Two years ago, one of my daughters made the colossal mistake of declaring, to the family, that she was not going to finish high school.
“I’m just going to marry a rich man,” she said. She’d been watching a few too many episodes of The Kardashians.
Fortunately for her in the long run – albeit unfortunately for her in the short run — we all set about educating her.
Her older brother, with all the tact of a teenage boy, used logic to explain to her, repeatedly, that her ambition was in all respects equivalent to prostitution. He, of course, used the synonym for prostitution that has only one syllable, since it brought his sister to tears faster.
I was more diplomatic. For the next three months, every time we passed a particularly grotesque older man on the street, I would suggest that he was probably quite rich and that maybe, if she were lucky, she could marry HIM.
Our strategy worked beautifully. Said daughter has hunkered down academically and now plans to go to Harvard. Phew!
All this rose up again in my mind, and in our dinner table conversations, with the news that the young, beautiful actress Katie Holmes is divorcing the highest paid actor in Hollywood after one child and five years of matrimony. My kids and I talked about why she is leaving Tom Cruise now, and the rumors that she is protecting their daughter Suri from incipient influences of Cruise’s religion, Scientology.
Then we got to the meat of the dilemma: Why did Katie Holmes marry Tom Cruise in the first place? And, perhaps more importantly, did it pay off for her to do so?
It’s always gratifying when you can use celebrities to engender philosophical debates that would make Immanuel Kant proud. Young, beautiful, rising television star is courted by older, still-handsome, immensely rich and powerful movie star. She stays married for five years, builds her celebrity profile by appearing on dozens of magazine covers with famous husband and their famous child, and walks away with a bite-sized chunk of his wealth in child support, as well as a nice home in Montecito, California.
Plus a beautiful daughter she gets to keep! An extra special party favor. What’s not to like?
Well, the standard counter-argument rests on self-respect. My son would say all Katie Holmes negotiated was the price of her services, not whether or not she qualifies as a prostitute. And maybe he is right.
Perhaps she married for love, not a boost to her bank account and fame quotient. The prenup she signed – which reportedly limits her mad money to the assets she brought to the marriage – supports the claim that she didn’t marry for wealth accumulation. Maybe it took five years to find out that her beloved was more controlling and Machiavellian than she first thought while understandably blinded by his looks, dazzling fame, and interest in little old her. She called it quits while she still had time to rebuild her career and her life.
My jaded view is to side with Ms. Holmes here. Women, even beautiful actresses, live in a world where the deck is quite unfairly stacked in men’s favor. Men outearn women at the going rate of about one dollar to eighty cents of pay. The imbalance is even greater in Hollywood, where the highest paid actress (Angelina Jolie) earned $30 million last year compared to the highest paid Hollywood actor (yes, Tom Cruise), who earned $75 million.
Katie Holmes surely had noted that any actress’s window of opportunity runs viciously short. She’d seen firsthand that most women face vastly diminished roles and opportunities after 40, right when their male counterparts are riding a financial and fame peak (think Michael Douglas, George Clooney, and Sean Connery vs. Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, or Diane Keaton). Plus she had probably taken into account that men can become fathers whenever they choose, gaily postponing parenthood until their careers wane in their 60s or later. Female actresses who postpone motherhood risk their fertility drying up precisely at the same time as their careers.
Perhaps Katie Holmes approached marriage to Tom Cruise like a savvy feminist businesswoman. She played the role of a lifetime as Mrs. Cruise #3 and the devoted mother to Tom’s only biological daughter. For her efforts, she (and Suri!) received a handsome clothing and living allowance, plus a potential 17% of Tom’s income in child support according to New York splitsville protocols.
No matter exactly how the divorce plays out, Katie Holmes has garnered priceless fame from her marriage. And she silenced her biological clock with a baby during a career period when many of her female peers were postponing pregnancy in order to capitalize on that short career window offered female actresses. Maybe she kept her self-esteem fully intact by never lying to herself about her goals and the deal she was cutting with success and celebrity in a world rigged towards men.
Maybe Katie Holmes made the deal of a lifetime by marrying – and now divorcing — Tom Cruise. Just don’t tell my daughter I think so.