On privilege and patriarchy and Gwyenth Paltrow

The media has it out for Gwyneth Paltrow.  They’ve got a thing going where she’s out of touch and too-perfect and privileged and whatever.  She doesn’t help it with the things she posts on her blog.  After reading this post by Family Building with a Twist, I had to see what the latest thing was.  Turns out she’s suggested hundred dollar hostess gifts and stocking stuffers (cynically, I would not be surprised if some of the items on that list were sponsored or put down as favors for someone invested in their sale).  Useless over-priced crap that rich people give to each other even though they don’t need more stuff.  Because they can.

It actually reminded me of this recent CNN article on the huge amounts being spent on art and jewelry.  Money that is definitely not “trickling down” to the little people.

This is what wealth inequality does.  It makes useless luxury items more expensive and it moves wealth around amongst the wealthy.  It doesn’t feed kids.

But that doesn’t make me hate Gwyneth Paltrow.   Infinitely worse are people like the Koch brothers or Roger Ailes and other extremely wealthy people who are against higher marginal taxes for the 1% or for cutting food-stamps.  If Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t realize that not everybody can afford organic foods, personal trainers, or $200 hostess gifts, then she should be educated on that.  Maybe a little mingling with the hoi poloi could spark some social activism on her part, though she doesn’t have to become an activist.  Pretension isn’t worth worrying about unless it harms others.  She’s not actually doing real harm, just providing media fodder for fun little let’s hate the privileged rich girl stories.  (Now that Paris Hilton has dropped out of the public eye.)

And why do we have the privileged little rich girl stories instead of stories about people who are actually doing harm?  Well, Gwyenth Paltrow is harmless.  She’s a side-show.  She can’t harm us.  She can’t harm a media organization.  She’s probably even well-intentioned.  And she’s female.

People love to put down “perfect” women.  Paltrow is thin, pretty, rich, and self-confident.  Crabs in a bucket like to pull people like that down.  It provides circus entertainment to distract us from real problems, like unemployment, failing education systems, or children going hungry while the top 1% gets wealthier and wealthier.  It is her very irrelevance that makes her the perfect sacrifice.   Attack the perfect woman and we’ll feel better about ourselves and we’ll be less likely to riot in the streets.  We’ve dealt our blows to the system by making fun of an actress who doesn’t know any better.   And that isn’t going to fix a damn thing.  It’s just sending yet another signal that women shouldn’t get too uppity or other women will hate them.  That’s a stupid signal.

The patriarchy is insidious in its divide and conquer strategies.  It’s great at distracting us from real problems, because those real problems are caused by people we can’t be catty about.  Those people are dangerous and powerful.  They’re not writing up silly over-priced gift lists on their blogs.  Much easier to channel that ire against women.   The patriarchy is good at this stuff.  It’s had lots of practice.

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42 Responses to “On privilege and patriarchy and Gwyenth Paltrow”

  1. KeAnne Says:

    Oh I definitely understand that celebrity is the new “opium for the masses” and that way too many don’t understand that there are people in power doing horrific things we should be enraged about. My post , though, was more about whether my dislike for Paltrow says something about ME personally. I certainly don’t lose any sleep over Paltrow ;-) I need to save my energy for banging my head against the wall at how my state’s leaders are destroying decades of progress in education, the economy and civil rights.

    • Liz Says:

      “I need to save my energy for banging my head against the wall at how my state’s leaders are destroying decades of progress in education, the economy and civil rights.”

      Haha, and Amen!

  2. First Gen American Says:

    You are right about the harmless thing. If you are going to hate a celebrity, hate the ones that promote harmful things like not vaccinating your kids.

    Doesn’t buying art support artists…or are you talking about dead artists? I know a bunch of artists and none of them are rich.

