The former Friend surprises everyone by calling herself a feminist. But is she cleaving to it like a life raft—or is a new wave brewing?
Jennifer Aniston interviewed Gloria Steinem at this week’s MAKERS conference honoring innovative women—an event notable mostly for “outing” Aniston as a feminist. Of course, it makes complete sense: As Aniston said during the interview, our value is dependent on our marital status and or if we’ve procreated, and she knows a thing or two about that. Steinem’s perfect response? “Well, I guess we’re in deep shit.”
Aniston is just the latest star to align herself with the F word in what has been a heartening trend of the last year or so. Most of the discussion has surrounded pop stars, perhaps because their songs can send blatant messages (and their videos can send pretty clear signals, too). Lorde, Miley Cyrus, and Selena Gomez have thrown the word around in a sort of “Who Can Be the Most Feminist?” contest. Beyoncé used the word on her new album, not to mention a sample of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, which defined it, to hit the message home.
But while our chart-topping ladies scrap for the title of Supreme Feminist, our movie stars have been less vocal. And that’s too bad, since films are looking worse than ever when it comes to representations of women.
That lack of decent roles—especially for women in their 40s like Aniston, who are too old to be in coming-of-age movies and too young to be grande dames like Meryl Streep—may be at least partially to blame for the extreme emphasis on Aniston’s personal life. Despite what seems to have been a continuous effort to have a movie career since Friends ended, she’s become, essentially, a professional tabloid star. Her role as the scorned girl-next-door in her breakup with Brad Pitt in 2005—upstaged by the beautiful seductress Angelina Jolie, forced to march through a subsequent string of “failed” relationships and “childless” years—always took center stage over her career efforts. Just this week, her 45th birthday—and the fact that she and fiancé Justin Theroux spent it on opposite coasts—was more of the media’s focus than her interview with Steinem.
Reframing her story as a feminist narrative makes sense, because it is one. Everything that has happened to her speaks to feminist issues: Despite her talent as a comedic actress, her hair has overshadowed her skill from the beginning. Since then, she’s played the classic sad, barren single woman to ex Pitt and his enormous family with Jolie. Meanwhile, she’s suffered through terrible roles in the likes of We’re the Millers and Just Go With It.
Reframing her story as a feminist narrative also goes a long way toward educating the masses, particularly the gossip-hungry ones: Suddenly the F word and Gloria Steinem are getting space alongside celeb feuds, Lindsay Lohan antics, and baby sightings on Perez Hilton. If you want to be preaching to someone other than the choir about body-image issues and the dark side of tabloid obsession with female stars’ wombs, there’s no better place to do it.
As Chloe Angyal wrote in the Guardian when Aniston first got engaged to Theroux, “The narrative that those magazines have constructed, and that we’ve all bought into, is something straight out of a modern romantic comedy. You know the story, because you’ve seen The Proposal or The Ugly Truth (yeah, yeah, I know, you only watched them because you were on a plane). A woman is successful, and beautiful—not in an intimidating way but in a casual, girl-next-door kind of way—but she’s just so unlucky in love. She has wonderful friends, a great wardrobe and a flawlessly decorated house, but she’s incomplete because she can’t find a man to marry her.”
Here’s hoping Aniston continues to speak out about women’s issues, which is akin to the saddest rom-com heroine suddenly stopping the find-a-man narrative to rail against double standards, the oppressive history of marriage, and the evils of the wedding industrial complex. How great would that movie be?
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