Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow in January 2014. Photo: Getty
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If you’re going to gossip about the failure of a celebrity marriage, at least make it original

Now that Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have split up, brace yourself for weeks of repetitive jibes at her “craziness” and his “reticence”.

Ladies and gents, it’s happened again: another celebrity marriage has gone down the shitter. Yes, the break-up – sorry, “conscious uncoupling” – of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin has been making headlines in the last 48 hours, after an announcement on Paltrow’s infamously irritating blog caused the server to crash within minutes. “It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate,” the admittedly poignant post ran. “We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children, and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time.”

Predictably, it didn’t take long for someone to get their claws out. Anne Perkins, for instance, branded Paltrow’s whole psychological take on the break-up “deluded tosh”, reminding the couple “you have messed up other lives. It is quite likely that the only person feeling good about all this may be you. Hope that thought doesn’t mess up the inner cathedral.” Clearly, Perkins prefers the tough love approach, rather than the cosy psycho-babble offered up by two doctors quoted on Goop who suggest dealing with a break-up by changing your belief structure and embracing divorce as a spiritual progression. Including advice on how to navigate a divorce in the same breath as announcing your own is very Gwyneth Paltrow.

And yes, it’s true that including an excerpt from two alternative-thinking doctors on how divorce has “much to do with the lack of intercourse between our internal masculine and feminine energies” comes across as – for lack of a better term – wanky. But then again, who hasn’t been a colossal wanker when some seriously upsetting, life-changing event has knocked them for six? People whose lives feel like they are unravelling tend to be notoriously difficult to stomach – it’s a rare person who hasn’t had a Kristen-Wiig-in-Bridesmaids moment at some point, producing the behavioural equivalent of throwing oneself through a gigantic cookie in rage and then attempting to upset a concrete fountain while screaming, “Is this what you want? You and your delicious cookie?!” We’ve all been there. And if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin - a kale evangelist and a prominent member of one of the most boring bands in the world – it seems fitting that you would freak out via the medium of “conscious uncoupling”.

As entertaining as this may be for the rest of us, there’s no denying that the Paltrow-Martin family are most likely experiencing an expected amount of emotional fallout. “Internal masculine and feminine energies” and “divine endoskeletons” aside, all evidence points to the fact that they both remain human, and experience human feelings. So what’s about to follow, despite their pleas for privacy, is as depressing as it is predictable: paparazzi photographers hidden in bushes outside their houses, faux-sympathetic Daily Mail pieces that speculate on the damage done to their children (with accompanying creepy kiddie photos), front page covers of gossip magazines proclaiming the “woes of tragic Gwyneth”. Because, let’s face it, we know that it won’t be “tragic Chris” who adorns the pages of everything from the Mirror to Grazia. It’s Gwyneth all the way.

Perhaps it won’t even be Gwyneth, in fact, but “Gwynnie” or “Gwyn”. That’s the tack a lot of celebrity commentators take with women in the throes of a break-up: diminutive nicknames, hyperbolic sighing about how “devastated” the woman in question must be, snide remarks about how her male counterpart is probably “out partying” or “seen eyeing up” a Miley Cyrus lookalike. A month or so later, photos which might otherwise be no purported cause for alarm are suddenly sold as evidence that “Gwyn loses scary amounts of weight as divorce takes its toll,” or – if she happens to be smiling – “GP proves that you can get through a break-up and still look fabulous, as she shows off her newly toned body so Chris can see exactly what he’s missing”. The worst, however, will be if an unfortunate angle catches a small roll of stomach fat or an unflattering double chin: immediate evidence of “Gwynnie losing grip and piling on the pounds as rumours grow of Chris flirting with size six party girls at an unconfirmed sex party”. Mark our words: in the eyes of the media, Gwyneth will be “tragic”, “heartbroken”, “sad”, “losing grip”, or at the very best “brave”; Chris will be a party boy celebrating the loss of his old ball and chain, at the very worst “cold”.

The fact that female celebrities will be consistently portrayed in this way after a break-up or divorce is implicitly accepted by everyone, journalists and readers alike. We rarely stop to wonder why the woman is supposedly an emotional wreck or a binge-eating mess while her ex escapes scot-free, with the space to lose or gain weight as he pleases without fear of the long lens or the “circle of shame”. Nowhere does the stereotype about women being crazed hormonal harpies and men being restrained, logical decision-makers play out more obviously in the twenty-first century than in the gossip media. Sadly, Paltrow no doubt knows this, and is probably already concocting a strategy with her agent for when the shit hits the fan. Expect all of those claims of her “turmoil” to be followed up by interviews a few months down the line, hoping to “set the record straight” about those “turbulent few weeks without Chris by her side”. Time and time again, we see this kind of damage control come into action; without it, the gossip mill just keeps on churning in a negative direction, a crazed whirlwind fervour surrounding the woman and the woman only.

We can’t change the entire structure of gossip magazines, but we can keep loudly questioning why they operate in this way. Because you don’t have to be a regular reader of Heat to be affected by what’s written on the front of it; like Page Three, it’s a sexist institution that needs to be called to account, whether or not you consider the Sun a bastion of quality journalism or not. So we make a plea here to all the writers poised to pick over Gwyneth’s thigh muscle and armpit hair: please, don’t do another “crazy lady and reticent bloke” job on G and C’s relationship. Even if you have to be bitchy (well, you are gossip columnists), we enjoy our bitchiness with a healthy dollop of diversity. Make it seething, if you must, or make it sympathetic. But over and above both of those things, please, for the love of God, make it original.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.