Opinion

Mommy wars: The Gwyneth Paltrow controversy

Gwyneth Paltrow wants to end the mommy wars, but are her recent comments just fueling the fire?

Photo: Andrew Evans/PR Photos

Photo: Andrew Evans/PR Photos

Gwyneth Paltrow is leading the charge to end the mommy wars after finding herself a casualty in an online battle.

In a recent interview she implied that a working mom’s 9-to-5 office job is easier than being on a film set— a comment she is now saying was taken out of context. I know that our natural urge is to defend poor Gwyneth—especially as a newly consciously uncoupled person. But hear me out, and then you can decide for yourself.

Read more: Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin: Split >

In an interview with E! Online, Gwyneth revealed she only works on one movie a year. “I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening. When you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom—of course there are challenges—but it’s not like being on set.”

Some women took offence to the notion that Gwyneth’s one movie a year is more difficult than their daily jobs. Mackenzie Dawson of the New York Post took Gwyneth down a peg in a hilarious article where she writes that she’s thankful those pesky movies don’t limit her fabulous options: “’Thank God I don’t make millions filming one movie per year’ is what I say to myself pretty much every morning as I wait on a windy Metro-North platform, about to begin my 45-minute commute into the city. Whenever things get rough, all I have to do is keep reminding myself of that fact. It is my mantra.”

Poor Gwynnie probably didn’t enjoy the public takedown, nor did she likely appreciate the “heat” that was thrown at her for implying that her life was more difficult than the average mother’s daily grind.

Luckily, our favourite Goop-pusher has the pages of her newsletter to defend herself. (Editor’s note: If she wants people to feel that she is a normal person, she should avoid words like “opine”). Her opening salvo this week, “Ending The Mommy Wars” says: “As the mommy wars rage on, I am constantly perplexed and amazed by how little slack we cut each other as women.”

Read more: The mommy war myth >

Here’s the thing, she is right. Women do criticize each other, often viciously. We do so to make ourselves feel better about our own imperfect choices. We take each other down, privately, publicly and in our own head.

And it hurts all of us for doing so.

But Gwyneth is wrong too, and her statement shows how insulated she is from real life. She can make choices without worrying about the financial implications. She has nannies, housekeepers, chefs and drivers to make her family’s life run smoother, not to mention her newly-cleansed physique. And she doesn’t need to invoke the “mommy wars” term as a way of justifying her statement. Being on a movie set would be difficult on family life, and I think most of us get that. But her life is easier than most and her 9-to-5 job is spent making some women feel bad that they aren’t as thin, beautiful, healthy, spiritual, rich and as good at the downward dog as she is.

I don’t even really believe in the mommy wars—as if it’s two factions of working moms versus stay-at-home moms battling it out for the “best mom” trophy at the end of a lifetime filled with diapers and school meetings. It is so much more subtle and complicated than that—it is about women being unable to support each other because of a range of bad options. And most women I know change sides—and opinions—more frequently than Gwyneth changes her favourite kale recipe.

Following Gwyneth’s poor justification of her comments there was an interesting article published in this week’s Goop (maybe there usually are interesting articles, I just can’t get past the $400 sweatshirts). Bridgid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, says that our cultural ambivalence about working mothers has led to inaction on issues that could make parenting easier for everyone. “So we force moms to choose to opt out and be a ‘Good Mother’ or stay in, gut it out, get little help and run themselves ragged trying to make it up to their kids and prove to everyone that they, too, are good mothers,” she writes in Goop.

And we all know who is a “Good Mother”—she bakes, crafts, carpools, looks put together all the time and is virtually perfect. (Sound familiar?)

Gwyneth may need to look at the messages she is sending to mothers in her own pages before she takes a stand on “out of context” comments. Everything I need to know about her thoughts on the type of parent that I am are right in front of me in the pages of Goop.

Can Gwyneth end the “mommy wars” and also promote them? That is something only we, her audience and target, can decide.