Emma Thompson talks feminism, infidelity: ‘I do think that monogamy is an odd state’

Here are some photos of Emma Thompson promoting her new Peter Rabbit book (they gave her the franchise a few years ago) in London yesterday. This new book is called The Christmas Tale Of Peter Rabbit. I love Emma’s side-projects. It would be enough that she’s simply a wonderful actress, of course, but I love that she also has these delightful little side-projects like “taking over the Peter Rabbit franchise” and “advocating for refugees and the adoption of refugee children.” And now there’s a new layer for “Emma is lovely, amazing”: Emma has given a new interview where she talks candidly about how “monogamy is an odd state.”

Monogamy in the modern day is an “odd state”, the Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson has said, as she argues it is too easy to be “caught by the happy-ever-after ideal”.

Thompson, star of Howards End, The Remains of the Day and Love Actually, said there could be “other models” for romantic happiness, as she admitted relationships are “very hard work”. Speaking during a webchat for parenting website Mumsnet, the actress suggested there could be “another model that is three relationships over the three stages of your life”.

Thompson, who separated from Kenneth Branagh in 1995 after drifting apart, is now married to actor and producer Greg Wise. The couple have one daughter and a son; an orphan and former child soldier informally adopted from Rwanda aged 16. The actress has now answered questions from members of Mumsnet about her latest book, The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit, how to foster a love of reading in children, feminism and her work on-screen.

When asked about her role in film Love Actually, where her character discovers her husband is having an emotional affair with a younger colleague, Thompson said: “That’s hard for me to imagine – being able to have a relationship like that whilst living at home. It seems odd to me.”

“However,” she added, “I do think that monogamy is an odd state, and actually I think it’s an odd state for women. I think that we’re locked into certain ideas and certain romantic ideals that have shaped our thinking about relationships for some time. And I do sometimes wonder about whether there are alternatives, and about whether our fury and rage and disbelief and horror about infidelity is quite realistic. I, of course, have got the t-shirt, so I understand the feelings very well but I think as I get older and think about long-term relationships, I do see that they can change.”

Thompson said she had watch “lots” of friends in changing relationships, adding: “We all live so long now! I sometimes wonder whether, whilst there is of course a completely wonderful monogamous model, that we’d all love because it feels safe and secure and there’s probably less work, than say another model that is three relationships over the three stages of your life. Your young life, your middle life, and your late life.”

“All I’m suggesting is that there are other models and I’m also suggesting that we’d been a little bit caught by the happy-ever-after ideal. All the fairy stories end when people get married and go off into the sunset, there are very few stories that deal with the nuts and bolts and actualities of serious relationships.”

She added: “I think that relationships are very hard work, that we can take our eyes off the ball very easily, I think that children can be a huge strain on relationships – it depends on what kind of relationship you have.”

The actress also spoke about misogyny in the film industry and the lack of role models for young women in a “cult of celebrity” and “emptiness”.

Saying she now visited schools to speak to girls, she said she had been “taken aback and saddened” to hear how difficult it was to find “people who are speaking with any kind of muscular integrity and intelligence” in the media. She added there was still “a lot of misogyny in the film industry”, with older women losing jobs once they hit the menopause.

“I tend to think if you’re going to do anything in this industry you just have to be so much better than the guys, and then even if you are, there’s resentment,” she said. “Stories about women are so rare. Films about women are so rare. We just have to keep writing them, and we just have to keep trying, whilst remaining aware of the huge challenges. I’ve travelled around a lot and spoken to a lot of women in a lot of different places and lines of work, and it seems clear to me that the world is simply not woman-friendly at the moment, and there’s a great deal of work to be done on many fronts.”

[From The Telegraph]

God, I love her. What a role model. What a queen. What a mentor. I have, as she says, “got the t-shirt” for Emma Thompson. I believe in Emma Thompson. I worship her. As for the particulars of what she’s saying – it’s not like she’s advocating for a whole re-do of how we think of relationships or anything. She’s basically telling women and men to be more realistic about everything, that sometimes the person you love at the age of 20 is not the person you will love at the age of 45. And that all relationships take work and it’s not a fairy tale. And then the bit about feminism and all… she’s magnificent.

Photos courtesy of WENN, Fame/Flynet.

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55 Responses to “Emma Thompson talks feminism, infidelity: ‘I do think that monogamy is an odd state’”

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  1. Sixer says:

    Holy moly, I love her. You can be good without being Puritanical about everything.

