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Another Double Standard Women Face

Photograph by Getty Images

Mysterious and quirky Joaquin Phoenix did it again! The enigmatic prankster told David Letterman a few days ago hat he was engaged, but then later revealed to "Good Morning America" that Oops! It wasn’t true at all. He said he made up the story of his upcoming nuptials because he wanted the audience to like him.

Shrewdly, Phoenix noted that he picked engagement to engender the audience’s good feelings for him because people “really like people getting married.” I can’t argue with that when I think of the spreads in US Magazine memorializing Kanye and Kim or Trista and Ryan (remember them?) or Angelina and Brad.

We love our engagements and our marriages.

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On the one hand it’s refreshing to hear a celebrity unabashedly proclaim what is probably true of most of them: They want us to like them.

On a deeper level, the story highlights the difference between how we treat unattached Hollywood men and women. It’s funny, strange and perhaps puzzling that a talented actor like Phoenix would pretend to be engaged. It adds to his aura and keeps us guessing: Is he joking to be funny? Is he insane? On drugs? Is he an insightful cultural critic making ironic commentary on the modern industrial wedding complex that holds (mostly) women in thrall?

All of those are possibilities.

We don’t like our celebrity women to be unhitched. If they are, they are portrayed as desperate, incomplete, grasping for a man.

But unattached women in Hollywood? They’re not quirky or mysterious or genius. Nope, they’re desperate. That’s the cultural narrative put on women who are between partners or unmarried. How many headlines have you seen fretting over the fate of Jennifer Aniston, who just can’t seem to make it down the aisle again despite being engaged to Justin Theroux for years now? Oh, she must be in so much agony to be unmarried especially while Brad and Angelina live in wedded bliss in their big, happy, perfect household! The subtext of those articles asks the burning question: How on earth does she make it through the day, you know, without being married?

It’s not just Aniston, either. We are extra sympathetic to the Kardashian sisters whose marriages falter. And look at mega-star Oprah Winfrey—her refusal to tie the knot with long-time partner Stedman Graham drives the media so insane that rumors have swirled for years that Oprah is actually in a lesbian relationship with her BFF, Gayle King.

We don’t like our celebrity women to be unhitched. If they are, they are portrayed as desperate, incomplete, grasping for a man. If all of that fails, we draw the only reasonable conclusion: she must be gay. It’s impossible to imagine a woman making up an elaborate engagement story on a late-night talk show. And if she did, the stunt would most likely not add to her mysterious persona. Rather it would be viewed as proof that her life is empty without a partner.

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But Joaquin Phoenix is free to concoct a bogus story about his engagement to a yoga instructor, leaving us scratching our heads and wondering about his meds. But don't feel sorry for him because he’s “all alone” and unattached.

Sometimes, it’s nice to be a man.

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