Jennifer Aniston: The Engagement

Poor Jennifer Aniston. Ever since she was ditched by Brad Pitt in 2005 she’s had to watch him flounce around with homewrecker Angelina Jolie, while her own love life sputters along to the tune of constant disappointment. She’s finally got the chance to be happy, though; Aniston got engaged to actor boyfriend Justin Theroux on Friday and the media are all of a frenzy. No more heartbreak for Jen! Perhaps THIS time it will work out! Maybe NOW she can finally be happy!

Is anyone else tired of this narrative? I’m sure I am.

Jennifer Aniston engaged to Justin Theroux - Beckie Smith

Ever since her high-profile divorce in 2005 (and, let’s face it, before then as well), the media have been obsessed with Jennifer Aniston’s relationship status. The Sun sums up the tone of the last seven years perfectly, happily declaring:

She’s since developed an unlucky-in-love reputation following a string of failed romances, dating such stars as singer John Mayer, model Paul Sculfor and actor Vince Vaughn

It is as though every tabloid newspaper, magazine and gossip show in the Western world pegged Aniston as a victim when she lost out to The Other Woman, and since then they have refused to see her as anything else. Every article about her past or current relationships is laced with seemingly inescapable reminders about the divorce, Pitt’s ‘betrayal’ and the happily loved-up life of Brangelina. Even Aniston’s engagement is somehow overshadowed by the rumours about Brad and Angelina’s marriage plans:

fans questioned whether she’d find a soul mate, especially after Pitt united with actress Angelina Jolie and their family grew (CNN)

I’m baffled as to how Brangelina’s acquisition of children warrants an ‘especially’ in that sentence. Does their accumulation of tiny human beings have a direct impact on Aniston’s dating success? Of course, this all comes down to the difference in how we report about and treat women and men in media. When the two are placed alongside each other, the difference is embarrassingly conspicuous. The Huffington Post offers a helpful picture gallery of women that George Clooney has dated, but no comments about numerous ‘failed relationships’ or serial heartbreak. This charming website even ranks the women Leonardo DiCaprio’s dated (or supposedly dated) in a way which seems to congratulate him for his prowess.

While men are congratulated for their celebrity scrapbook of previous loves, women are showered with pity. And they can’t win – instead, they are forced by mainstream media into one of two narratives: lonely and abandoned, or defiant and independent in spite of it all. The second, while it may sound empowered, is deceptive; underneath the superficial praise for their emotional strength and badass attitude is an undercurrent of sympathy. When a magazine tells me that ‘Jen is staying strong after ANOTHER devastating breakup’, the sentiment seems somewhat disingenuous. There is an implication that she is still fragile, and may break at any moment.

Other media outlets ignore declarations of strength altogether, as demonstrated by CNN’s spectacular misinterpretation of an interview earlier in the year:

“Having experienced everything you don’t want in a partner over time, it starts to narrow down to what you actually do want… As I get older, I realize what qualities are important in love and what suits me. And what I won’t settle for.”

Now I can all but guarantee that if a man had said that, he would be seen as tough and the sentiment that he wouldn’t settle for someone who doesn’t fulfil his romantic needs would be viewed as a mark of self-respect. Instead, CNN followed the above paragraph by saying that Aniston’s “quest ended” on Friday, as though by saying this she was indicating that her one life goal was to convince a man to marry her.

The media infatuation with Aniston – the scrutiny of her relationships, breakups and the obsession over whether or not she’s baby-crazy – just highlights the sexism inherent in a lot of writing about celebrities. It’s part of a wider problem which I’ll come back to in a later post in which women are portrayed as victims in almost every situation. In this day and age, the damsel in distress/lonely princess waiting for her prince/old spinster framework is seeming increasingly tired – and if anyone’s tired of it, it must be Jennifer Aniston.

Image: kozumel on Flickr