First published in Trespass 19/03/2010

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This week it was announced Kate Winslet’s marriage to Sam Mendes is over. The flood of editorial that usually accompanies high profile relationship bust-ups was reserved. No sympathy, just a cool dissection of ‘facts’, a hint at another woman and a rather large sense of ‘oh how the mighty have fallen.’

Last week the clustercuss that was the final days of the Lara Bingle and Michael Clarke union finally gave way to an official breakup. And my oh my, hasn’t the Australian press delighted in a limb by limb dismemberment, one might say tearing, of Lara Bingle. For the most part it has been veiled – who knew the description ‘pretty young swimsuit model’ could drip with such condescension – but rarely far from the surface. Lara Bingle and her insatiable fame hunger had it coming.

Schadenfreude is bouncing off the pages of gossip mags and tabloid papers. It’s rolling around in the mud of these relationship breakdowns having the time of its life. Less discerning people would simply put it down to jealousy of these beautiful women with lots of money and perfect skin. But another marriage in Celebrity Town has gone belly-up and sympathy is firmly onside with the beautiful, wealthy, perfect-skinned one.

Fresh from her Oscar win, Sandra Bullock has a cheating husband on her hands and a boatload of public sympathy. She has been added to a long list of stoical actresses who, upon ushering a little gold man into their lives, have farewell a large, flesh-toned one. The public focus is on the sheer amount of ink the Other Woman has and Jesse James’ less-than-squeaky clean past. Poor Sandra.

Just like it was Poor Jen, but to my mind, Jen is another kettle of fish altogether. Jen is absolutely not wholly exempt from our Schadenfreude masquerading as sisterly solidarity. We love her – as long as she’s single and therefore, in the eyes of social convention, lacking. If she were to marry off and have a handful of tanned, lithesome children, there would be an empty, Jen shaped hole in the public’s heart. She would have crossed over. We’d await the cheating scandal, the public bust up, the cellulite with bated breath.

There are certain types of women we love to see fall. Certain types we love to see exalted to the lofty heights of the Hollywood Hills and certain types we need to view as perpetually unfulfilled in one area (looks, relationship, family, money) to remain unthreatened by and enamoured with. And these relationships with women aren’t confined to the parasocial realm either; how we identify with women on a celebrity/consumer scale is just another version of how we identify with women in the workplace, the schoolyard and the social circle.

The rules are simple; have it all and act like you have it all and we’ll want you to fall. Have it all and act like this surprises you greatly because, really, you’re still one of us … fine, but we’ll still be suspicious. Have it all except one Big Thing (body, man, career, baby) and you’re worthy of our sympathy and support … until you find said thing, then we’ll wait for the fall.

Image credits 1, 2