I don’t know Paris Hilton as a person, but I hate her image, I hate how she got famous on a phony sex scandal, I hate that she went to jail and got off easy and hate that she blithered on about God the one time I got stuck in a room where her Larry King interview was playing.
I also hate how the press gives women like her so much attention while giving hardly any to men who pull the same stunts. I hate how the press presents her as both a laughingstock and someone we should want to emulate – which, of course, is not ironic at all. It’s exactly what they mean. The tabloid reading public likes having someone to point and laugh at, to distract themselves from how sad and possibly demeaning their own lives are. They’re too invested in the status quo to dare laugh at heterosexual males doing stupid things, so they require misbehaving women and gay men to fill that need.
But I also hate how everyone blames Paris Hilton, as if she single-handedly created a world in which homemade porn discovered “accidentally on purpose” can launch a woman’s career (bet Rob Lowe is seething, too) and drunk driving is so much sexier when celebrity babes do it than when some ordinary middle class jackass does it.
None of this is why I feel sorry for her, though. I was watching Legally Blond the other day – which has been on cable, like 30 times in the past two weekends, you can’t miss it – and there’s a line from Reese Witherspoon’s character in which she says she doesn’t think her professor took her seriously. She adds as an afterthought, “I don’t even think my own parents take me seriously.”
I wonder if Paris Hilton’s parents ever took her seriously. Do you think they ever suggested to her she had talent or brains, or could perhaps write books or become a lawyer or an activist or a botanist? Do you think she ever heard the phrase “You can do anything you put your mind to – I believe in you”? Or do you think she mostly just got told to stand up straight and not chew her nails?
There’s no question Paris Hilton is privileged: she was born not having to worry about money, almost any mess she makes can be cleaned up by staff (and capitalized upon), and she meets the narrow beauty standard our society holds over women. But in one very important way, I am so much luckier than she is: I was taken seriously by my mom and a handful of teachers and music instructors. I was told I had talent and intelligence. I was told I could do anything I set my mind to. And that gave me the impression I deserved respect, and when people treated me with disrespect it was usually because they envied me my self-respect.
Paris Hilton may have it too easy, make stupid choices, and deserve consequences money and fame rescue her from unfairly. But she also strikes me as someone who has no idea there’s anything for a girl to do but be a starlet (even the word is gendered: marginally talented hot young male celebs don’t get a disparaging label like that). There’s nothing wrong with pursuing fame (except what it usually does to you). But whatever you do in life, it should be with self-respect and an awareness that while no one can literally do everything they put their minds to, you have a mind to put to whatever you want to try, and you can expect things of yourself even if no one else does.