Earlier today, the Associated Press reported that actors Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux were separating after two years of marriage. The reported, which was based on a statement from Aniston’s publicist, read that the decision “was mutual and lovingly made at the end of last year." The news spread quickly through Twitter, with users reacting with everything from shock and sadness at the couple’s breakup, to Friends references. But there was one particular strain of “joke” that is nothing short of seriously problematic: memes & jokes about Jennifer Aniston “losing” Justin Theroux, or that she just “can’t keep a man,” are majorly out of line — for about a million reasons.
The references don’t just stop with Ross’ (iconic) “We were on a break!” line: There are people on the Internet whose immediate reaction to the news that Aniston and Theroux were splitting was, of course, to bring up Brad Pitt, from whom Aniston got divorced in 2005. Bustle editor Rachel Simon broke down the quickly-spreading fan theory that the two actors are getting back together, after Pitt split from Angelina Jolie, whom he married after divorcing Jen, back in 2016. Never mind that Aniston and Pitt’s split came after a very public (and, more than likely, very painful) cycle of rumors that Pitt had reportedly cheated on Aniston with Jolie after meeting on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. So, first of all, it’s not like she’s likely dying to get back together with her ex.
But (relatively innocuous) fan theories aside, others are pointing out the fact that this split is Jen’s second high-profile divorce, and are “joking” that she can’t hold a husband down. Which, alright, let’s just pause right TF there.
While I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s inappropriate to joke about a celebrity’s marriage breaking up immediately after it’s announced, enough people in the Twitterverse have been making this unfortunate wisecrack that, well, I need to break it down. Putting the onus of “keeping a marriage together” on the woman in a mixed-gender relationship is pure sexism — I can’t put it any more simply than that. As Aniston’s publicist’s statement read, the decision to split was “mutual” — aka, decided upon by both Theroux and Aniston. To quip that Aniston is in any way responsible for “keeping” or “losing” a partner is not just poor timing, it’s poor taste.
But some other people have taken the “joke” one infuriating step further: implying that Aniston couldn’t “keep” Theroux because of her looks, or speculating that she’s a “prude.” Newsflash: this is slut-shaming, no matter how you spin it, and it creates stigma for all women, not just celebrities. Like the implication that Aniston is solely responsible for the breakup of her marriage to Theroux, it suggests that the responsibility falls on women to keep “their man” from leaving them — which is a categorically false suggestion. Yes, men have free will, and whether they stay in a marriage or choose to leave it is a decision that they need to make for themselves.
Ultimately, though, these jokes are beyond inappropriate for a thousand reasons, but they feel even more so because the woman deserves a break. Marriage, or hell, any relationship, is hard work; being married to someone when that marriage is going to end is a guarantee of emotional labor I, like most people, hope never to experience. As the Associated Press reported, “The couple says they are making the announcement publicly ‘in an effort to reduce any further speculation,’” quoting the statement from Aniston’s publicist. So let’s let the “two best friends” continue their “cherished friendship” — and not make sexist “jokes” about it. Thanks.