  3. becca Says:

    Strictly speaking, its usually inaccurate to say e.g. diamond consumption doesn’t hurt anyone. And organic food consumption may discourage research on new pesticides or GMOs (which may end up good or not). But arguably some of the artists are little people, so money spent on art might be positive from a redistribution angle.
    Ultimately, the problem with this generation of ultra wealthy isn’t that they are greedier than the Rockefellers et al., its that we *stopped* judging the moral basis of the use of wealth, and funding universities and the arts fell out of fashion. Instead we have the Gates foundation falling in with psudeo reformers of education (meet your new union busters, the charter schools, same as your old union busters).
    Spending discretionary income is always an act with ethical implications. You are dead right Paltrow is critiqued precisely because she doesn’t matter much, but the “impartial” framing of consumption as “differing utility functions” IS used to obscure a great deal of Koch brother like behavior. What people choose to do with money matters, morally. Not Paltrow especially, but rejecting the habit of critiquing the wealthy serves cardamom consumers who just want tranquillity, and also Koch types.

    • A Says:

      Whatever else it may be doing, the Gates foundation is also doing some classic university funding. It paid for both a large scholarship programme and the building for the computer science department at the University of Cambridge.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      At these prices, it is redistributing to the wealthy. Especially when it’s buying from other rich people and the original artist isn’t getting a cut.

      Gates is saving a lot of lives in developing countries (and funding a lot of academics). Fairly sure his end-goal is not union busting, but trying to fix schools. Personally I think he should start in the South where there aren’t unions… it’s harder to do harm here because the baseline is so bad.

      • chacha1 Says:

        I submit that trying to reform education in the southern U.S. is probably more difficult than setting up an entire national system in, say, Kenya. The southern U.S. has been governed for centuries by people who believe that citizen ignorance is the key to a successful feudal economy, and who refuse to acknowledge that we do not HAVE a feudal economy.

        Gates is a rich guy I have no problem with. The Wal-Mart people, on the other hand … .

        Paltrow and her class of clueless rich people don’t interest me much. The level of “rich” among even famous actors/musicians is not remotely close to the level of “rich” of Koch et al., and while I think gossip media is uniformly lowest-common-denominator stupid, I also think that mass media in general does an ingenious job of balancing mockery of rich people with selling aspiration. “Look how clueless they are, but oooh shiny!”

        Mass media, in other words, does exactly what its consumers want it to do. And “celebrity” has been opium for the masses since the time of the Caesars, if not longer.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It may be harder to do anything in the South, but it’s also harder to make things worse!

      • becca Says:

        Ah, valid point about the art discussed in the link. Obviously Warhol can’t use more money for multiple reasons ;-)
        Gates foundation is freakin awesome on malaria research and practical interventions (also, toilets, iirc). One reason his K-12 education funding drives me batty is I think the money could be so much better spent, given his own aims. I’ve heard him speak about education, and his heart is very much in the right place. He is a good example how well meaning (relative) liberals can get K-12 Ed very wrong. Important to critique, all the more so from those who share his aims.
        In actuality, if all ultra wealthy at least tried at his level, we’d be better off as a world. But if we had nuanced discussion of the impact as well as intent, maybe we could be much better off.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That’s part of why I teach public finance! To keep well-meaning liberals from causing harm to the people they want to help. (Also to keep cold-hearted libertarians from creating more government spending via penny-pinching on the wrong areas.)

      • Cloud Says:

        I submit that our schools are on the whole in better shape than we think, and that if we really cared about improving the performance of all kids we’d work on the appalling number of children living in outright poverty, let alone the ones “just” struggling with food insecurity.

        I suspect the Gates Foundation could do more for K-12 education in this country by handing out lump sum grants to families in need than with any of their other initiatives. To me, the problem is that they have done a faulty analysis of the root cause of the problem and are trying to design fixes for things that are more symptom than cause. Who cares if your school is using fancy new performance metrics if you haven’t had dinner in weeks and your family is under constant stress? Lower student to teacher ratios won’t fix that. Charter schools won’t fix that. Some education reforms may be needed and good. A lot strike me as reshuffling things for show. The ones that increase the amount of standardized testing we subject young children to may actually be doing harm. None that I’ve seen seem likely to have the transformative power that solving our poverty problem would.

        I care deeply about education inequality in this country. I have the money to allow me to donate to try to improve the situation. The more I research it, though, the more I come to the conclusion that the best thing I can do with my money is try to tackle poverty.

        End of rant.