    Helen McCrory was saying similar in a TV interview the other day.

    I love it that the coolest role models for wimlins are older women.

    • T.Fanty says:

      Yes to that, but I do love it when younger women also come out with something smart and thoughtful on this kind of topic. I cant imagine many teenage girls listening to Emma Thompson, although god knows, they should.

      • Sixer says:

        Oh, them too. I guess I was thinking more along visibility lines.

        The female pre-teens who turn up chez Sixer are all tomboys who like playing football – since I have sons, presumably.

        I take comfort from the way they turn up their tomboy noses at the X Factor and Mardy Cyrus and suchlike and pay attention to the various Olympians like Jessica Ennis.

      • Spooks says:

        As someone who stopped being a teen girl a few months ago, I am very sad that people have so little faith in my generation. I mean, I spent most of my teens looking up to women who were more like Emma Thompson and less like Rihanna. Most of my friends did as well. But for some strange reason, people seem to think that we’re all like Miley or other moronic starlets.

        Oh, and most of us weren’t tomboys, not that being a tomboy is bad.

      • Sixer says:

        Sorry Spooks: I don’t think I explained myself well. I meant:

        1) it’s great when older women appear as cool role models and not past-it has-beens (and to be ignored as such)

        2) the only pre-teen girls I can speak for are tomboys (as my house is male-dominated)

    • bob says:

      I love Helen McCrory so much. And Emma Thompson, and lets throw Brenda Blethyn for good measure.

  2. j.eyre says:

    I do like this interview. I agree that not only may your romantic ideal change, but also your feeling on monogamy. No longer are “true love” and “infidelity” mutually exclusive.

    Also, I love where she says we just have to keep writing and keep trying to get stories about and for women made.

    • Lucinda says:

      I don’t think she is suggesting true love and infidelity are mutually exclusive, only that a relationship may change and end over time. I think infidelity is cruel and cowardly in almost any situation. If you must move on, have the courage and compassion to end your current relationship first.

      • j.eyre says:

        No, I don’t think she is suggesting it – I was the one suggesting that.

        And I am not necessarily saying it’s fine to fool around; I am saying that in my 20s, I would never conceive of forgiving infidelity in any form and yet now, in my 40s, I am not sure how I would act. I might not be able to forgive it, but I may – I don’t feel as strongly as I once did. I do hope I don’t have to find out, though.

  3. Dorothy#1 says:

    Love her! Willowby too :)

  4. bammer says:

    I love what she is saying. Not only about the fairytale but so many women are disappointed in themselves if it fails. More Emma Thompson!

  5. RocketMerry says:

    She’s lovely, she always impresses me. I like her a lot!

  6. Sabrine says:

    Yes, I’ve seen it first hand. The couples that were dating in high school are mostly all long divorced. The person you marry at 18 is not what you want in your 30′s, etc. when you mature and grow. You look at that other person and think, what was I thinking…

  7. Ellen says:

    I am tickled that she called out Branagh and HBC. “I have the t-shirt” of rage at infidelity. Squee.

    (I hope she’s just talking generally and that all is well with her and Greg at home.)

    • Welldun says:

      Agreed! I remember how sad she was when her marriage broke up due to that affair. She gave an interview to Vanity Fair (I think.) Prior to that she, Ken, and HBC were among my faves, doing all these period flicks. Since then I don’t bother much with Ken or HBC, although it is nice to see what goes around come around.

    • tracking says:

      I remember reading that she made Branagh get down on his knees and swear that he would be faithful to her before she accepted his proposal (he had a well-deserved reputation as a dog). Sad for her when that happened, but seems like she ended up with a wonderful man and a beautiful family. Such an extraordinary, wise woman!! More, more Emma!

    • Kath says:

      Yeah, I was gonna say… “Thompson, who separated from Kenneth Branagh in 1995 after drifting apart” – um, no, he cheated on her with Helena Bonham-Carter.

  8. MsGoblin says:

    What’s an “informal adoption”?

    • Sloane Wyatt says:

      It’s when a family takes a child in to raise “as their own.” – http://adoptive-parenting.adoptionblogs.com/weblogs/informal-adoption-arrangements

      My mom took in kids in our town for months at a time; they had no place to go because they’d been kicked out or horribly neglected by their parents. My parents also took in relatives when they were down on their luck.

