so as you may or may not have heard, mr. and mrs. nick clooney are gearing up to go to the engravers because their son, george, is getting hitched to amal alamuddin.
AND WE ARE ALL AMAZED. because he’s been saying for twenty years he’d never marry again. (seriously, the daily mail can milk this for a “george clooney proves scientists were wrong: men CAN change!” headline for years.)
first, let’s acknowledge this is a score for intelligent women. for, as lainey gossip points out, in this scenario george clooney is bridget jones and amal alamuddin is mark darcy.
second, let’s note how it highlights the fact that there are MASSIVE differences in the ways we write about the love lives of men versus those of women. probably an obvious truth but worth discussing as, still, it persists.
perhaps the best possible case study is that of george clooney versus jennifer anniston.
jezebel has started this conversation, but let’s carry on and see where it goes.
operating on the assumption that maybe not everyone is familiar with tabloid portrayals of the love life of jennifer aniston, i will catch you up…
i focus on tabloids, in particular, because (1) i always focus on tabloids, but also (2) because it is in the tabloids that both our societal anxieties and assumptions are cast in starkest relief.
so that was a quick run-down of aniston’s tabloid life of the last ten years. clooney was in there. did you spot him?
so far as i can tell, one of clooney’s last us covers was this…
as opposed to this:
that is, of course, in part due to the massive shift in the magazine’s editorial focus when it moved from monthly to weekly in 2000 and bonnie fuller took over as editor, later followed by janice min in 2002. it’s a tonal shift that is also in huge part the reason for aniston’s continuing reign (alongside her nemesis jolie) as the queen of the magazines.
the aniston/pitt marriage imploded at a moment when american culture- post-9/11, mid-war- was increasingly celebrity obsessed, and when magazines of this sort were proliferating. aniston’s single woman narrative is uniquely connected to reporting of this kind.* it’s emergence not only profited the magazines but has kept them in the big money for the last ten years.
*i’m DRAMATICALLY simplifying this connection, completely ignoring how aniston and pitt are culpable in this equation because they REPEATEDLY say things in interviews that dredge it all up again.
so we are invested in aniston’s love life in a bizarro way that is, i think, unique among celebrity love lives. were you destroyed by hillary duff’s separation? probably not. if you even knew about it. would you be destroyed if aniston’s engagement doesn’t pan out? probably not. BUT it would be far harder to avoid knowing about it and that is where the difference lies.
much as it would be hard not to know clooney was engaged, though for different reasons.
it’s impossible to pin down celebrity narrative dynamics but fun to parse… i would posit the idea that aniston is supposed to be the woman we’re all afraid we are whilst clooney is positioned as the man we want to be with but whom we cannot persuade to be with us. sound legit?
he’s actually in these magazines too, though to a lesser degree. he pops up in the sidebars but he is not the main event (though he probably will be this week)…
but, if you’ve not been too dazzled to the brink of blindness by my MS paintbrush ineptitude, notice how, when he appears, the language is decidedly different. “how she won his heart.” earlier, we had “how his ex won him back.” when eva longoria went after him last summer, it was portrayed as precisely that… eva longoria going after george clooney, hooking up with george clooney, losing george clooney. there was little indication that clooney might’ve actually wanted to be with her.
within clooney’s narrative, it is always the women winning him back, trying to keep him, losing him. he is a treasure. in contrast, aniston is damaged goods. because her relationships don’t work out and because, regardless of whether it’s what she actually wants, she’s failed to attain what society says she should want to have: a husband and kids.
this is distressingly not new.
neither is the way the daily mail is reporting clooney’s engagement…
though i was struck by the fact that this woman i don’t know’s tree house elicited a bigger headline than clooney:
and briefly thought we might be spared further coverage but alas… as we know, the DM lurves to talk about engagements (see also: sabrina guinness) and, as clooney’s status as “confirmed bachelor” is practically enshrined at this point, of course there would be talk.
and of course it would be predictably gross…
oh but wait there’s more!
question: when/if jennifer aniston or angelina jolie gets married, is anyone going to say “sorry, lads, the dream has died”? no. they’re not.
it’s only just occurring to me that george clooney’s engagement makes him rhett butler. throughout nearly all of gone with the wind, rhett butler tells scarlett o’hara he’s not a marrying man. then frank kennedy is shot on mcdonnaugh road in the KKK raid and rhett decides the novel’s long enough and he can’t risk scarlett marrying again and having to still cool his heels waiting around for her and so he relents and finally- FINALLY- he asks her to be his wife.
and we cheer because IT IS DESTINY.
how is the george clooney story different from that? for 20 years, clooney says he’s never going to marry then he meets a woman cunning enough and hot enough, and at last he gives in. and the world collectively sighs, THANK GOD.
as this illustrates, these narratives pressure men to marry just as much as they do women. we are none of us exempt from that. but this pressure translates into an action point for the woman while it doesn’t for the man. the man is there to be caught. it is the woman’s job to catch him.
that’s how the story’s being told in clooney’s case: she’s hot. she’s going to tame him.
that’s not an especially fabulous format for anyone. and, yet, within this plot dynamic, the power of choice is most often given to the central male character while the female is left with none.
she catches him -> he chooses to let her tame him -> he chooses to be with her -> she gets to be “mrs. clooney” -> everyone’s married off -> THE END.
it’s a jane austen novel. it’s a henry james novel. it’s nearly every novel you’ve ever read because this is the way this story has been told since pretty much the dawn of time.
i am annoyed by many things, among them this quote:
and beguiled by this one:
one thing to note: in this type of writing, in the headlines and stories in these magazines and papers- which inform nearly every single item of the celebrity “news” we read and see- women are dumped or chosen. it is the men who do the dumping, the men who get to choose.
there may be little truth to that dynamic in the real lives of the people we read about but that’s how their stories are told. and it bleeds into how we tell our own.
gossip goes down easy and it poisons slow. so that we’re all bombarded all of the time with these headlines and stories wherein women have nothing to do but wait and cry and cat-fight and lose. these are the archetypes, the options both women and men are being told women have.
the thing these stories have in common? the heroine is rarely presented as having the liberty of choice. wouldn’t that be a revolutionary thing to read in a gossip magazine…