Oh, Gwyneth. What a week is has been. While I am not planning to teach an entire course on her, or on any other celebrities in the news, I do want to briefly say that her recent gaffe illustrates an important shift in the mothering of the rich and famous and shows how few mothers are immune to the demands of intensive mothering.
When I interviewed (non-celebrity) mothers in graduate school for research on how they verified their identities as “good moms,” they often compared themselves to celebrity mothers. The women I talked to believe that they were “real moms,” while celebrities “[hired] full-time nannies and [bought] outrageous products for their children with the millions of dollars at their disposal.” While the women understood consumption as an important part of motherhood, they also believed that it is in interaction (both with their children and as mothers with others) that they realized their mother identity. Even if these women didn’t have the money those celebrities had, they took the time to actually mother.
Yet, today, many of those same mothers who I interviewed – and others like them – are vilifying Gwyneth for her assertion that it is tough to be a mother when your career takes you away from those opportunities to be a mother. Intensive mothering has come to Hollywood. It is not enough to enrich your child with experiences and activities, or to buy them expensive gifts and clothes. If someone else is doing any of those things, you are failing as a mother.
Granted, I have only read the excerpt of Gwyneth’s interview that is making its way around the internet:
“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 is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”
But I have to believe that she is articulating, albeit not that effectively, exactly what sociologists know about motherhood today. To be considered a good mom, one has to give themselves completely over to their child – not their money, but their time, love, and attention – and Gwyneth and others like her are no exception.
Unfortunately, as the mothers in my study and Gwyneth show, engaging in the mommy wars is yet another way to “do motherhood” and so the battles are destined to continue.
Edited to add: The importance of “acting like a mother” is also at play in the increased issues with paparazzi and children of celebrities. Celebrities have always had children and those children have long been a topic of interest to people, but celebrities are increasingly engaging with their children in the public sphere. They want to be (and to appear) participants in their children’s lives because it is important to their self-verification as parents (and “real” people). The paparazzi has certainly grown and become more invasive, but the shifting ideas about parenthood – and increased importance of parents’ participation in their children’s everyday activities – are also increasing the opportunities the paparazzi have and contributing to the growing availability of images of celebrities with their children.