Trophy wives out-trophy their wives
By Daniel Haack
On Aug. 16, 2008, three months after the California Supreme Court overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, two smiling brides in Zac Posen outfits were being wed in an intimate ceremony in Beverly Hills.
On one side of the aisle was Ellen DeGeneres, the 51-year-old Emmy Award-winning comedienne who famously came out as gay on her 1994-98 sitcom and has since reached one-name status with her hit daytime talk show and upcoming judging gig on American Idol. Across from her was her soon-to-be wife, Portia de Rossi, 36, a stunning former Australian model who most famously had supporting roles on Fox sitcoms Ally McBeal and Arrested Development.
While de Rossi has found herself on People Magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful People” and Maxim’s “100 Sexiest Women” lists, DeGeneres has been more likely to spot her name on Forbes’ “20 Richest Women in Entertainment.”
Ellen herself is part of a Holy Trinity of celebrity lesbians—or celesbians—that also includes fellow comic Rosie O’Donnell and rocker Melissa Etheridge. Besides immense wealth, mainstream success and widespread popularity, they also share one final thing in common: younger, slimmer and blonder wives.
With the shift towards the legalization of gay marriage or civil unions in many states and the increase of openly lesbian celebrities, have we entered the age of the celesbian trophy wife?
Ellen, Rosie and Melissa aren’t alone, either. Cherry Jones, the venerable stage actress who just added an Emmy Award for her role on Fox’s 24 to her collection of two Tony Awards, has been in a long-term relationship with actress Sarah Paulson, who is 18 years her junior. Hit songwriter and former lead singer of 4 Non Blondes, Linda Perry, 44, is dating Cybil Shepherd’s 30-year old daughter, actress Clementine Ford. And across the pond, leading Irish actress Fiona Shaw, 51, was the former companion of actress and model Saffron Burrows, 37.
The term “trophy wife” first entered popular lexicon following a 1989 article in Fortune magazine, which described a trophy wife as a woman who is a “decade or two younger than her husband, sometimes several inches taller, beautiful and very often accomplished.”
“Women have historically been seen as the property of their husbands and still are in some cultures,” says Dr. Kerry Ferris, a sociology professor at Northern Illinois University. “So it’s not such a big symbolic leap to see a particular kind of wife as a reward for a man’s achievements.”
The concept, though, soon began to suggest a gold-digger or a blonde bimbo, epitomized by Anna Nicole Smith’s marriage to billionaire J. Howard Marshall, 63 years her senior. Many believe this connotation objectifies and demeans women. The implication in the case of any celebrity trophy wife is that she is using the relationship to attain the fame and wealth she seeks.
“We’re attracted to fame for a couple of reasons,” says Ferris. “Celebrities tend to be attractive, wealthy, talented, etc., and we desire these things in our lives.”
Regardless of sexual orientation the term “trophy wife” is “pejorative in any case, since it implies that the women so named are passive playthings,” says Martha Gever, a professor at the University of California-Irvine.
However, an ABC News report in 2007 found that the phrase has evolved recently to place more emphasis on the success of the so-called “trophy.”
Indeed, many of the cited celesbian trophy wives aren’t just standing around and looking pretty. De Rossi is a certifiable television star, currently starring on ABC’s Better Off Ted. Paulson is a Golden Globe-nominated actress and has played the romantic lead in films like The Spirit and television shows such as Cupid and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Burrows, a film and television mainstay, may soon be more famous stateside than her former paramour, Shaw, with her upcoming starring role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Not all celesbians have followed the apparent trophy wife trend, either. Lindsay Lohan, Lily Tomlin, Cynthia Nixon and Jodie Foster have all rejected the idea of having a much younger and prettier lady lover.
Perhaps more accurate is the rising appearance of cougars like Demi Moore, Madonna and Mariah Carey left Ellen and her Sapphic company asking, “Why should they have all the fun?”
Daniel Haack is a senior IMC major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.