You find insight in the oddest places sometimes. It came to me in this article about Gwyneth Paltrow’s business “Goop” in the New York Times. It’s a curious business model, conflicting head-on with the latest social justice ideals of pandering to certain identities of the downtrodden, and instead using her “immense privilege” to find and market things that only the woke and wealthy can buy. Provided they’re into some particularly dumb stuff, as G.P. is.
But that’s not the insight, and if anything, is the antithesis of insight as it’s premised on rhetorical flourish to spin her way out of every putative social justice belief with the plausible deniability of the finest jargonmeister. Rather, it’s the market she tapped.
The minute the phrase “having it all” lost favor among women, wellness came in to pick up the pieces. It was a way to reorient ourselves — we were not in service to anyone else, and we were worthy subjects of our own care. It wasn’t about achieving; it was about putting ourselves at the top of a list that we hadn’t even previously been on. Wellness was maybe a result of too much having it all, too much pursuit, too many boxes that we’d seen our exhausted mothers fall into bed without checking off. Wellness arrived because it was gravely needed.
The first sentence is illuminating. Think Helen Reddy choosing to wear her feminist hairdo in her “I am woman” video. The goal was equality and the means was to grab the world by the balls, whether it wanted to be grabbed or not. The only stumbling block was the laws of physics, that you couldn’t be in two places at the same time. If you wanted to be in the boardroom, you couldn’t be in the kitchen as well.
Rather than face the fact that choices had to be made, or would be made for you, a new narrative arose where indulging one’s own feelings became a substitute for actual accomplishment. You may not have created anything of value, but if you felt like you did, and pretended to feel good about yourself for having done so, it was good enough. Indeed, it was the same thing, even though it wasn’t.
Before we knew it, the wellness point of view had invaded everything in our lives: Summer-solstice sales are wellness. Yoga in the park is wellness. Yoga at work is wellness. Yoga in Times Square is peak wellness. When people give you namaste hands and bow as a way of saying thank you. The organic produce section of Whole Foods. Whole Foods. Hemp. Oprah. CBD. “Body work.” Reiki. So is: SoulCycle, açaí, antioxidants, the phrase “mind-body,” meditation, the mindfulness jar my son brought home from school, kombucha, chai, juice bars, oat milk, almond milk, all the milks from substances that can’t technically be milked, clean anything. “Living your best life.” “Living your truth.” Crystals.
If you need to buy “Living your truth,” then you’re lying to yourself. Goop’s monetizing the lie, and no matter how ridiculous you might view it, or its founder, it’s just a business making money selling what some fool will buy. Isn’t that what makes America great?
Then came the corollary to lapsed equality, the need to have a common enemy, someone to look down on, to blame, to ridicule. By having a whipping boy, one can feign superiority. Nothing bolsters low-esteem more than claiming to be better than another tribe.
This isn’t, of course, to be taken literally or seriously. Of course its writer realizes she’s turned a gender into cartoon characters, and that it’s more a reflection on her personal dating pool than on men. But it evoked Newton’s Third Law, which “proved” her point. Granted, only the most horrible of men could have posted the guy version of this twit, but then, that’s what makes this approach brilliant. You can’t object without proving her “lived truth.”
Jessica Valenti, a High Priestess of the religion, explains that all true feminists should bring their awakening to their sons.
Though feminists have always recognized the anguish that boys face in a patriarchal system, we haven’t built the same structures of support for boys that we have for girls. If we want to stop young men from being taken in by sexism, that has to change.
In the past, one might suspect sons to be raised by their mothers, or at least their fathers who were chosen by their mothers as a source of seed if not marriage or life partner. But Valenti posits that the invisible hand of the Patriarchy raises their boys, that Jordan Peterson sneaks into their bedrooms at night and radicalizes them. And that mothers have failed their little boys by not offering them “structures of support.”
One of feminism’s biggest successes was creating an alternative culture for girls and women seeking respite from mainstream constraints. Girls worried about unrealistic beauty standards, for example, can turn to the body positivity movement. Those of us who find traditional media’s treatment of women unappealing can read feminist blogs and magazines; female college students who have critical questions about how gender shapes their lives can take women’s studies classes.
No, this won’t get you into the boardroom, but it will give you all the excuses you could possibly need to explain why you can’t have it all, why you need not bother and why you’re just as successful as people who actually success despite your utter lack of accomplishment. And why shouldn’t boys have a support system to fail too?
The weirder Goop went, the more its readers rejoiced. And then, of course, the more Goop was criticized: by mainstream doctors with accusations of pseudoscience, by websites like Slate and Jezebel saying it was no longer ludicrous — no, now it was dangerous. And elsewhere people would wonder how Gwyneth Paltrow could try to solve our problems when her life seemed almost comically problem-free.
So what if Goop’s biggest seller is jade vagina eggs? People are buying and Paltrow is making money.
“I can monetize those eyeballs,” [Paltrow] told the students. Goop had learned to do a special kind of dark art: to corral the vitriol of the internet and the ever-present shall we call it cultural ambivalence about G.P. herself and turn them into cash. It’s never clickbait, she told the class. “It’s a cultural firestorm when it’s about a woman’s vagina.” The room was silent. She then cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!” as if she were yodeling.
Sure, Goop sells overpriced crap to fools. And fools buy it by the truckload. The problem with Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t that Goop sells ludicrous, even dangerous, products, but that what she’s selling is P.T Barnum’s alternative to excuses. And for that, she offers no apologies. She has something to teach young men and women, and the real value of wellness is that somebody is dumb enough to buy it for an absurdly high price.