It’s been more than a decade since headlines announced the end of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston’s marriage – and the subsequent blowout when Angelina Jolie was accused of stealing Jen’s man.
Mainstream media worked hard to punt this narrative. The lines were drawn – Team Jen and Team Jolie – and every aspect of their lives became a competition. Although the two women never publicly said anything about each other, the Angelina vs Jennifer narrative was so firmly entrenched that years later it’s still being used as a metaphor for a scorned woman and a femme fatale.
Now, after a career in global philanthropy and collecting children, Brangelina is over. The response from some quarters has been that karma – the universe’s checks and balances system – has finally kicked in; the end of the Jolie-Pitt union was to be celebrated.
Details of Pitt’s marriage to Aniston were never publicised in full, giving way to speculation. The general consensus, however, was that Jolie the seductress had swooped in and snatched an unsuspecting Pitt from the warmth of the ingénue’s bosom.
The story points to a common thread in society: when a man cheats on a woman or leaves her and takes up with another, the new woman is blamed. People take great pleasure in scapegoating the other woman.
Can a grown man be stolen? Perhaps – if he was snatched by a man with a handlebar moustache and aviator glasses driving a white van. But Pitt wasn’t a handbag foolishly left lying around by Aniston during sales season.
A key component is missing from “the other woman” story – that the person left of their own volition.
They chose to enter into a new relationship despite the commitments they’d made previously.
For many, the problem stems from the notion that, when one is involved in a relationship, one’s partner becomes a possession, an object of one’s choosing – one to keep.
“She’s mine”, or “he’s taken”. Seemingly innocuous words whose message is clear. It’s by design that people use the language of property and possession when speaking about their relationship: “If I can’t have you, nobody will …”
Why is love perceived as something to be won or lost, caught or kept – or stolen?
There’s a long history of looking at women as dangerous sirens (cue Jolie) who tempt men with an irresistible allure, making them act out of character, bewitched and befuddled. If a woman comes on to a man, he has no choice but to fall prey to her wiles.
The man is juxtaposed as helpless and weak in the face of his sexual urges. Responsibility and accountability are alien concepts because women are liable for cheating, being cheated on or making sure he does not stray.
Holding women responsible for men’s sexual behaviour is a key component of patriarchal cultures that still exists globally, something more evident in rape culture. It’s linked to the same theory that says a woman is “asking for it” if she dresses a certain way or cannot be raped because she’s a sex worker or physically unappealing.
Men are perfectly capable of making decisions about their behaviour. In the same way that they are able to refuse to stop and ask for directions, they are fully able to turn down a woman’s advances because it’s more important to them to honour their existing commitments.
Another reason the other woman is vilified is the one seldom talked about. It’s hard to arrive at the realisation that you’d made a mistake in loving and trusting someone who would betray you. It hurts to be introspective about the part you played that may have contributed to the dissolution of the relationship.
It’s easier to blame it on the other woman because God forbid we should see our partners for what they truly are. It’s easier to lash out at someone we don’t know intimately.
Even when our partners have behaved in hurtful and humiliating ways, there’s history there. There was love and laughter and, more importantly, vulnerability. Those feelings cloud our memory – was that laughter shared, or at your expense? Anger is messy and difficult.
The other woman, though? For her we can be angry, and our wrath will be nuclear.
When we blame the other woman, we perpetuate dangerous myths about possession and normalise toxic behaviour.
We bolster the lie that we cannot be held accountable for our actions, nor face the consequences those actions hold.
These noxious ideas feed into the fallacy that women are responsible for managing and controlling their partners’ behaviour. We need to fight wholeheartedly against this because these are insidious ideas and create dangerous mind-sets about relationships and sexuality.