In case readers have not been on the internet in the past week, or have been living under a rock– Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, ending a twelve year relationship and far too many uses of the gag-inducing name, “Brangelina.” If you are like me, this really has no effect on your life. However, the whole debacle has sparked interesting commentaries, one of which was published on Foxnews.com. The article, titled “What the Brangelina split tells us: A wife (even Mrs. Pitt) wants to be cherished,” is terribly sexist and belittles the autonomy, agency and desire of women to unthinkable levels.
The author, Gary Thomas, is the “Writer in Residence” at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He has written several books and runs a blog with numerous posts including, “Sex Isn’t Optional,” which argues that it is sinful for wives to deny their husbands sex (unless they are pregnant or sick or something). Thomas’ article about the Pitt and Jolie divorce has a similar tone of misogyny. There is nothing particularly horrible about what he is saying: it is true that any person wants to be loved and valued by their partner, but the way he delivers this message is problematic.
Thomas writes, “If reports about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are to be believed, a relationship that began with adultery ended with adultery, proving one timeless truth: It doesn’t matter how beautiful, rich or famous the couple is. A wife still wants to be cherished by her husband.” I find this statement incredibly patronizing. Instead of speaking in generalities about all genders, Thomas speaks for women only. It would have been easy to say, ‘It doesn’t matter how famous the couple is, every person wants to be loved by their partner.’ Thomas might retort that he is speaking for women, because he is talking about Jolie specifically, but the article goes on to discuss (heterosexual) marriages in general so this paternal platitude seems highly unnecessary.
Thomas goes on further to say, “But we can choose to cherish our wives. We can learn to hold them not only as special, but as unique, the sole object of our romantic affections. For many women, that’s enough. And for many women, if that is lacking, nothing else will make up for it.” I assume the “we” in this excerpt means that Thomas is writing for an audience of heterosexual men and Thomas is telling them that the only thing women need to stay happy in a marriage is to be “cherished.” The message of this section of this article, and the whole article in general, is that women are needy, emotional creatures who cannot function if their husband is not putting them on a pedestal. Thomas cites a story from “The Song of Songs,” in which a woman is not traditionally beautiful, but her husband loves only her and his affection validates her existence even though she “might not appear so marvelous to other men.” This story might sound sweet if you are five and being bottle fed damsel-in-distress fairytales, but I am tired of the narrative of a man’s love being the key to a woman’s happiness. In another article, Thomas writes, “[W]ives, you will never truly understand your husband until you understand that his sexual temptations and struggles are fundamentally different than yours. They just are. While this should not lead you to excuse or accept your husband’s sin, I hope it will help you understand him and pray for him[…]” Thomas’ entire oeuvre reeks of this fantasy– one in which women are docile creatures, dependent on and incapable of understanding men. We could speculate about the deep-rooted psychology of men believing they have the unique power to placate their wives simply with affection, but there is a broader point to be made: women do not need men to speak for them.