate and opinions on a part of my life that I'm not putting out there," she said. "It's a strange side of fame that you're allowed to be torn apart by thousands of people even though you didn't put that piece of you out there." She went on to say, "I don't want to talk about it because it's not something I want to highlight, but my point to all this is that isn't it odd that a stranger can totally tear apart someone's relationship and it's allowed?"

While Pugh's rebuff of cyberbullies was inspiring, the question still remains: Why do people have such an issue with Pugh and Braff's relationship? Older male celebrities dating younger women is a tale as old as time. Think of Leonardo DiCaprio, known for dating women as much 20 years his junior, or Dennis Quaid (65) and girlfriend Laura Savoie (26). These couples don't receive the kind of abuse Braff and Pugh have weathered, so what sets them apart? Perhaps the answer lies with Pugh's fame. She is unquestionably the bigger star in the couple, so maybe fans' image of who a beautiful young star should date isn't compatible with Braff, who is cute in a non-threatening way and in no way the traditional Hollywood heart throb.

But then why don't people have issues with Leonardo Dicaprio dating little-known models and actresses? Well, sexism, of course. We expect a big star like Leo to date young beautiful women, and we have no issue with the age gap because we don't feel like we know the women in the relationship; they're just unknown, beautiful faces. Not only that, but we expect famous women to date men who are even more famous than them, in order to increase their own star power. Meanwhile, famous men can exist in their own orbit of stardom and date who they choose.

We expect young female starlets like Pugh to date hunky heartthrobs while she's in her prime, before she ages out of the narrow window in which women are valued in Hollywood. It makes us uncomfortable that Pugh is dating an older man who is not a massive star and not sexy in a traditional way, because it doesn't fit with the narrative we've come to expect from the people we choose to bestow fame upon.

Our response to Pugh's relationship also reflects the way society views a woman's personal autonomy. When Ashton Kutcher was dating much older Demi Moore, no one questioned his decision-making. But people seem to think that Pugh needs to be warned against making a mistake in dating Braff, that she isn't capable of making her own relationship choices. Why? You guessed it: sexism. Culturally, we don't trust women to make decisions in the same way we trust men. Not only that, but in the case of Leo and his semi-anonymous young lovers, in our eyes, the women in the relationship don't possess the kind of personal autonomy Pugh does; we don't know them, they're just pieces of eye candy. Pugh, on the other hand, has become a human being in our eyes, something that isn't automatic when we perceive women the way it is for men. But that doesn't mean she's free from the unfair expectations we place on all women, famous or not.

On some level, we feel that Florence Pugh owes us a sexy, tumultuous relationship with some hot young Hollywood star. We feel that since we have decided to make her famous, to watch her movies and invest in her personal life, it is her duty to entertain us. Having a stable relationship with a 45-year-old nice-guy who doesn't have a six pack and is known for a funny sitcom—not hit action movies—isn't entertaining. That isn't what we want to read about in the tabloids.

So, summarily, while you may think that it's anti-feminist that Pugh is dating a much older man, and you may think that commenting on her relationship is in some way proving your devotion to her, you couldn't be more wrong. If you have a problem with Pugh dating Braff, you're essentially saying that she can't be trusted to make her own choices, and you're making her relationship about you and your own prejudice, not her and her happiness.

Just let Florence Pugh and Zach Braff be happy, okay?

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