        I don’t care about Gwenyth Paltrow at all. :)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think we’ve talked about this before, but I’ve volunteered at inner-city schools that are in really bad shape, not just in terms of kids being hungry etc. but in terms of teacher quality, textbook quality, safety, etc. The average may be “fine” whatever that is, but for some poor areas, it is really bad. Not places where there are some rich kids in the cachement area.

      • Liz Says:

        Awesome rant, Cloud. I agree, with a few additions: (1) seriously, even after the bubble we’re using property taxes (and the lottery in some areas) to fund our public schools? (2) by using charter schools and other alternatives like TFA, we allow ourselves to ignore the actual problems of underpaying teachers, understaffing schools, etc. (no matter how much good these programs might bring… and actual results vary….).

        Education is a field with the WORST jargon issues I have seen, by far, across my editing and writing in both sciencey and non-sciencey fields, because like ALL of it is just reshuffling the ideas, or deciding that a single case study deserves its own unique terminology. So frustrating.

      • Cloud Says:

        @nicoleandmaggie- the problem I see is that the reforms being proposed don’t actually try to fix those truly poor schools. I may be overly cynical, but I don’t see how turning schools over to companies that operate charter schools for profit (one of the favorite “reforms” right now) is likely to help. The outcomes we really want can’t be easily quantified, so those companies have every incentive to lobby for meaningless tests and then game those tests, so they collect their money and the kids still get screwed.

        I’m all for reforms in how we fund schools, so that schools in poor areas have the same funding level as schools in rich areas. I would actively campaign in favor of that, to the point of probably offending some of my friends. But I don’t see many people advocating for that sort of reform. Just new tests, renamed standards, more charters, less autonomy for teachers (because talented people love being turned into automatons! That will attract more good teachers for sure!) and other BS that doesn’t pass the sniff test.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m not sure what we’re arguing here… I was responding to the statement that schools are doing ok. Many of them are not.

        And some charters are working (can’t remember the name, but the don’t take the marshmallow philosophy schools). The idea there is to allow more experimentation with fewer regulations (why the teachers unions don’t like it) in order to see if we can figure out things that work and things that don’t. And we have learned some things that work and some things that don’t. And some things work for some groups of kids but not for others.

        In some states charters provide the same education at a lower cost (a lot of this turns out to be differences in spending on sports), but there’s also more variation in quality.

        There’s a lot of research on these topics and it’s mixed, and we can’t say that things don’t work until we test them.

        And yes, there are low hanging fruit (but feeding kids is at the federal and state level, not at the district level), but a lot of these poor school districts do spend more per kid than better performing districts. It isn’t just money, it isn’t just making sure kids get fed. There’s a lot of things working together.

      • Cloud Says:

        I guess I haven’t seen data that makes me think we have a large number of truly bad schools and I am suspicious that the data we have is being spun for political and financial gain. I also volunteered in true inner city schools, and I have relatives who have taught at low income schools, in some cases for decades.

        The data I see on charters prioritizes standardized testing, which is not the measure of outcome I really think matters. But the measures of outcome I really think matter are long term and hard to quantify- they are things like critical reasoning skills and the ability of the kids to go on and have “good” lives not hampered by deficiencies in their education. It is probably possible to come up with good surrogate tests, but I don’t see the charters having any incentive to do that. In fact, thanks to NCLB, even public schools have incentives to game the system. The incentive is to come up with a test that you can teach to, not one that really measures the value of your teaching.

        Bad Mom, Good Mom has an interesting long running intermittent series on the strange things that happen with standardized testing data in her area. Here is the most recent, which will probably lead you to earlier entries:

        http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2013/11/variation-of-mean.html

        I agree we need to try things out, but we should also remember we’re trying things out on real kids who have to live with the outcomes of our experiments, whether they are good or bad. I don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling that the people leading this reform movement really think about that. They seem to think that all of their experiments will succeed, which is just not realistic. I think there are some good people involved in the charter schools movement and certainly I don’t think all charter schools are bad (we have a few really good ones in my city). But large corporations running charters makes me nervous, particularly in our screwed up political climate. I see a lot of fuzzy thinking about what is going on in our current system, little accountability for truly serving students in the new charters, and weak safeguards to ensure that “difficult” kids have a good place to go, too.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I have seen data. Dropout rates, literacy rates. There are failing schools in this country, mostly inner-city.

