The biggest and most surprising celebrity divorce of our time is upon us: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are, according to TMZ, getting divorced.
The shock you might feel is understandable. They’re two movie stars who have become pop culture’s shorthand for true love. They have supported each other through moments that are terrifyingly real. They have six children. There’s no doubt this is a big and unique story that speaks to the way we consume celebrity culture and translate it into our own lives.
Aniston was married to Pitt from 2000 to 2005, and in their last year of marriage, Pitt met his future wife Jolie on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The narrative that emerged in the media painted Jolie as a husband stealer and declared Aniston had lost the most crucial component of her life.
The news of Brangelina’s divorce has become a way for people to declare that Aniston has been vindicated, that she is smugly satisfied, or that she saw the whole thing coming. Aniston is trending on Twitter, despite people frequently misspelling her last name with two N’s.
Jennifer Aniston has become an avatar for Brangelina schadenfreude.
Mentioning Aniston in the context of Pitt and Jolie’s divorce may seem harmless and fun, since there’s some kind of meta-story to the whole thing, but it’s also a brutal reminder of the sexist way that Aniston has been treated since she and Pitt divorced.
Many people have framed Pitt and Jolie’s divorce as just the latest development in an ongoing rivalry between Aniston and Jolie. It perpetuates the notion that women are catty and there’s a good side and bad side to be on. Back in 2005, there was a period when people actually invested in "Team Jolie" or "Team Aniston" T-shirts.
That sentiment resurfaced again in recent years, when Aniston began dating actor Justin Theroux. When Aniston and Theroux married in 2015, writer Kevin Fallon quipped in the Daily Beast that it "was the happiest day in the history of all media," because the "world’s foremost sad single lady" finally had a husband again.
There’s also the unshakable reality that no matter what Aniston does, her life is punctuated by and attached to what’s going on with her ex-husband.
Earlier this summer, Aniston wrote a column for the Huffington Post about how she is constantly hounded about whether she’s pregnant. A huge part of this speculation has been fueled by the rumor that she and Pitt divorced because she didn’t want to have children and he did.
Aniston wrote that she was fed up with the way she’s been treated, and with "the objectification and scrutiny we put women through." She lamented how much we tend to define a woman’s value "based on her marital and maternal status."
"If I am some kind of symbol to some people out there, then clearly I am an example of the lens through which we, as a society, view our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, female friends and colleagues," Aniston wrote. "The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children."
Imagining Aniston’s happiness has become a national pastime. People have devoted countless hours and resources — magazine stories, silly T-shirts, conversations — to it. It’s become too easy to try to dictate the particulars of Aniston’s happiness — and to define her by the events of her ex-husband’s life. What’s harder, it seems, is imagining this divorce between Pitt and Jolie as something that Aniston has nothing to do with.