      When I was a teen, but legally emancipated, I fostered a girl younger than me until she got out of an abusive live in arrangement with her jackwipe boyfriend.

      Thankfully, a lot of people do even longer term informal adoptions; we just don’t hear about it. These ‘adoptions’ save lives and give people without hope a leg up.

      • hunter says:

        Sounds like you had great parents but if so, I can’t help but wonder why you would have needed/wanted to get emacipated as a teen.

      • mj says:

        Isn’t that fostering, and not adoption? Not throwing shade–legit wondering.

      • lrm says:

        well, if it’s not done through any kind of ‘legal channels’, it can still be called adoption if someone wants to label it that-if Emma’s commitment is a level of permanence in her mind, but she sees no need to go through legal channels, she can call it that vs. fostering if she wants.

        My parents also fed and housed people-from school friends of mine/my siblings (for weeks/months at a time) to cousins who needed a year or two of stability from their situations. It saved/established lives and futures for sure. Even though my family and others who do this may not even be very functional themselves [hint: we were a total mess], it can still be a loving place of shelter, and welcoming/being part of a clan, for those who need it. You don’t need to be rich or long-term or get involved in the legal system to help teens/others out when needed. Sometimes, it *just happens*, and is not planned or intended, per se. Life is full of these blips on the radar. As the saying goes, life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.

  9. Lucy Goosey says:

    I love Emma and what she is saying makes sense. Smart woman and great actress. There should be more like her.

  10. Crabcake says:

    Monogamy isn’t an odd state even though I understand the context in which she said it. Love fades but that isnt a flaw in monogamy, that’s called making sh!t decisions and then avoiding one’s own responsibility in creating that situation.

    • DreamyK says:

      A person can only control their own actions. If they wed someone who later becomes an alcoholic..is that their fault? Is that their, in your words “a shit decision”?

      I disagree entirely with your statement.

      • Crabcake says:

        If you stop loving someone because they became an alcoholic, then that is indicative of having not made the right decision to be with the person in the first place. The very words spoken at marriage say “for better or for worse.” Not that I would ever blame someone for wanting to leave an alcoholic, but what we are talking about here is falling out of love, not leaving an abusive or difficult relationship.

      • DreamyK says:


        Again, I entirely disagree with your statement. People change. You cannot change another person, only yourself.

        So Judgemental! I’m actually laughing at your bravado.

      • andrea says:

        @Crabcake are you or have u ever been married or in a long term relationship? Monogamy is a practice that society embeds into our brains, not our compulsive disposition. Not that it isnt a useful concept, or bad. But when u reflect upon what u see in relationships that spant, i dunno, 30+ years, I can see where Emma us coming from. People change over the course of a lifetime and so do our needs.

  11. QQ says:

    She is SUCH a Cool lady! I want her to be my mentor/friend or adopt me: whatever she wants

  12. Lucinda says:

    I appreciate that she acknowledges that the “fairy tale” can be true for some (like me) but not necessarily for all. So often it feels like people come out one way or the other and there is not recognition that it’s not a one size fits all kind of thing.

  13. Nono says:

    What a wonderful woman. She’s always doing something, pushing herself. She never seems to be coasting through life. I respect her so much for that.

    I didn’t know she’d taken over Peter Rabbit! I might get a few for my niece now.

    As for her feminist comments … I mostly agree with them. However, I think it’s important to note that men typically become successful later in their lives, while women become successful earlier in their lives. So if we’re going to push for women to have entertainment careers later in life- as we absolutely should- we’d do well to also push for men to have more opportunities in entertainment earlier in life.

    • Cazzee says:

      “However, I think it’s important to note that men typically become successful later in their lives, while women become successful earlier in their lives.”

      That’s the sexist part. Actors continue to learn and grow and refine their craft over the years – generally speaking, someone who is a solid actor in their twenties is able to convey a lot more depth and range by the time they’re in their forties.

      So given that it’s the case that actors improve with age, why were this year’s female academy award winners 22 and 29 years old while the male winners were 49 and 56? Gee, that couldn’t have anything to do with sexism, could it?

      • Mrs. Peacock says:

        No. It has to do with ageism if anything. There are plenty of relatively empty roles for young men (like superhero roles, or YA fiction adaptations), while challenging roles for young women are more plentiful. The opposite is true for “older” actors. Lots of wife/mother roles a’la Joan Allen vs. saves-the-day heroics a’la Denzel. Or maybe- just maybe- the younger women were more deserving than the older. And the older men were more deserving than the younger.

