Actor Keanu Reeves was trending on social media after being photographed with a woman people are saying is “age-appropriate,” drawing commentary about gender equity in Hollywood.
“The Matrix” actor has historically kept his dating life private, but after he was spotted holding hands with artist and philanthropist Alexandra Grant at the LAMCA Art + Film Gala on Saturday, rumors began taking hold.
Reeves, 55, and Grant, 46, have previously worked together as business partners, collaborating on the adult picture book “Ode to Happiness” (2011) and the photography collection “Shadows” (2016).
Though neither Reeves nor Grant have confirmed their relationship, initial reactions to the couple were positive. Reeves was trending on Twitter from Monday evening through Tuesday morning with many praising the actor for dating a woman who is close to his age.
“In this house we love, support and respect Keanu Reeves and Alexandra Grant,” wrote one Twitter user, in a post that received nearly 24,000 likes and more than 5,000 retweets.
But despite eliciting cheery congratulations, the supposed couple is also sparking a conversation about the ways ageism and sexism in Hollywood persist — with many commenting on the absurdity of the actor trending for dating a woman nine years his junior.
Sharon Marcus, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and the author of “The Drama of Celebrity” told NBC News the conversation surrounding Reeves and Grant underscores the ways men are held to less stringent standards than women.
“If the ages were switched and Grant was 55 instead of 46, people would view the situation differently,” Marcus said. “But now Keanu Reeves is getting treated as a king and prince for dating a woman older than 25, because men get graded on a curve and are praised for being moderately decent.”
Marcus connects the effusive praise over Reeves’ alleged relationship with the public understanding that celebrities — and especially celebrity men — can have whatever they want.
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“We live in a society that understands success in material terms and views women as assets,” Marcus said. “When a celebrity like Keanu Reeves goes out with an older woman who doesn’t dye her hair, some people think he should be awarded a feminist Nobel Prize.”
Upon hearing about Reeves and Grant, Montana Miller, an associate professor of pop culture at Bowling Green State University, immediately thought of a sketch from "Inside Amy Schumer" called "Last F---able Day." The sketch features Schumer, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette celebrating Julia Louis Dreyfus' last day being viewed as an attractive woman in Hollywood.
"Once women reach their early 40s, they cross this threshold where they're no longer seen as f---able by the men in power in Hollywood," Miller told NBC News. "When I heard about Keanu's girlfriend, I thought of this sketch. This is exactly what people's reactions are about; the eagerness to cast away and discard older women in Hollywood as irrelevant."
This isn’t the first time Reeves has been praised for his relationships with women. The actor made headlines earlier this year after a tweet of him posing with women and noticeably not touching their lower backs or waists, went viral.
Marcus said that people have become so accustomed to celebrities abusing their power that Reeves respecting a woman's personal space becomes notable.
Though some may differ over whether Reeves is worthy of the effusive praise he’s received, Marcus said the reactions to his alleged relationship speak to ongoing discussions of power dynamics and relationships with younger partners in the #MeToo era.
Last month, Dennis Quaid, 65, drew controversy with his engagement to Laura Savoie, a 26-year-old doctoral student at the University of Texas. And Quaid is far from the only actor who’s dated younger women. Comedian Dane Cook, 47, has received criticism for dating a 19-year-old, as has actor Leonardo DiCaprio, 44, for dating multiple women younger than 25.
While Miller thinks it's probably "better for Keanu to be dating someone 46 instead of 26," she hesitates to condemn all Hollywood men who date younger women.
"There is undoubtedly a cult of youth in Hollywood, but people have the right to date whoever they want," Miller said.
Others have pointed out the irony of Twitter users mocking Emma Watson for describing herself as “self-partnered” instead of single in a profile with British Vogue, while simultaneously praising Reeves’ supposedly new relationship status.
“Emma Watson using the term 'self partnering' sounds like someone who is reframing negative thinking to gain a kinder relationship to her self,” the comedian Sara Schaefer wrote. “But we should definitely tear her apart, can't let anyone get too cocky on Keanu Reeves Isn't Dating A 22 Year Old Bikini Model Day.”