Leave Kate Winslet Alone

A column about life, culture, and politics.
June 6 2013 4:56 PM

Hideous Kinky

Kate Winslet has three different kids by different fathers. So?

Kate Winslet with then-husband Sam Mendes and their children on April 8, 2010, in New York City.
Kate Winslet with then-husband Sam Mendes and their children on April 8, 2010, in New York City.

Photo by James Devaney/Wireimage/Getty Images

Though we like to think of ourselves as living in tolerant modern times, the news that Kate Winslet is having three children with three different fathers has been greeted with a pretty shocking level of judgmental outrage. In a scathing denunciation of Winslet’s “disastrous choices” in The Telegraph, Judith Woods writes, “three children by three different fathers doesn’t look good on anyone,” and “The fallout for the little human beings you have brought into the world is too awful to contemplate.” (To which one immediately wonders, how exactly do you know that those little human beings aren’t thriving?)

Katie Roiphe Katie Roiphe

Katie Roiphe, professor at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, is the author of Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages and In Praise of Messy Lives.

This fracas is reminiscent of the outspoken disapproval of the British presenter Ulrika Jonsson for having four children with four different fathers a few years ago (a situation the British tabloids called “4x4”). At the time, Jonsson wrote a very articulate piece defending herself against all the insane vitriol being thrown at her. She pointed out quite reasonably that when male celebrities like Rod Stewart have many children with many different mothers they are affectionately regarded as sexually powerful, but when women do the same thing they are viciously attacked as sluts or irresponsible.

Still, Jonsson’s article had a disturbing undertone of apology. Jonsson clearly felt she had to apologize for her choices because the forces of conventionality are that ingrained, the prejudices that deep. She wrote, “I should point out that having four children by four fathers was never part of some grand plan.” But why should she have to explain to anyone, let alone strangers, why she had a child, or why a relationship didn’t endure? Why should she have to account for her romantic or reproductive choices in this particular way? Let those people attacking her try to feed and read bedtime stories to four children with four different fathers, and see if they have time on their hands to worry quite so much about what other people are doing with their lives.

Advertisement

Not one of these judgmental harridans is standing inside the kitchen of either Kate Winslet or Ulrika Jonsson watching them pour cereal for their scandalous progeny, and not one can say whether they are good mothers or whether the love in those households is somehow inferior, less warm, less resourceful than that in their own dreary homes. (I myself am guessing it isn’t.)

The vehemence of the attacks against Winslet, Jonsson, and other less prominent single mothers with children from different fathers, in the course of their daily lives, raises the question of why a woman living outside of conventional family structures is so threatening. Why do we take it so personally if a woman’s sexual adventures are not confined to a single marriage, if a mother has a complicated or messy romantic life? It seems to me that these unconventional mothers are taken as an attack, as representing some dangerous form of sexual anarchy, as Daniel Bergner calls it in his recent story about the female libido, that should be contained, condemned, and, well, tarred and feathered. These pundits and commenters and Twitter harridans are pretending to be worried about the children, but I think in this instance, the old feminist professors were right. They are worried about women whose sexuality defies or challenges the usual structures.

The cooler or more rational-minded among us might ask, how can anyone know that Winslet has made “disastrous choices”? As Cristina Nehring points out in her brilliant book, A Vindication of Love, just because a relationship plays itself out and does not last forever does not mean it is a “failure.”* Some of the great or passionate experiences of life are ephemeral, and our obsession with marriages that last 50 years, whether or not they are happy, as the only form of romantic “success” is perverse.

Why, one might ask, does anyone care how other people’s households are structured? Why, specifically, Ms. Judith Woods, are you so defensive, so pruriently disapproving of Kate Winslet’s most intimate choices? What personal unhappiness is making you so stridently interested in Kate Winslet’s fascinating love affairs; what dullness or absence in your own life are you compensating for? You may notice that those of us with children from different fathers rarely write articles attacking those who have two or three children with the same man they are still married to for being boring, unadventurous, or lacking imagination for life’s possibilities, for turning their backs on the fullness and vividness and variety of human experience. I think the only appropriate response to Kate Winslet’s news would be congratulations and Godspeed.

Correction, June 7, 2013: This article originally misidentified the title of Cristina Nehring's book. It is titled A Vindication of Love, not The Vindication of Love. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM The Global Millionaires Club Is Booming and Losing Its Exclusivity
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 21 2014 1:36 PM Single Quotes or Double Quotes? It's Really Quite Simple.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller's Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Doctor, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.