      • Nono says:


        Yes. My point is we should get rid of the prejudice against older women and younger men.

      • Nono says:

        Mrs Peacock

        Seems both of our comments got stuck in the filter.

        Yes, it’s ageism, but that ageism expresses itself according to gender roles. Men are the providers and women are the birthers, and that’s why older men and younger women are more successful than their opposite-gender counterparts. Older men are more able to provide because they’ve spent a lifetime amassing resources, and younger women are better for birthing because their bodies are younger.

        Of course, this dichotomy barely even applies anymore in the US in anything other than the vaguest of gender attributions, but it is a holdover from before of which people aren’t really conscious.

  14. Lucia H says:

    I love Emma Thompson ever since I saw her in Much Ado about Nothing many years ago. She is intelligent, well spoken and such an amazing actress. I watch Sense and Sensibility every time it is on. She is a great female role model.

    • Belle Epoch says:

      +1 to Sense & Sensibility! In the scene where High Grant turns out to be not-married she is magnificent.

    • Ginger says:

      Yes! I own this movie because I love it so much! All of the actors in the film are excellent. Emma is a stand out even in that magnificent company.

  15. Lipsy says:

    What a wonderful, insightful read! Sigh.

  16. bettyrose says:

    Not necessarily true for everyone but I feel like as men grow older and settle down hormonally, women become more confident and aware of their sexuality as they mature. Good that more women are reminding us all that we continue to be sexual beings as we progress through life.

  17. Violet says:

    I love Emma. Kenneth Branagh was a fool for betraying her.

  18. MavenTheFirst says:

    I adore Emma Thompson. But her speculation about 3 stages, though not unreasonable, sounds rather romantic to me. It’s hard to find one good man in the world so I can’t even begin to imagine finding three! And ask a woman in the third stage of life where her male contemporaries are looking.

    Apart from that minor quibble, Rock On, Emma!

  19. Ginger says:

    THIS is why she is one of the women I look up to and admire. She is always honest, thoughtful and intelligent. She may be on to something here about changing relationships as you get older. I am definitely on her side as far as serious relationships being work. You do constantly have to check in with the other person to make it work. By that I mean pay attention and take them into consideration. As for children being a burden, I think she means that it can take a toll on your romantic life. That’s why I truly believe you need to take time out with your spouse or partner away from the kids at least once a week if at all possible. Hire a babysitter. Nurture your relationship as well as your children. I’m certainly curious as to how my (second) marriage will play out when we are twenty years older and going into our “senior” years. I’ve also “got the t-shirt” and so, I agree with her about the curiosity of monogamy. I wonder if we don’t listen to our elders enough in our culture? In some cultures, the elders are much more important.

  20. taxi says:

    The 3 partner hypothesis has been around for many years & I’ve forgotten its originator. Went like this -
    #1 – youth = very sexually attractive with good physical attributes for attracting mates & breeding offspring
    #2 – parenting = kind, stable, role model & good provider for family initially created with #1
    #3 – mature & later adulthood = intellectually compatible & loyal friend for caring companionship after children are grown & gone.

    It was written in a pre-internet time when men were less active in care of their offspring & traditional retirement was more common. The premise is still valid.

    I do think couples can evolve together, going from hot romance to parenting children to enjoying the family legacy they’ve built as they develop new interests & talents and have more leisure time in later years.

    • MavenTheFirst says:

      Nice. Thanks. It’s good to know.

    • Jen34 says:

      Or that other interpretation. First marriage is for love. Second marriage is for money. Third is for companionship.

      I agree with a poster up thread who mentioned how hard it was to find one decent am, never mind three.

  21. taylor says:

    F*ck, she’s amazing! In/about everything.

  22. K says:

    “Got the T-shirt” is in reference to the saying ‘been there, done that, got the T shirt’.. Meaning Emma has been cheated on. I don’t think you can get the T shirt on Emma…

  23. KM says:

    It isn’t from an interview, though the Mail edited quotes to make it look that way. It’s actually snippets from a webchat she did with the UK parenting site Mumsnet, so there’s a ton more and it’s all typed by her own fingers – no mediating journalist. The Mail just selectively quoted – she talks about feminism a lot:


    I love her so much.

  24. LouLou says:

    I will read anything about her. I love her.