      • Cloud Says:

        Also- sorry: I didn’t mean to hijack your discussion with a side discussion about education. Feel free to cut it off if you’d like!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        These issues are not that simple. I have many friends and colleagues doing research in this field and it is very complex. If we knew how to fix things, we would be. And we’re working on things from a number of different angles– the NBER SI education meetings have gotten to be standing room only.

        Re: charter schools, for the most part they are not mandatory. People are free to keep their children in the failing local publics. On average charters are not better or worse than publics, though on average they’re less expensive (primarily because they don’t have things like football teams, on average).

        As to the greater question of when can we do an experiment? Most education policy (not the researchers) go in believing that whatever they’re going to try is going to work, and therefore either everybody should have it or only the worst off should have it. But when they set up policy that way, we never learn if the intervention actually works. We can’t find out what works or how well it works unless we run experiments. And they are always run with the belief that it’s going to make things better. Whether or not it does is an empirical question. And we have lots of people doing work on these questions. Don’t think for a second that the researchers and the IRBs and the government employees don’t know that they’re working with real people. But if they don’t try to fix things, things won’t get better. I can’t see into Arne Duncan’s heart, but I do know a lot of the economists working on these questions and they are literally the best of the best and they care a lot about these issues.

        (Also, the economists aren’t responsible for the increased testing, and there are plenty of papers out that show how the tests lead to cheating, increased special ed identification, etc. That’s predicted by economic theory.)

        And, with my own eyes I have been shocked at the state of inner-city schools across the country. I used to do a lot of work in high need districts before I had kids. Yes, these are selected schools that recruited volunteers or used Upward Bound, but the kids who go to these schools are real people too.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        p.s. Pace NPR this morning, Philadelphia charters are a special case and not representative of all charter schools. There are many different ways of doing charters and some work better than others. For some reason the for-profit model isn’t working so well (which is what would be predicted when we’re talking about public good provision with externalities).

      • hush Says:

        Amen @nicoleandmaggie. “Complex” indeed. Amen. I’d like to expand on your points. We’re in total agreement (I think?).

        Sorry, but we’re doing a pretty mediocre job as a whole. There are some illusory beacons of quality, such as the kind of inner city magnet schools I attended, you know, the places one must choice into and play a Hunger Game hoping the lottery odds are ever in their favor; and those tony suburban schools that always make the national lists where one must buy an expensive home in the correct district to gain access, and where, of course, certain less well off mothers of color will be jailed if they also try to game the residence system and send their kids there, too. But the reality is these schools simply don’t serve the majority of kids.

        When you look at the international comparative data for math and science, is it obvious our best students are lagging way behind most other countries’ average students, particularly in math and physics. You have to conclude that the suburban schools of America are not as good as they think they are. The difference is that our suburban schools are complacent and think they’re fine, and the people attending them generally think they’re fine. (“Fine.” Whatever that means?) In the inner cities, people know they have a problem, they don’t feel safe, and they are actively upset and want to get the hell out. But 10 miles away from them, you have these suburban Americans living in a kind of fantasyland: “but my kid’s school is awesome therefore ALL public schools are fine” – they write pieces in Slate saying “you’re a bad person for not sending your children to public school” because they mean well, but clearly have no idea about Hell because they have never once set foot there and possibly can’t imagine it.

        A core issue is the tremendous variation between and among schools. In every city across this country, there’s huge variation in the outcomes for kids. Even where I live in rural America, there is the one so-called “good” public elementary in the neighborhood where most of the professionals live. Their PTA does all kinds of fundraisers, has raised a $40k kitty, and the SAHMs volunteer to make sure the school has a library and arts program. But if you look at the numbers, even a school like that is still mediocre, while it still teaches to the middle and teaches to the test. Cupcakes for everyone on Halloween and a great costume party put on by a cadre of parent volunteers does not equal an effective school. But it sure looks nice! Meanwhile, there are other public elementary schools 5 miles away that have no PTA and 99% of the students are getting free and reduced lunch… that is an outrage. Sure, there are some schools that are doing extraordinarily well, and then you have some that are in the same system who are chronic occupiers of that lower rung of achievement. The 1% and the 99% – here we go again. The enemy in my mind is this tremendous variation. You need to look at what decreases the variation, when you really look at what would allow for all kids to move to the level of performance where many of our children already are.

