What a drag it must be to be an ex of a Hollywood “nice guy”. One moment, you’re half of a revered celebrity power couple; the next, Twitter users name their hate accounts after you. Right now, thoughts and prayers should be directed towards Olivia Wilde, whose split from Jason Sudeikis has made her the internet’s favorite punching bag – and it’s completely unfair.
In November 2020, Wilde and Sudeikis announced they were ending their decade-long relationship after a seven-year engagement and the births of two children. Though fans were mostly supportive-to-neutral on the former couple when they were together, it wasn’t long before online commenters took sides in the break-up – and Team Sudeikis made themselves known with gusto.
Battle lines were drawn further in early 2021, after the reveal of Wilde’s new relationship with Harry Styles: pop sex symbol and star of her forthcoming film, Don’t Worry Darling, which she directed, co-wrote and also acts in. At the same time, viewers had fallen in love with Sudeikis’s tooth-achingly nice TV series Ted Lasso, in which he plays a sunny, inexperienced football coach. Suddenly, Sudeikis was cast in the role of the wronged good guy to Wilde’s shrewish cougar. New day, same misogyny.
Then came the serve heard around the world. In April, during a speech about her film at the major industry event CinemaCon, Wilde was presented with court papers from Sudeikis’s legal team, about custody arrangements for their children. Though Wilde kept her cool and promptly continued with her talk, a moment that should have been about her professional achievement was usurped by titillating personal drama.
Earlier this week, Wilde spoke openly about the CinemaCon incident, suggesting that it would have been seen as “an attack” if it had taken place elsewhere. “It was really upsetting,” she told variety. “It shouldn’t have been able to happen.” Wilde went on to state that the standard of security was so high at the event that her being served the papers on stage was no matter of chance; it “required forethought”. Yet, as shocking as it was to onlookers, Wilde said that she’d expected something like that to happen to her.
“Sadly, it was not something that was entirely surprising to me,” she explained. “I mean, there’s a reason I left that relationship.” For the first time, Wilde has publicly maligned her former connection with Sudeikis, indicating that their relationship was something less than perfect. And frankly, good on her.
Women in the public eye are often expected to take a dignified silence in messy relationship matters, with the advice to keep things “professional” or risk not being taken seriously. But when that happens, it allows the public to run with whatever narrative they please – and women rarely come out as the sympathetic party.
Women don’t get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to celebrity break-ups with popular men. There’s always judgement. A suggestion that she must have done something to deserve it. Or that she behaved poorly. Or that there’s something dubious afoot if she finds love again “too soon”. It doesn’t take that much thought to come up with another recent, highly publicized scenario that painted a woman in a negative light compared to the shining star of her ex. TikTok comments have already deemed Wilde to give off “Amber Heard vibes”. We all know just how intense this line of thought can get.
Now that Wilde has given voice to the situation, there seems to be more of an understanding of her side. Since the publication of her variety interview, some social media comments have taken on a more nuanced tone, accepting that she just might have feelings about the situation, too. But she shouldn’t have needed to say anything for people to get off her back – she deserved this consideration all along.
Between Sudeikis and Styles, Wilde has found herself at the center of two intense fanbases, both of which use any snippet of information to strengthen their dislike for her. It’s sexism in action, and it’s a nasty indication of an anti-woman sentiment that is running rampant online and seeing into our real lives. We may be talking about rich and successful film stars to whom many of us have no tangible connection, but it is no less illuminating of how we treat people in real life, and exactly who is listened to in good faith.
Though Wilde speaking out is something of a breath of fresh air, it hasn’t completely stopped some of Sudeikis’s supporters in their tracks. “I literally do not care what happens, you will never get me to hate Jason Sudeikis,” one fan tweeted after Wilde’s interview dropped. No one needs to hate anyone, but the mean-spirited tendency to mute women’s takes is worth bearing in mind for the next celebrity split.