Boy, am I glad I’m not Gywneth Paltrow.
She opens her mouth to comment on something or other, and the rest of us pounce on her. The rest of us meaning women, namely. Men, I think, don’t seem to care much about what she says. And if they do, they’re invariably nonplussed about our reaction.
On the other hand, we — ah, we women — we’re just champing at the bit to eviscerate People magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman of 2013, a glamor puss who seems to have everything: power, privilege, looks, money. And apparently, ignorance of how the rest of us live.
Yet, the firestorm Paltrow unwittingly created has more to do with us, with our expectations, our insecurities, our self-judgment, than with her or anything she represents. Decades into a revolution that saw women enter the workforce en masse, we are still fighting the same old wars and the all-too-familiar demons.
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In case you missed it, Paltrow opened the door to ridicule when she and her husband, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, announced the breakdown of their 10-year marriage. Paltrow didn’t use “divorce” or “separation” or “breakup,” common words with concrete meanings. Instead, on her website, the couple called their split-up “conscious uncoupling.”
As in: “We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.”
Sounds pretentious, no? Little wonder comedians had a field day with that weird word pairing. After refusing to use the D-word, Paltrow further guaranteed herself the wrath of many when, in an offhand remark, she told an E! interviewer that an office job is easier for parents than being an actress on a movie set.
As you can imagine, the response was swift and brutal. Vicious, actually — and totally, stupidly impractical. A features editor at The New York Post, mother of a toddler, even wrote an open letter that summarized the reactions I heard from others, only in more eloquently snarky paragraphs. Reading the letter, I thought: What does this features editor have to complain about anyway? She’s got a decent job, a roof over her head, health insurance and one kid. Many women must take care of much more with so much less.
And so here we go again. Regardless of age, office title or economic status, we’re always one-upping each other.
Back in the day, when I was raising five kids and putting in the hours to bring home a paycheck, I envisioned a time when such foolish evaluations — who has it worse, who can afford better, who is more committed to her children — would be relegated to the history books. I was certain we would learn from the experience of the mommy war pioneers, from the battle scars of the employed and the stay-at-home, from the struggle of those lucky enough to have choices and those who had none.
Frustrated by the crush of routine and exhausted by endless to-do lists, we’ve allowed the green-eyed monster of envy to dictate and influence our collective conversation instead of focusing on what’s best for us as individuals. As long as we’re busy comparing ourselves to each other instead of making our own paths, we are destined to fight this age-old battle again and again and again, a never-ending argument that does no one, not even movie stars, any favors.