Men, Women, And Divorce On Television

Frank Stasio was kind enough to have me on his WUNC show yesterday to talk about divorce in pop culture. You can hear the full audio of the show here. But in prepping for it (and we talk about this a bit on the program), I realize there’s a weird gendered dichotomy to how divorce appears on television. For women, the damage happens before the divorce, while they’re still married, and divorce is an opportunity for renewal. But for men, the damage comes afterward, as they try to recover from the failures of their marriages.

In Happily Divorced, as Heather Havrilesky wrote earlier this summer, Fran Drescher’s amicably divorced from her gay husband, a situation in which the failure of her marriage is something she can’t possibly be responsible for. In The Starter Wife, Debra Messing obviously had been through hell at the end of her marriage, but her stylish single life made divorce look pretty good. The Real Housewives may be fooling themselves, but whichever unlucky woman has her marriage fall apart on-screen generally appears ready to rock and roll once she’s kicked out her husband or signed the papers.

By contrast, in Louie, Louis C.K. can’t find a new girlfriend, his daughters don’t want to stay at his apartment, and when he tries to be the cool parent, he gets them scared on Halloween. This season on Entourage, it seems like Ari can’t do anything right, including finding a way to spend time with his kids. This fall on Free Agents, Hank Azaria will attempt to get over his divorce by sleeping with a coworker who doesn’t really want to be with him.

There are exceptions, of course. On Modern Family, Jay seems pretty happily divorced and remarried to Glorida, and his ex-wife is supposed to be a bit of a mess because she still hasn’t gotten over their split. And in Good Christian Belles, Leslie Bibb’s divorce looks like it’ll affect the reception she gets when she returns to Dallas, giving all the people she tormented back in the day an excuse to judge her:


But it is interesting for all we lionize men on the prowl before they’re married, but if they get married and their marriages break up, we think of men as totally adrift.