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In Defense Of Billie Eilish & Boyfriend Jesse Rutherford's 11-Year Age Gap — Why The Backlash She's Getting Is Flawed

Photo: DFree / Tinseltown / Shutterstock / Instagram
Billie Eilish, Jesse Rutherford

Billie Eilish is famous for many things — her breathy vocals against synthesized downbeats, her daring fashion choices, and her many well-documented moments of speaking truth to power.

Just look at the lyrics of her 2021 hit single “Your Power.”

“She said you were her hero/you played the part/But you ruined her in a year though/Don’t act like it was hard,” she sings.

In an interview with British Vogue in 2021, Eilish classified the song as “an open letter to people who take advantage – mostly men.”

She went on to say that the song was “really not at all about one person. It’s everywhere. I don’t know one girl or woman who hasn’t had a weird experience, or a really bad experience.”

Eilish is right.

The bodily experience of staying safe is something women everywhere struggle to maintain. A 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reported that 90 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are men. 

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This violence is normalized. It’s accepted. And it takes different forms.

It can be something as small as people commenting on what any woman chooses to wear, or the myriad ways women are dragged across the coals for simply existing. 

It would be easy to look at Eilish’s lyrics in a new light, since her reveal to Vogue that she’s dating Jesse Rutherford, the 31-year-old lead singer of The Neighbourhood. 

But to do so would be doing Billie — and all women — a disservice.

Fan reactions to Billie Eilish and Jesse Rutherford’s age gap have taken a dangerous turn. 

Photos posted to Twitter, via a Jesse Rutherford fan account, show that Eilish and Rutherford have known each other since 2017 — when Eilish was 15, still making her way up in the industry.

Many are saying Eilish has been groomed by Rutherford, and the imbalance of power between the two is certainly suspect. Yet the treatment of Eilish from fans claiming to be protecting her exposes the unjust way in which we talk about victims of sexual abuse.

Some fans of the 20-year-old superstar say that they’ve lost respect for the singer because of the relationship, declaring her comments in a recent interview “embarrassing.” 

RELATED: 6 Things Billie Eilish Has Said & Done That Made Fans Question Her Intentions

In a way, Eilish has been denied any agency. Because she has spoken up against sexual violence, fans are insistent on making her a victim in her new relationship.

Of course, the inherent power imbalance between a 31-year-old successful musician and a 20-year-old who once idolized him cannot be downplayed. But, we ought to be careful of how we speak about Eilish — or rather we ought to redirect the victim-blaming and shaming into a more productive conversation.

The backlash Eilish has received is largely sexist and rooted in victim-blaming.

As TikTok user @raynecorp noted, “they’re calling her a hypocrite for calling herself a feminist while also being abused.”

   

   

Rayne’s post claps back at the notion that women in abusive relationships have to behave in a certain way.

She calls out the public response towards Eilish as “paternalistic and patronizing.” 

“It takes so little for people to turn on these women who they agree are being groomed or abused,” she states.

“It takes such little deviation from the myth of the model victim for these women to turn into monsters in the eyes of the public.” 

Rayne goes on, stating that the public wants abused women to “gratuitously perform their victimhood. If you stay and aren’t visibly desolate in every moment you’re a hypocrite, a traitor.”

RELATED: Is Billie Eilish Right — Have All Girls And Women Been Victims Of Sexual Misconduct?

Creating an expectation for women in abusive relationships to behave in a narrowly-defined way is victim-blaming.

Yet it goes beyond that, to something deeper and more insidious in our patriarchal society.

As Rayne says, “if these are the details that turn you against women who you believe are being abused, there is not one woman who you really would believe when it comes down to it.”

To confine the definition of abused women to any specific behavior is to disbelieve women for our experiences.

To force women to act according to imagined societal standards only reinforces the “myth of the model victim… [someone] who is uncomplicated, who is easy to support — she does not exist.”

While fans claim that they only want the best for Eilish, this outrage does more harm than good. It not only places blame on Eilish, it takes focus away from Rutherford as a perpetrator.

Rayne takes aim at these supposed fans, stating that they “want to secure a modicum of power in the patriarchy on the backs of imperfect women.”

As Eilish told British Vogue, “people forget that you can grow up and realize shit was f–ked up when you were younger.” 

Eilish is finding her way in a world that doesn’t want women to survive, let alone thrive. Let’s quit calling her names. Let’s stand alongside her, our arms open for embrace. 

RELATED: Why Young Stars Like Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo & Millie Bobby Brown Date Much, Much Older Men

Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers celebrity gossip, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.

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