Hollywood publicists really have a brilliant grasp of the necessarily gendered nature of narratives about celebrity lives. Although I only read the covers of tabloids and celebrity weeklies (except when I visit my hair stylist every month), I’ve long thought that Jennifer Aniston has one of the best publicists around for managing to keep selling the “Poor Heartbroken Jen/Poor Childless Jen” story line for all of these years since her divorce from Brad Pitt.
Maybe it’s because I’m such an ideological Marxist feminist, but I just assume that she’s living the (unmarried, child-free) life she wants to live, and it looks like a pretty damn good life to me: she’s financially independent, free to enjoy sexual and/or romantic entanglements with whomever she likes, free to leave them whenever she likes, and she doesn’t have any obligations beyond career and body maintenance. But every time she’s photographed with a new boy toy, “He’s the One, and He Wants to Start a Family!” until they break up, and it’s “Poor Heartbroken Jen” again.
Compare this to the narrative about George Clooney, who is always portrayed as having “slipped the noose” of wedlock whenever he breaks up with a girlfriend, and is never presumed to be miserable or an incomplete man simply because he hasn’t spawned. He’s portrayed as the happy playboy, enjoying the money and freedom that is his due. His sexual promiscuity isn’t a problem to be masked by tales of disappointment and dashed hopes–it’s central to his charm for both women and men alike.
Do people really believe that Aniston is miserable, and just desperate to get married and have babies? Do they really think she is that powerless over her life? Or do they just want to believe that, because the idea of a rich, talented, funny, sexy woman actually enjoying her life outside of marriage and children is intolerable in our culture? (We can like her only if we can feel sorry for her?) The narratives that Aniston’s publicist spins for the tabs permits people to continue liking her (thereby preserving her bankability) while also giving her the freedom to live the life she has chosen. It’s just too bad that successful women in Hollywood must either be pitied (Aniston, Sandra Bullock, or Renee Zellweger, for example) or despised (Angelina Jolie) in tabloid dramas that revolve around their relationships with men and children.
I don’t mean that the rest of us should pity (or despise) any of these rich, successful women–I don’t particularly care how the narratives they pay others to spin about them affect them. I wonder about the kind of expectations these narratives create in the minds of the wider public about the proper form and structure of women’s lives.