        It is more honest to say that we have two systems of public education, not one. The first of them is based principally, though not entirely, in the suburbs of this country and in some of the wealthier urban jurisdictions and districts. That is a public school system that could be better and should be better. In many respects it is mediocre, as I’ve said – particularly when compared to our international peers in the advanced industrial nations. But it is not failing most of its students.

        The second system of public education, which is based principally in poorer urban and rural areas, is absolutely in crisis. Too many of the students in those schools are dropping out well before high school graduation. Too many are receiving high school diplomas that do not certify academic confidence in basic subjects. Too many are being left unprepared for the world of work. Too many are being left unprepared to go on to higher education and advanced technical training. Those schools are indeed in crisis and they require emergency treatment. How schools like this they have become increasingly invisible in our national discussions really troubles me.

      • becca Says:

        So, there is a cute video of a teacher at a KIPP Philadelphia school explaining the marshmallow experiment to kids- was KIPP the charter school group you were thinking of? KIPP received financial support from the Gates foundation (although the news article I read was about vouching for their bank loans not grants).

        As an aside, there was also a nice NPR piece on public school funding in Philadelphia just this morning (http://www.npr.org/2013/11/21/246193561/kids-pay-the-price-in-fight-over-fixing-philadelphia-schools).

        For reference, accoding to the wikipedia page citing KIPPs own data, KIPP gets many more of their kids into college, where they graduate at a rate of 33% (about the national average, which is 31%, but well above the 8% rate for kids coming from comparable economic backgrounds). The hardest part about all of this type of charter school research is that its never randomized, so while the results are hopeful, the minimum interpretation seems to be that subsets of poor kids aren’t as badly off as all of them, not that the poor kids at KIPP do better because they are at KIPP (http://mikethemadbiologist.com/?s=kipp). It should be noted that KIPP involves a lot more instruction time (60% longer days). To the academics- would you be willing to increase the students in your programs odds of graduating in your major from 8% to 33% if you had to teach 60% more classes ? What about teaching 60% more for no more pay, since the policy appeal of charters is that they are cheaper? What about for being paid 22k instead of 45k (the median pay difference in teacher salary in State College Pennsylvania for charter school vs. public school. NB- median income in this town is 60k, so that may give you a Cost of Living rule of thumb).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It might be KIPP, the research I saw was in DC schools, not Philadelphia.

        There is a lot of research on school programs using school lotteries as their source of variation. It finds mixed results– a lot depends on the details of the system. Charters aren’t a magic bullet in which the invisible hand always works. (I got into a huge argument in grad school with someone who ended up as an education researcher at a top 5 school when he showed that “teacher training doesn’t work” using an experiment in one school district and he didn’t even know what the training was. I kept saying, “Doesn’t it matter what kind of training is going on? Maybe some training works even if this doesn’t.”) The details matter.

        Like I said above, Philadelphia is not representative of all school systems. Yes, Philadelphia is broken. It would be broken without charters too. It, by itself, is not an indictment of charters, academic research, teachers unions, union-busting, etc. etc. etc. It is a single case that is messed up in many ways and has been messed up in many ways for a long time.

        Charters are doing better in the South and don’t even pay their teachers much less, mainly because there’s no unions and teachers get paid very low $ anyway. Like I said, most charters (and most charters are *not* in Philadelphia, and are optional etc.) deliver the same services as publics at a lower cost. Update: I just went to a talk at lunch: whether or not it’s at a lower cost depends on the angle you’re looking at– public schools with economies of scale are lower cost than charters, but controlling for district size, charters are less expensive. (And the difference is both sports and the fact that charters on average have less experienced teachers, primarily because charters haven’t been around as long, and don’t pay a premium for experience past 10 years or so, although for 0-10 years, the salaries are very similar.)

