Gwyneth, Ivanka, and the End of the Effortless White Woman

Kimberly Harrington exposes some deep uncomfortable feelings about the faces of successful women and the implications thereof.

The Effortless White Woman is successful both personally and professionally. The Effortless White Woman is married, usually to a white man. The Effortless White Woman is a mother — she is not too barren or too busy with work to fulfill her feminine obligations — yet her children seem to raise themselves, to self-maintain, like potted cactuses. The EWW does not raise children—she enjoys them, is fulfilled by them. The EWW ponders her children, with great regret, as she goes off to work. The Effortless White Woman makes a kajillion dollars at work, so she must not ponder her children that much, because, unlike most women , her earning potential has not been compromised by them. The Effortless White Woman also enjoys and is fulfilled by her career. In between the time spent maintaining her children and her marriage and her job — this amounts, somehow, to endless free time — the Effortless White Woman finds ways to enjoy and fulfill herself.

Ever since we heard about that fatal 53 percent of white women who cast their votes for Trump, the public has been primed to see idealized, wealthy white femininity as the handmaiden of oppression. That bitter recognition has led to public outrage at all sorts of women, whether it be Louise Linton posing with a sheet of dollar bills, Taylor Swift conspicuously refusing to call out her Nazi fans , or, yes, Gwyneth Paltrow herself. Betsy DeVos just got her yacht set loose to wander the Ohio waterways. It’s rough out there.

the anger at the Effortless White Woman strikes at something deeper than the politics of the moment. It’s about womanhood, and about rejecting any vision of the world in which being a woman is easy. “Female anger” is almost a cliché these days, but it is safe to say that, since at least 2016, formerly apolitical women have come smack up against the brutality and unfairness that misogyny entails, the system that keeps them subject to violence and career derailment and the casual, daily diminution of their personhood at the hands of men. It’s become increasingly clear that life as a woman is dirty, stressful, unglamorous business, and to think that you can rise above with a little meditation and a juice cleanse has become laughable. When you live in a garbage dump, no amount of detoxing gets you clean.

The poreless glamour of a Gwyneth or an Ivanka seems more and more like a lie, and a harmful one, meant to indoctrinate us into the idea that everything could be easy if there weren’t something wrong with us. The woman I wanted to be, all those years ago, was just a mirror image of everything I disliked about myself — a deferred way of calling myself uptight, dirty, fat, ugly, lazy, poor. She represented, most of all, the idea that my unhappiness was my own fault, and that I could escape it if I would only transform myself into someone worthy of contentment.

if there is any lasting value in this moment — and I think there is — it comes down to the fact that women are rejecting the idea that happiness is an individual responsibility, or that we should aspire to inner peace when the outer world is a catastrophe. Women will be happy when we live in a world that supports women. It’s not individual effort, but collective protest, that will bring that world into being.





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