They were once America’s golden couple — and, no, I’m not talking about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
It was Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt who were Hollywood’s perfect pair. Of course, you already knew that: it’s been a part of the media’s narrative since the late 1990s.
Most celebrity couples break up, experience a firestorm of attention and then are finally able to quietly move on. In the case of Brad and Jen, though, the public hasn’t been so quick to forget the story.
Now that Brad and his second wife, Angelina Jolie, have announced their own divorce, it’s become clear that we simply cannot discuss his love life without discussing hers. Why is that? Why can’t we just seem to leave Jen out of it?
Divorce Announcement — and the Jen-Inspired Aftermath
Before we get into the reasons why we’re so obsessed with Jen’s (nonexistent) role in this divorce, let’s talk about the media’s and the public’s reaction to the news that Brad and Angelina decided to end their marriage.
It all started on September 20, 2016, when Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt. The tabloids picked up on the story immediately, splashing images of the once-happy couple across web and print pages. It took a few hours to digest, obviously, since they seemed like such a perfect pair with beautiful brood of six children.
Once the initial shock wore off, though, all eyes were on Jennifer Aniston. She didn’t make a statement or put herself into the limelight as the story broke — not at all. Instead, social media users began digging through the annals of Jennifer Aniston gifs to find the smug and smiley faces, the deep laughter, the knowing shrug. All of them hit the Internet posthaste, often in tandem with a link to the story of the divorce. In the eyes of Twitter and beyond, Jen was somewhere smiling about the break-up.
Things got even more intense when tabloids began to run with the idea that Jen was thrilled with the break-up. In fact, The New York Post used a photo of her — not the actual couple who had just announced their divorce — as the cover of their Brangelina-centric issue.
The picture they chose? It just so happens to be a still of a very momentous occasion in any actor’s career: she’s pressing her hands into the cement outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater… but let’s undermine her success for a juicy story, why don’t we.
What’s the Obsession?
There’s no real answer to this question, honestly. And, for some reason, her past relationship with Brad Pitt continues to be the most salient thing about Jennifer Aniston — at least, in the eyes of the media.
Since the divorce, Jen has gone on to star in more than 20 movies, including Cake, for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2015. She has dated a handful of other men and is now happily married to fellow actor and director Justin Theroux.
The media and public tend to shun all of this information, though, in order to continue the narrative that Jen loves Brad, Jen is sad without him and, now, that Jen is glad he’s divorced. Unfortunately for the public, it means that they’re missing out on all of the accomplishments she’s had since the divorce and how she has personally moved on. Perhaps it’s time that everyone else does, too.
What this story represents, though, is the public’s tendency to judge a woman’s worth by her marriage and her children (or lack thereof, in Jen’s case) rather than all that she’s done professionally.
Think about it this way: how much does the media talk about Jen in stories that revolve around Brad Pitt? He’s known as a great actor, successful producer and family man — it’s rare that references to Jen make their way into his narrative anymore. Now, he is getting divorced and, somehow, she’s thrown into the mix. It’s a complete double standard that so many women face.
Unfortunately, Jen has had to face it on an international stage.
How Does Jen Really Feel?
There’s obviously speculation into Aniston’s actual feelings on the divorce, but there’s been nothing to confirm or deny that she even cares now that she’s, you know, happily married to someone else.
It is worth noting that she recently wrote an article for The Huffington Post in which she questions the merit of today’s tabloid culture.
She wrote this before the Brangelina divorce, but the story she tells is very similar to the public’s obsession with her previous marriage. Since she wed Pitt in 2000, the public has hounded Jen with questions as to when she’s going to have a baby (an equally infuriating topic for another day). For her entire career, she, like many other actresses, has been put under a microscope to point out any flaws she might have.
Obviously, she’s human and she’s sick of this treatment:
“The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing,” she wrote. “The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general.”
And, now, the media have painted her as an elated ex-wife watching her former husband’s marriage go down in flames. Is that really what she feels? Can you imagine the frustration she feels to be portrayed this way now and for the last 15 or so years?
The bottom line is this: we don’t know what she thinks, but we can assume she no longer wants to be a part of the story that ended for her in 2005. A woman’s value is much more than the man she used to be married to, and Jennifer Aniston has proven that with her success — and by keeping her head held high throughout all of the madness.
It’s time for the media to take note of this and start shedding a positive light on Jen and all the other women unfairly scrutinized because of their gender.
We are not defined by our relationships or our husbands or anything but who we are.
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Holly Whitman is a feminist writer and political journalist, originally from London but now based in Washington DC. Her work has been featured on Feministing, Fortune, Babble, Yahoo Finance and more. You can find her on Twitter at @hollykwhitman or at her blog, Only Slightly Biased.