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Is Privilege-Shaming a Thing? Why All Work is Important Work

Is Privilege-Shaming a Thing? Why All Work is Important Work

by Ana Wang

October 26, 2014


Gwyneth Paltrow makes a reported $16 million per film, Blake made roughly the average American wage for one episode of her role as wealthy socialite Serena Van Der Woodsen in Gossip Girl, and in 2009 at age 19, Emma Watson was named Hollywood’s highest paying actress.

These women are privileged, beautiful, wealthy, white, movie stars.

They’ve also been picked apart, criticized and poked fun at in the media for the desire and ambition to do something beyond making movies. (Hey, if most of us change careers 6 times in our lives, why can’t the most privileged of us do the same?)

The media often glosses over the facts, and the things women are actually doing, instead often focusing on things like appearances, pitting one woman against another, or family life (“What’s it like balancing career with family?” say they to Jen but not to Ben).

A few years ago, I googled Gwyneth Paltrow and was taken aback by all the internet hate I saw. So taken aback in fact, that I remain fixated on it for hours. (Clearly, I’m still fixated on it.) I didn’t quite understand what it was that people could so openly hate about a woman they most likely have never met, even if she did say a few odd, condescending, ignorant things once in a while, as I’m sure most people do. And then I got it: these people couldn’t handle a clearly privileged woman telling them to buy things they couldn’t afford. She was often noted as being “out of touch” – and that’s the nicest thing people were saying. In reality, all she is doing is sharing things that her privileged upbringing and movie star status could afford. It makes sense to me: she is, after all, not really like the rest of us at all. But that makes her the internet’s favorite person to poke fun of.

When Blake Lively unleashed Preserve unto the world, I prepared myself (no, I am not Blake – but I prepared myself) for the jabs – sure enough we heard it all: she was called out as another Gwyneth wannabe, a privileged woman who thinks she knows what people want. I secretly hoped that she would prove them wrong, that a girl could follow her desires to build something meaningful without being judged for a privilege that is ironically the result of either something she was born with or something she has worked for. In every interview I’ve read post-Preserve launch, the interviewer comes in with one main operative: to either prove or disprove the notion that Blake Lively is the next Gwyneth Paltrow. Blake sure enough, knows this and has a wealth of stories at her beck and call to demonstrate that she is indeed just like the rest of us, as best as a charismatic, blonde, movie star with a penchant for homemaking can be.

If you can’t tell whether or not I’m a Blake fan, I will straight up tell you: I am. I like that she’s doing something different. I like that she’s carving her own path. I don’t think she’s trying to tell any of us how to live, as many who denounce goop and Preserve are suggesting – she’s just, probably like the rest of us, trying to make her way in the world. With a little bit of money and time on her hands, why not start something she really wants to start?

Emma Watson recently gave a talk supporting the He for She campaign, putting herself out there to speak on a still controversial subject. A few days later, I happened upon an article that claimed her speech wasn’t groundbreaking at all – the obvious undercurrent behind that notion? That Emma doesn’t deserve to be recognized for her work because she is white, rich and privileged. A better spokesperson, in the eyes of the writer, would’ve been someone who was perhaps transgendered, lesbian, of an ethnic minority, and not a celebrity – then, the speech would be worth applauding.

It seems pretty clear: being privileged draws quick judgements, often negative, about one’s ability to empathize, understand, struggle, and pretty fundamentally, to work.

Recognizing this is what gave me pause to think about these women of privilege and applaud their efforts to grow and do meaningful work, rather than fall victim to the lull of the public’s watch to keep them perfect caricatures whose only service is to portray fantasy characters for the rest of us to judge and criticize. In reality, they are multi-dimensional, real, ambitious women with talent, interests, and most importantly, as a byproduct of their fame and privilege, a voice.

And then I discovered, these women are doing things worth talking about: they are building companies that support people, causes and the environment, unbeknownst to most of the public because the media doesn’t think these stories and facts are as interesting to tell as the myriad of stories you’ve undoubtedly been hearing. A wasted opportunity, if you ask me.

Among those on goop’s roster are many of the sustainable designers I know and love: Amour Vert, Ecoalf, Chinti and Parker, Stella McCartney, Araks, Banjo and Matilda, Clare Vivier, Vapour Beauty, TROA, and Beautycounter. Whether Gwyneth’s knack for selecting sustainable design is a conscious effort due to her interests or simply a byproduct of sustainable design really becoming more mainstream in certain segments of the market, goop is one of the few mainstream e-commerce ventures that features such a high percentage of eco-friendly, ethical, locally made and non-toxic brands, without it being blatantly obvious.

Blake Lively’s Preserve has hardwired to its ethos a focus on celebrating makers of Main Street America. When Blake recently stepped out wearing everything Preserve, I couldn’t believe that one writer focused on the blatant self promotion. Why shouldn’t she promote her own company? Her own company, by the way, that supports the efforts of makers and designers across America. It’s not often that a celebrity with such style caliber and influence steps out dressed head to toe in the wares of independent designers. In the age of social media and celebrity culture, Blake is offering an unparalleled voice and platform to the indie design community, many of whom produce using sustainable materials, craft handmade items, or manufacture locally. This is the indie design community that I believe has, for the most part, missed out on the support of style bloggers who tend to reach for fast fashion or designer.

Well, Blake’s here, sauntering around town for the media, wearing Amour Vert, Kristinit, and Korovilas. Thumbs up. 

No one is going to call Gwyneth Paltrow or Blake Lively pioneers for bringing ethical and sustainable fashion to the mainstream, but they are doing it anyway, quietly, while the rest of us fixate on what Gwyneth thinks about her ex’s new girlfriend, or Blake’s pregnant belly.

Emma Watson is bringing feminism to the forefront for many young women (and men) who had previously written off the subject thinking it was a moot topic in today’s day and age (it’s not). Emma is also very involved in the sustainable fashion movement: she was the face of the Green Carpet Challenge, and has co-designed fashion collections for two ethical labels, People Tree and PureThread.

Gwyneth, Blake and Emma are movie stars, yes – but they’re out there doing meaningful work, if not for anyone else, than at the very least for themselves. They prove that there is never a better time to aim for more than always.

Look beneath the surface: there is always more than what we like to hear. Maybe beneath is exactly what the world needs, more than gossip, criticism and privilege-shaming. More than that, these women are spreading love – whether for profit or not, it’s a shame we’re not recognizing the things they’re doing and struggling to do, no matter how different we perceive that struggle to be compared to our own. After all, they could just rest on their laurels for the rest of their lives, if they wanted to. But they've consciously chosen to try for more, despite being very aware that every move they make will be scrutinized, criticized, downplayed. They're a lot braver than I am, that's for sure.

Photo: Rolling Stone

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