        The majority charter school experience isn’t what gets in the news, because Philadelphia and DC and Chicago are sexy. And they’re seriously broken. And they’ve been seriously broken for decades. That’s why Gates etc. are getting involved– same reason they often first try experimental therapy on patients who are dying. If you don’t know if something works, it may make sense to try it someplace where things can’t get worse. There’s not much downside and there’s a lot of potential for upside. Charters aren’t the only interventions being tried in these cities. Chicago has opened up its school system for decades.

        (And nobody complains about the Charters that have been around for a long time, except for the segregation aspects, and some complaints about scalping the best kids for test-score reasons… #2 and I are a bit biased because we benefited from a charter school.)

  4. Mina Says:

    While I find GP midly amusing with her out-of-touchness with the real world, I was surprised to read such mean comments on an interview of hers in which she talked about her post-partum depression. People deny her even the right to have PPD, as if that were handed out on merit or something. Where usually the public is silent and ignoring women talking abut miscarriages and PPD, sometimes blaming them for not keeping such ‘womanly business’ quiet where it belongs, in the dark perhaps, in her case, or Mariah Carey’s, people who have no connection with m/c or PPD become quite vitriolic. Those who have experienced first, or second hand, such ordeals are shaking their heads, or speak up. So even when she wanted to make a difference and talk about something important, she couldn’t, because of her reputation. I cannot think that she could do any harm, because she would be disregarded and ignored all over again. Isn’t it better off for her to live in her bubble, with her gorgeous musician of a husband and her cute pair of children?

  5. Mina Says:

    Sorry, how rude of me, I have been following you for so long that I did not feel I need to introduce myself. Hi, I am Mina. Nice to read you. :-)

  6. Linda Says:

    Well said. But I rarely hear about these celebrity issues because I don’t read/view anything related to them. My partner guessed that a story line in last episode of Parks and Recreation (about a local celebrity who wrote an influential blog called Bloosh) was poking fun at GP. I never would have made that connection.

  7. hush Says:

    “It provides circus entertainment to distract us from real problems, like unemployment, failing education systems, or children going hungry while the top 1% gets wealthier and wealthier.” Yes,THIS.

    Celebrity gossip/hating = modern day bread and circuses

    Systemic, nuanced critiques like yours are always great to read. Relatedly, if you have not yet read Helaine Olen’s “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry” then please get thee to your local library or independent bookseller.

  8. oilandgarlic Says:

    I ranted about Gwyneth Paltrow about 2 years ago. That was before the current media attack but now I feel bad supporting the patriarchy !

  9. First Gen American Says:

    In response to Hush’s “hunger games Lottery” comment, that also appears to be fixed. I just moved from a city to the Rich Burb with the drool worthy school budget. Although there was a “school choice option” and we tried getting in on the lottery, we never got in and we were flatly told there was no room and got hung up on. (Like..we don’t take your kind here).

    Now that I’m in that school district and I have access to the parent directory I was curious to see where the city kids came from. Well, I guess I wasn’t shocked to find that the distribution of kids from my former city is almost exclusively from the richest parts of it. They may say it’s a lottery, but they totally cherry picked their applicants. Boo on the elitist scum aspect of it all.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The first step in using a lottery as a source of random variation in economics research is to see if it is truly random. Some are more random than others, and some start out random but get gamed by wealthy parents as time goes on.

  10. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Just saw Diane Ravitch on The Daily Show. To my knowledge she has 3 books on education (I read the first, back in high school).

    IIRC, they say (in chronological order):
    1. The US education system is broken (also we need more things that will become NCLB)
    2. She was wrong in book one about us needing more things that will become NCLB, and apologizes, NCLB is horrific and makes things more broken
    3. There’s nothing wrong with the US education system.

    These are not consistent! You can’t take something broken, do something horrific to it, and it becomes better.

    And yes, poverty is hugely correlated with bad schooling outcomes. Yes, we need another War on Poverty. But that does not mean that absent of poverty, the schools in question are good or that we should give up on trying to intervene in schools. (Hint: housing segregation still leads to racist outcomes.)


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