Gwyneth Paltrow Really Needs To Chill Out With This “I’m A Working Mom” Stuff
Last night, Gwyneth Paltrow hosted a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at her LA home with a guest list that included President Obama, and announced that the issue of equal pay is “very important to me as a working mother.” Here we go again. (She also told Obama that night that he’s “so handsome I can’t speak properly,” but that’s a whole different kind of facepalm for another day). Paltrow, a mother of two who makes $19 million a year being a movie star and “running” GOOP, sees herself as a martyr for the masses of working moms because she seems to believe that her ultra-comfy lifestyle is a prime example of the typical life of a working mother. While I think it’s a great thing that a Hollywood star is attempting to use their influence to advocate for women (and I think she really does have good intentions), her efforts are completely off base. Again.
This is hardly the first time Paltrow has muddied herself in the trenches of the Mommy Wars (a phrase that I detest but admittedly feel the need to use here). In May, she implied in an interview that being a mom who acts on movie sets is harder than being a mom who works a typical 9-to-5 job. She later claimed that the comment was taken out of context, and maybe it really was, but she then dug herself into an even deeper hole by suggesting that her criticism came from other working moms who were projecting their frustrations onto her. This makes me seethe. Is calling someone jealous not the oldest trick in the book for tearing down other women? Okay, to be fair, I am envious of multimillionaires in a general sense, but that has pretty much nothing to do with Gwyneth.
It’s not Paltrow’s intent to shed light on women’s issues that rubs people the wrong way, it’s the way she handles the discussion. Her comment last night is a perfect example of that. For one thing, I’m wary of her implication that equal pay is particularly relevant for mothers, or that moms have more of a moral authority or right to demand it than others. How is the fact that she’s a mother at all relevant to wanting to make as much money as men? All women, parents or not, deserve a fair shot at a decent salary. Of course, the kids of working moms would benefit greatly from their moms making the same as men, and that’s important, but that’s a different issue entirely. What Paltrow also doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that she has the ultimate parental privilege — choice in everything she does. She can choose to have or adopt as many children as she wants, because she never has to worry about whether she’ll have the time or finances to care for them. Most of us can name several women we know who would like to have one or more kids but hold off because they don’t feel they have enough resources like money, time, energy, or even physical space to make it work. Paltrow has probably never even considered such a thing, which brings me to another issue — her comment drives home the fact that the Mommy Wars themselves are something that only upper middle class women can opt into. All this chatter about whether to choose to work or stay at home only applies to parents with the financial resources to have options and who have the energy to hang out online debating this sort of thing instead of, say, spending their day working a double shift in retail to support their kids because they have no other choice.
There’s also the little detail that she’s incredibly rich, so her pay is far beyond equal to what the average man (or woman, for that matter) makes. It would be dismissive and harmful to imply that people with excessive privilege shouldn’t talk about the issues that the rest of us normal, non-famous folk are going through. Privileged people often have more power to create change and the fact that they want to use their position for good should be welcomed — in theory. Unfortunately, we don’t exist in a vacuum, and something about a rich, white, traditionally beautiful movie star like Paltrow acting as if she knows the “struggle” of everyday parents is perturbing. Plenty of other famous, wealthy people have advocated for those who have less than them with much less backlash, and I think what makes Paltrow stand out so negatively is her seeming lack of self-awareness. To put it lightly, it’s nauseating. She seems so blinded by her bubble of privilege that she’s unable to fathom the issues that everyday working parents (without nannies, maids, and millions) deal with. The most basic hurdles of life in other tax brackets are foreign to her, like delegating household chores or deciding which parent will leave work early to pick up the kids from school — and that’s when a family is lucky enough to even have both parents under one roof. Girl, come back to Earth.
I resent the assumption that celebrities must automatically have easy lives, so I don’t want to imply that Paltrow has never struggled in other capacities. No amount of money or success makes personal problems magically disappear, and celebrities still deal with things like depression, low self-esteem, dying family members, and horrible exes like the rest of us. I don’t know what she goes through, but I think it’s fair to consider the validity of her opinions on issues of oppression when she’s never known the burden of scrimping to pay for next week’s groceries or strategizing on how to save for college tuition.
I know that it’s often considered a good thing when a person of privilege tries to garner support for an oppressed group, but her callousness almost hurts the women’s equality movement more than it helps it. Right or wrong, there’s something strangely disturbing about the way she chooses to talk about issues. Gwyneth, I really think you’re trying help, but rein it in a little. Stop awkwardly trying to relate to a “struggle” you know nothing about, and take a cue from Angelina Jolie, who told the New York Daily News:
“I actually feel that women in my position, when we have all at our disposal to help us, shouldn’t complain. Consider all the people who really struggle and don’t have the financial means, don’t have the support, and many people are single raising children. That’s hard. I’m not a single mom with two jobs trying to get by every day. I have much more support than most people, most women in this world.”
Gwyneth, that’s the kind of humility you should channel. Better yet, the next time you talk about motherhood, consult a publicist to help you stop putting your foot in your mouth.
[Image via Getty]