Several weeks ago I wrote a pointed post in response to a comment Gwyneth Paltrow made in an interview which suggested that having a 9-5 job was easier than working on a film set once a year. I found her statement callous and lacking an acknowledgement of the rarified privilege she has. I wasn't the first to say so. Mackenzie Dawson, who also had the good grace to be very funny, wrote an open letter to the celebrity that went viral. A few days passed and that was the end of that.
Yesterday, I read a pre-Mother's Day newsletter from Gwyneth's website goop that, for the first time, addressed her prior comments. It was entitled "Ending the Mommy Wars." Here's what she had to say:
A few weeks ago during an interview, I was asked why I have only worked on one film a year since having children. My answer was this: Film work takes one away from home and requires 12-14 hours a day, making it difficult to be the one to make the kids their lunch, drive them to school, and put them to bed. So I have found it easier on my family life to make a film the exception, and my 9-5 job the rule. This somehow was taken to mean I had said a 9-5 job is easier, and a lot of heat was thrown my way, especially by other working mothers who somehow used my out-of-context quote as an opportunity to express feelings (perhaps projected) on the subject. As the mommy wars rage on, I am constantly perplexed and amazed by how little slack we cut each other as women. We see disapproval in the eyes of other mothers when we say how long we breastfed (Too long? Not long enough?), or whether we have decided to go back to work versus stay home. Is it not hard enough to attempt to raise children thoughtfully, while contributing something, or bringing home some (or more) of the bacon? Why do we feel so entitled to opine, often so negatively, on the choices of other women? Perhaps because there is so much pressure to do it all, and do it all well all at the same time (impossible).
So now I'm right back where I was six weeks ago, feeling sort of annoyed and frustrated but for different reasons.
There's a reason people read Gwyneth's initial comments to mean that she believed a 9-5 job was easier than working on a film set. It's because she said that "regular" jobs may have their challenges, but they aren't the same as being on set. That screams comparison to me. To the extent that I or anyone else misunderstood her, or took her statement out of context, I'm glad that Gwyneth clarified what she intended to say. I'm relieved that she doesn't believe that a 9-5 job is easier than a one film a year gig. Because that would be sort of crazy and I don't like to think that anyone is that out-of-touch.
Yet, what could have been a simple explanation took a different turn when Gwyneth noted that anyone troubled by her comments was "perhaps project[ing]" feelings on to her. Rather than acknowledging the interpretation readers may have had of her comments, she dodged. Her swift dismissal of any criticisms as mere emotional reactions instead of reasoned or thoughtful responses is telling, as is her suggestion that they are also unexamined manifestations of our own ambivalence about or discomfort with working motherhood. At least, I think that's what she means. I got a little confused. Nowhere does she seem to consider that the posts written in the wake of her interview might contain some truth. Instead, she brushes them aside another salvo in the "mommy wars."
I've never been a fan of the phrase "mommy wars." Real wars are brutal and destructive armed conflicts. No matter how judgmental you are about attachment parenting or Ferberizing, no one dies when we disagree about how long to breastfeed. I'd love to go back to 1986 and beg Leslie Morgan Steiner to retitle her book and save us from the hyperbole.
Lacking a time machine, I've accepted that, to some extent, some women are comfortable thinking about themselves as enemy combatants. Like Gwyneth, I'm all for eliminating that mindset so we can stop bludgeoning women for their choices to work or stay at home, breast or formula feed, co-sleep or not. I'm sure Gwyneth's voice would be welcome among those who've been advocating for a truce for some time.
Before she becomes a standard bearer for peace though, I'd like her to consider this:
Disagreement isn't a declaration of war. Expressing honest criticism, challenging someone's way of thinking or asking someone to consider their privilege or position isn't necessarily the same as invalidating someone's choices. The distinction matters. Without it, we lose the ability to examine our biases, perceptions and beliefs. Without it, we could all claim to be a victim of the mommy wars to shield ourselves from the discomfort of considering a different point of view. It's certainly easier to dismiss everyone who disagrees with us as an anti-mommy, anti-woman, anti-choice hater. It just isn't useful.
Gwyneth asks why "we feel so entitled to opine, often so negatively, on the choices of other women?" and posits that it's because "there is so much pressure to do it all, and do it all well all at the same time (impossible)." Although I challenge her assumption that opinions are negative merely because they don't align, or that there are more negative voices than positive ones, I don't disagree that we may be chasing unattainable ideals. But I think there's more to it.
I think debate and discussion exists because raising children is important. It tests our assumptions and capabilities and consumes large portions of our lives. How we guide infants to adulthood is a topic that deserves attention. We need places to examine our prejudices, debate the facts and have honest conversations about everything from vaccinations to education to discipline to good day care to working parenthood. We learn from each other when we speak our minds and so long as we avoid name-calling, self-righteousness and judgment for judgment's sake, the discussions have value, even if we don't like what the person on the other side of the issue has to say.
I don't judge Gwyneth's choices to raise her family as she sees fit. I don't care if she chooses to work on one film a year so she can focus on raising her children, or if she makes ten movies a year for other reasons entirely. I do question how she chose to speak about those choices without considering how her personal circumstances allowed her options that other parents don't have. I challenged what I thought her beliefs were about the ease of "ordinary" jobs and careers. I think that's a reasonable point to make.
At the end of the day, I'm not fighting a war, I'm just calling it as I see it.