Vanity Fair's attack reflects a wider loathing, but at least the actor is brave enough to venture beyond Hollywood's accepted script for women
Gwyneth Paltrow is feuding with Vanity Fair, which is not easy if you are a famous actor: the magazine, dedicated to the placement of luxury goods into spindly hands, is essentially a marketing arm of Hollywood – although it acknowledges the current wretchedness of the medium, consciously or not, by repeatedly placing dead ("better") actresses on its cover. Even so, it's widely reported that Vanity Fair is working on a "take-down" of Paltrow, which is yet to appear. She has responded by emailing famous friends, who I imagine as the Bratz dolls, telling them not to contribute. Now she has guest-edited the December edition of Red magazine, filling it with philosophy from her lifestyle website, the oddly named Goop.
But why "take down" Paltrow? This may be a personal vendetta on the part of Vanity Fair's editor Graydon Carter. (Who would be near a professional courtier like Carter when he turns?) But the dislike that Paltrow engenders is widespread enough to be interesting; it reminds me, of all things, of the fascinating case of Samantha Brick.
Brick was the Daily Mail contributor who emerged last year shouting, in heavily edited Daily Mail speakese, that she was beautiful and that other women hated her. The response to a proposition that has some basis in scientific fact was astonishing; Nick Griffin has a friendlier postbag, by some wretched margin. Women managed to prove Brick's point for her, although obliviously and with all the moral grandiosity they claimed to most despise in her. Yet Brick has interesting things to say about how women mistreat one another, if, again, perhaps obliviously; and the introduction of her glaring French husband, Pascal, into the story, photographed in combat fatigues with a gun, induced enough merriment for gratitude, and maybe pity, to be the only polite response.
Indeed, I suspect that Brick's blustering is a facade she herself does not believe in; but who cares about that when the headline is naked self-satisfaction? She was annihilated, and by the sisterhood too. You can hear the echo in Vulture.com's Practical Guide to Not Hating Gwyneth Paltrow; in Star magazine's election of Paltrow as most irritating celebrity; and in Paltrow's pre-emptive self-defence in Red – "Do what is right for you," she says, "and don't give a shit what anyone else thinks."
I do not know if Graydon Carter would self-identify as a feminist, but I am certain that the loathing of Brick and Paltrow is largely driven by women. My colleague Hadley Freeman called Brick a Trojan Horse for the Mail's misogyny, and this is true, but she was also a Trojan Horse for the left's contempt for the Daily Mail, whose most aggressive critics are also, mysteriously, its most avid readers. As Howard Stern's confused producers realised in the shock jock's biopic, Private Parts: "The average Stern fan listens for an hour and 20 minutes; the average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours".
Paltrow – successful, opinionated and seemingly happy – now emits Goop, her very silly website that aches for parody with its monied rustic fantasies and inspirational monologues about fruit. But this is still an example of a woman venturing beyond the accepted Hollywood script and expressing her thoughts about clothing, motherhood and nutrition – even if, again, I do not believe the facade. (Read the recipes. They bespeak nothing but self-denial, the better to fit into the clothes.)
What to do? Ignore the tedious subject matter (perhaps Carter is threatened by Goop, which is in itself a possible movie with a starring role for Paltrow) and hope that other women likewise seek guru status, even with a constituency of one? Or damn her on the spurious grounds of wealth, beauty and apparent good fortune?
Gwyneth Paltrow is not a politician. She does not deny things to other women. In fact, she seems to want women to have what she has, which seems to be mostly expensive clothing and cookery books.
The greatest criticism of Paltrow is that she cannot see beyond her lovely nose, which is rational in an actor. The fury, and obsession, this most self-evading art form excites in others is for another column. Meanwhile, allowing only the women you agree with – or identify with, or respect – to have a voice is not feminism; that is not sisterhood, but something else. I call it spite.