Opinion

Jennifer Aniston and Chelsea Handler aren’t feuding, so can we stop pitting women against each other?

The tabloids have always loved the whiff of a rumour about a broken female friendship. But in a new interview, the talk show host has revealed that there’s no truth to the news that she and the Friends actor were ever feuding in the first place. So why are we so obsessed with pitting women against women? 

There’s nothing the tabloid media loves more than a feud.

Here is a list of people who have been rumoured to be feuding in the year 2019 alone: Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton, Kate Middleton and Rose Cholmondeley, Jameela Jamil and the entire Kardashian family, Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Anjelica Huston and Jacki Weaver, Constance Wu and the rest of the female cast of Hustlers, but specifically Jennifer Lopez, Anjelica Huston and Jackie Weaver… And it’s only October. Who knows what other celebrity beefs will be sliced up and served medium rare before the year is out.

Some feuds, however, have been put to rest in 2019. Like the reported one between Jennifer Aniston and Chelsea Handler. The one-time best friends had allegedly fallen out after one party spoke negatively about the other behind their back, which led to an interpersonal cold war whose figurative Berlin Wall was only torn down in February 2019 when Aniston invited Handler to her star-studded birthday party. 

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If you believe everything you read in gossip magazines and tabloid media, that’s the truth of the matter. Except, according to Handler herself, there was no fact in any of the reports of their feud in the first place.

“Don’t read those magazines! Don’t believe any of it!” Handler said, when asked about whether or not she’s still friends with Aniston on Australian talk show The Project this week. “We’re friends. Don’t worry… I love Jen.” 

Aniston is no stranger to the tabloid media complex that creates mountains out of molehills that never existed in the first place. In 2016 she penned a blistering opinion piece for The Huffington Post about the damaging nature of press scrutiny, particularly when it came to speculation about whether or not she was pregnant.

“For the record, I am not pregnant,” she wrote. “What I am is fed up. I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of ‘journalism’, the ‘First Amendment’ and ‘celebrity news’.”

She added: “I used to tell myself that tabloids were like comic books, not to be taken seriously, just a soap opera for people to follow when they need a distraction. But I really can’t tell myself that anymore because the reality is the stalking and objectification I’ve experienced first-hand, going on decades now, reflects the warped way we calculate a woman’s worth.” 

Jennifer Aniston's new television show is based on the #MeToo movement.

Aniston’s point was that tabloid media shapes the way we conceive of women, and when those publications focus on their bodies through the limited prism of pregnant or not pregnant, the public believes that these are the only two valid ways of being. It’s not just Aniston who has had to contend with being envisaged as nothing more than a sentient womb. Just ask Meghan Markle, Princess Eugenie or Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe.

Aniston’s essay dealt solely with the way the tabloid media views a woman’s marital and maternal status as the sum total of her parts. But this essay is depressingly relevant when thinking about the tabloid media’s reports of her alleged feud with best friend Handler, too. Because if, as Aniston says, tabloid gossip shapes the way we view women, then narratives that pit women against each other only serve to underline the notion that women are always locked into competitive rivalries.

Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton? They must hate each other, tabloids gleefully reported, because sometimes they don’t stand next to each other at events or, you know, they send out separate Christmas cards from each other in the manner of normal women with their own individual families. 

What do the tabloid media want? For Meghan and Kate to take part in a gleefully intimate photoshoot at Frogmore Cottage where the pair gad about in matching silk pyjamas and brush each other’s hair? Why can’t we accept that it is perfectly acceptable for a relationship between a pair of sister in laws to exist in the comfortable middle ground between sleepover BFFs and vicious, feuding antagonists? 

Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are reportedly feuding.

Ditto, Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez, who have had to contend with rumours of ‘diva antics’ and feuds on the set of their film Hustlers, a movie that is ironically a glorious celebration of sisterhood. For months gossip columnists have rubbed their hands together over reports that Wu “demanded” that she be referred to as the movie’s star over her colleague Lopez and that Wu behaved like a “difficult diva” towards her female co-stars.

The reality? Not true. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) “Honestly when I heard about it, it was such an insult to my set, because I don’t run things like that,” director Lorene Scafaria told Buzzfeed. “Everybody got along so great on this. Jennifer and Constance really did have that chemistry and that relationship right away. It’s kind of hard to fake that, to be honest.” 

Wu herself added to the Guardian: “I wasn’t demanding anything. The reason that happened was because people on the team were calling journalists because they were not putting me in [their stories about the film]. It wasn’t anything I asked them to do.”

Hustlers: Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez

Not that any of this fact-correcting will make a difference to the way the tabloid media writes about female celebrities. It doesn’t matter that Aniston has written an essay dismantling gossip reportage or that Meghan Markle is suing the Mail on Sunday for allegedly misreporting her private correspondence, or that the director of Hustlers says that there is no truth to rumours that her stars hated each other, or that Handler has gone on a national television show to debunk the notion that her and Aniston are locked in a vicious feud. 

Tabloids are always gonna tabloid, and nothing sells gossip magazines quite like women squaring off against each other.

Hopefully, though, these celebrities speaking up will give you pause the next time you see yet another headline about a female feud, or the ‘diva antics’ of a woman at work, or women hating on other women. Maybe they’ll serve as a reminder for you repeat the following mantra to yourself whenever you see yet another headline that pits two women against each other – these aren’t the feuds you’re looking for. You can go about your business. Move along.

Images: Getty, STX Films

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