Some women in the public eye achieve phenomenal success, yet still, end up infinitely tied to a narrative that reduces or demeans their accomplishments.
Actress Jennifer Aniston is one of these women. It doesn't appear to matter that she is one of the most prominent women working in Hollywood, one of considerable influence; the media seem fit to think her worthy of nothing more than tabloid fodder. This is the woman who was left "broken-hearted" and "childless" after golden boy Brad Pitt "dumped" her for Angelina Jolie (she had the last laugh though) and then again with her ex-husband Justin Theroux. "Poor Jen!" is what the world cried. Alone again. And still with no children.
It never gets mentioned that it was perhaps Jen who chose to end her marriage to Theroux or, her decision to not have children – something that has stigmatised her for her entire career – was due to deeply personal reasons and not because she was selfish and career-obsessed.
In a new interview with InStyle, she addresses this obsession by the media, in her most candid interview yet.
"It's pretty crazy. The misconceptions are "Jen can't keep a man," and "Jen refuses to have a baby because she's selfish and committed to her career." Or that I'm sad and heartbroken. First, with all due respect, I'm not heartbroken," she said.
The fact that women are expected to make marriage and children a priority in life is something that the media – and everyone else – latches onto, particularly if they decide to reject this route in life. Aniston identifies with this stereotyping, and says that the insensitivity in such assumptions makes it even harder for women to tell their own story.
"Those are reckless assumptions. No one knows what’s going on behind closed doors. No one considers how sensitive that might be for my partner and me. They don’t know what I’ve been through medically or emotionally. There is a pressure on women to be mothers, and if they are not, then they’re deemed damaged goods. Maybe my purpose on this planet isn’t to procreate. Maybe I have other things I’m supposed to do?"
And by keeping this "Poor Jen" narrative going, all we are suggesting is that she has failed deeply in some way. Remembering that we don't know anything about the ins and outs of the circumstances that lead to her marriage ending or her decision to not have children, no paper seems to ever suggest that this is a woman taking charge of her own destiny. The headlines suggest that she is a very rich and famous spinster, and to reduce her accomplishments to this is deeply insulting.
"Women are picked apart and pitted against one another based on looks and clothing and superficial stuff," she continues mentioning sexism in her industry. "When a couple breaks up in Hollywood, it’s the woman who is scorned. The woman is left sad and alone. She’s the failure. F that. When was the last time you read about a divorced, childless man referred to as a spinster?"
"In my personal experience, I've been treated worse verbally and energetically by some women in this industry," she said of her experiences with harassment in Hollywood.
In an elegant op-ed in the Huffington Post last year, she also addressed this topic. “We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”
But even though she keeps saying it, we keep dismissing her. We keep demeaning her worth, her accomplishments because she lacks a ring on her finger or a baby and those (admittedly adorable) Instagram announcements that come with them.
Jen deserves better. She doesn't want or need our sympathy. She doesn't need us to obsess (because it's generally women that do, not men) over whether she'll return to Brad to mend her supposedly broken heart (she won't). What she needs is to be recognised as being a woman whose life accomplishments are worth more than who she decided to marry.
She thrived when her supposed golden boy and Prince Charming disappeared; she never needed rescuing. And she doesn't need anymore I'm sorrys.