Just a couple weeks ago, Sandra seemed to have it all: critical acclaim with her best actress Academy Award win and financial success, her films were also top grossing movies. Many were calling this Hollywood’s “year of the woman.” When Bullock gave her acceptance speech, she thanked her husband, Jesse James, whose love, she has said, made her a better actress, giving her the courage to try new kinds of parts because she had him to come home too. James watched Bullock claim the Oscar with tears in his eyes. Viewing the show I was thinking: it’s so great and so rare to see a man publicly love and admire his woman, sit in the audience and watch her while she shines, so different than the scenario we’re used too of the wife being the cheerleader for her guy, the wives of female politicians always clapping and grinning by their husbands’ sides.
Bullock isn’t the only actress to have her marriage break up after reaching new heights of success.
Reese Witherspoon’s family famously fell apart after her Oscar win for her incredible performance as June Cash in “Walk the Line”. Supposedly her husband, Ryan Phillipe was jealous. The same thing happened after Julia Roberts’ won for “Erin Brokovich.” She was with Benjamin Bratt. Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes also ended their marriage after her win. Other successful actresses whose marriages supposedly broke up because they surpassed their husbands include Hilary Swank and Jenifer Garner, who didn’t win an Oscar but also eclipsed her husband’s TV fame.
Of course, we don’t know why these couples really broke up, but the rumors themselves perpetuate a dangerous myth that becomes real female fear: if a woman reaches too high, she will become unattractive to her partner. Women as a group are permitted one kind of power in our culture: sexual power. But in order to really win at that, they mustn’t get too much of other kinds including money, intelligence, acclaim etc. This is the same philosophy behind the idea that still persists: women can be pretty or smart, the stupid barbie or ugly feminist dichotomy, breast size has an inverted ratio to brain size.
While for a man, just the opposite is true. His intelligence makes him appealing. And the higher he climbs– in sports, in business, in the arts– the more women want him. Sexual desirability is a highly motivating factor to achieve, but too often, it works in reverse for women.
Before all the social Darwinists claim females seeking out powerful males to protect them is in our DNA, that’s just a convenient way to justify the current power structure. If a woman appears weak, it’s easy for a guy to appear strong. When women are told their main power is sexual, and if they try for anything else, that will take away from their attractiveness, it’s an effective tool to keep women in their in place. Allowing women to be smart, rich, and pretty is too threatening– what else might those women do?
I’m not attacking men here, by the way, but the power structure. The gender power gap in our society, or taken to its extreme as in the gender apartheid of the Taliban, doesn’t make any one happy. Men are imprisoned by these roles too because pigeonholing is limiting for everyone. Duh. Being competent, doing something well, is super-attractive in everyone. The world will be so better off when the other half is allowed to shine.