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Jon & Kate: of Playboy offers, St. Tropez and plain old sexism

For Jon and Kate Gosselin, married love seems to be little more than a relic of the distant past. Long gone are memories of last summer’s wedding-vow renewal service (with all 8 kids, naturally, in tow) in sunny Hawaii. Currently, the now-separated couple graces tabloid and mainstream magazine covers, even as their behind-the-scenes lawyers plod through the legal web of divorce court. While Jon proudly shows off a trendy bachelor pad in New York City, Kate maintains that she will put their eight children’s interests first. The disparity between their lives is clear: audiences are meant to sympathize with Kate’s good-mother routine, even as we secretly long for the economic and social privileges passed on to Jon Gosselin.

Certainly, many tense moments and heated words were exchanged during recent episodes of TLC’s number-one series, “Jon and Kate Plus 8.” Viewers are relieved by the new, separate tapings of the former couple, as they no longer need to witness the pair’s every petty argument. And, after all, some break-ups are for the best. Yet it remains impossible to uncritically support the televised demise of their marriage without an understanding of which partner socially benefits from the end of their relationship.

Media coverage and the dynamics of celebrity break-ups often fall back into tired gender stereotypes. Men are immediately expected to start searching for other fish in the sea, whereas women need to publicly grieve the loss of the relationship for extended periods before they can rebound. It is entirely acceptable for Jon to date Hailey Glassman, a woman who is both ten years younger and child-free; it’s unlikely that he’ll be accused of not having his children’s best interests at heart solely for dating a younger woman who may or may not be interested in a long-term relationship or co-parenting such a large family.

Jon and Hailey have also been spotted frolicking this summer (without children in tow) in St. Tropez. Yet Kate continues to be questioned about her alleged involvement with her bodyguard, even as she denies any romantic ties to the man in question, Steve Neild. Is it so impossible to assume that a woman with the financial clout to hire a bodyguard might be able to maintain a professional relationship with her male employee? Or have we all swallowed the fictional Hollywood Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner love story without so much as a hint of skepticism?

Jon Gosselin may be tweeting about trips to Las Vegas and “free candy” for his kids, yet no such jet-away vacation plans seem to be on the horizon for his ex, Kate. On Friday, New York Daily News decried Jon for “blowing his earnings from [the show] on his 23-year-old girlfriend… and a ritzy lifestyle of high-end restaurants, shopping sprees and a fancy Manhattan pad,” even as Kate is reported to be “dutifully saving her end of the $75,000 per episode they each reportedly get from the TLC reality show.” One wonders if the eight children who make Jon Gosselin’s celebrity possible are even reaping any of the material benefits from their father’s lavish spending. Once again, it would seem that the role of a responsible parent falls on Kate Gosselin’s shoulders. In a time of economic uncertainty, Kate continues to champion the show, actively promoting TLC and her series in a fight for her children’s economic survival.

Star reported this month that Kate turned down a $400,000.00 offer to appear in Playboy, but celebrity gossip blog Hollywood Backwash still manages to indict Kate; apparently, there’s a “limit to her greed… Playboy keeps scraping the bottom of the celebrity barrel.” Notice that if Kate were still happily married, such an offer may never have been submitted for her consideration, since the bodies of married women are often seen as belonging to the exclusive province of their husbands. Yet even a potential fleeting thought to pose for Playboy results in Kate being falsely accused of greed and selfishness.

Surely, no viewer is naïve enough to imagine that taking care of eight small children is an inexpensive feat. In a society where sex work is often one of the highest-paid industries for women to work in, many women see it as financially shrewd to pose for such a prominent publication. Whether Kate sheds her clothes or keeps them on, audiences will harshly judge either choice.

Famous writers in the media spotlight often face similar scrutiny over the end of their flings and relationships. In his new anthology, editor Michael Taeckens could have fared worse than quoting Bob Dylan on the required verbiage of failed love. With the noted passage of time and a sharp razor’s edge of humor, Love is a Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts features 23 writers from both the U.S. and around the globe, including last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz, reflecting on the worst of their romantic woes and the moments which lead to the collapse of their personal relationships. Like Jon and Kate, many of the book’s authors have dealt with having their private squabbles broadcast for the world’s judgment.

Yes, the pain may be as excruciatingly precise and profane; after all, what break-up or rejection ever leaves both parties unscathed? But the essays in Love is a Four-Letter Word aren’t revenge pieces or the literary equivalent of voodoo dolls, but instead showcase a series of candid, often side-splittingly funny reflections on how our crushes, hook-ups, and romantic relationships lead to profound shifts in the evolution of identity, maturity, and awareness for not just ourselves, but (occasionally) the individuals with which we seek intimate connection.

I’m half-tempted to offer a reader’s copy of the book to Jon Gosselin, but I have a feeling that it might be one freebie he refuses; he has little to gain from changing the dynamics of their break-up. Whether he stays with Glassman or plays the field, Jon will not be held accountable for his romantic indiscretions in the same manner with which Kate continues to be scrutinized.

While celebrity break-ups will always be tabloid fodder, it’s important for audiences to carefully examine the stereotypes which often pass for mainstream reporting. The self-help books have a bit of a point: it’s called a break-up because it’s broken. Even as couples like Jon and Kate struggle to move on with their lives following their marital separation in the public spotlight, we can only hope that the worst of their backlash will soon pass, if only to make way for a new celebrity couple’s romantic drama.

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