America's pointless Gwyneth Paltrow wars: Why hating the star for her ridiculous privilege actually misses the point

Let's roll our eyes at the lifestyle brand queen who says she's "common." There's more at stake for celeb activists

Published March 19, 2015 1:33PM (EDT)

Gwyneth Paltrow         (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)

I'm going to preface everything I'm about to say with this: I really don't like talking smack about Gwyneth Paltrow.

Paltrow has said many things that, frankly, offend my sensibilities, but ultimately I think she is an incredibly privileged woman who lives in a goopy privileged bubble where she can't check her privilege because of the rules of the bubble or something. Maybe she's just from another planet.

Either way, Gwyneth Paltrow is not common. She is a multimillionaire Academy Award-winning actress-turned-entrepreneur who used to be married to the lead singer of Coldplay, and whose parents were also famous. In an appearance on "CNN Money" this week, though, the star downplayed all of that -- as she is wont to do -- in explaining what she's trying to accomplish with her lifestyle website, Goop:

What we try to do at Goop is curate and to edit. We know that a woman's time is her most precious resource and we want to multitask, get a lot done, and what we want to do is provide the best solutions. [...]

I'm incredibly close to the common woman in that I'm a woman and I'm a mother and we all are in a physical body with beating hearts with compassion and love we are all seekers ... we all want fulfillment, we all want to live our best lives. We want to be healthy and happy and squeeze the most we can out of life. I think that's all women.

So here's the thing -- and it's always the thing with Paltrow, and it's a thing I've already said: Gwyneth Paltrow is not common. She is not even close to "common" in terms of her income, her career, her family background, and most likely in terms of her awareness of the social distance between herself and the average American human. Paltrow does not seem to get it. What, really, is there to do about that?

This isn't to say that the star's apparent inability to grasp realities outside of or harsher than her own isn't worth noting. Hell, I'm noting it now. But it is also important to note the context in which she highlighted her total misconception about how a "common" woman lives her best life. Paltrow is trying to sell us stuff. She is trying to sell us a lifestyle that is clean and minimal and "curated," in which people get their uteruses steam-cleaned and wear $500 white cotton dresses while drinking kale-and-dandelion cold-pressed juices, without spilling kelly green liquid all over themselves. More to the point, she is also literally trying to sell us those $500 white cotton dresses and $820 sneakers to match, and a whole bunch of other insanely expensive shit most people would never even know existed, let alone ever dream of buying. She is running a business and trying to turn a profit.

She is not, say, advocating for women's rights and wage equality from a widely and closely scrutinized public platform, which is what got Patricia Arquette into trouble for last month after her acceptance speech at the Oscars. Arquette was criticized for making comments that similarly seemed to erase the experiences and contributions of millions of women, and for attempting to generalize a highly nuanced problem. The sort of ignorance to other people's struggles that both Paltrow and Arquette have displayed matters a great deal when it comes to pushing for social change, where privileged voices can accomplish huge, positive gains -- but only when those voices are informed and inclusive.

This is a basic problem of relying on celebrity spokespeople who try to represent and tackle the issues of the masses: They aren't experts, but they also aren't part of the masses anymore. That status can be a good and powerful thing, and it's important to get the message right. So when someone such as Arquette is pushing an agenda that is already being pushed, but is doing it with privilege-enforced tunnel vision that isn't particularly constructive, it's important to point out the fissure in hopes of achieving productive social change. In Arquette's case, it seems to have worked: She hasn't given up the fight to close the gender wage gap, and moreover she seems to be taking it on with a much more inclusive, intersectional attitude.

But what's to be accomplished with Paltrow? Will the criticism make her check her privilege, shut down her site and become more philanthropic? Those could all potentially be very good things, but they're all unlikely to happen. So maybe we just accept some of what Paltrow says as truth -- that we all have "beating hearts with compassion and love" -- and evaluate how high the stakes are when someone who is trying to sell us fancy face oil says that she is "close to common." Maybe we just leave her to hang out with her uterus-steamer in her goopy privileged bubble, and focus instead on all the women who can't think about fancy face oil while they're trying to make ends meet.

By Jenny Kutner

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Celebrities Feminism Gender Wage Gap Goop Gwyneth Paltrow Lifestyle Websites Patricia Arquette Privilege