In the Celebrity College Cheating Scandal, Moms Did the Emotional Labor
News that Felicity Huffman, the first of the parents swept up in the college cheating scandal to be sentenced, would be going to prison for 14 days sent a powerful message that the judge took the case seriously. Her husband stood by, his hands on her shoulders.
Yet, in this story it is equally telling who is not going to jail. Just as moms are more likely to shuttle the kids to school, doctors appointments and play dates, it seem wealthy mothers are also more likely to cheat for their offspring. Or at least take the fall for it. To paraphrase F.Scott Fitzgerald, the truly rich are not like you and me, except in so far as that even when it comes to power couples the women shoulder the lion’s share of the emotional labor.
Which is not to say that the cheating scandal is not offensive or wrong. Every spot bought with money, bribes and cheating robbed another more deserving student. It’s clear most of these kids were not academically inclined enough to care whether they ended up at Harvard, a state school or even no college. But Operation Varsity Blues is revealing in what it says about American society.
While everyone wants the best for their kid, it’s telling that even celebrities feel the need to cheat. Income inequality and social mobility are precarious enough in America that the wealthy are not immune to its effects. And those in the entertainment industry are perhaps more accurately aware than most that success is equal parts luck. Even though many of these kids probably didn’t want their parents to cheat for them, the parents were insecure enough in the future they felt they needed to do so.
It’s also interesting that this was not a case of intrepid investigators looking into cheating and bribery scandals at America’ colleges and institutions of higher learning. Instead, the case fell into the lap of the FBI as a result of a parent caught up in a securities fraud case looking for a deal who happened to have some information to trade. It is remarkable that this stemmed from a case of white collar crime, arguably one of the most under prosecuted types of criminality. Recall that only one banker went to jail over the housing crisis and Great Recession of 2008, and the many Trump associates under investigation as an outgrowth of the President’s Russian entanglements. To quote Matt Yglecias, “…there are a lot of white-collar criminals out there who aren’t being prosecuted because their lives don’t happen to intersect with a special counsel investigation.”
The parents should be held to account same as those who profited from the cheating itself. But it seems problematic if not entirely too predictable to watch the moms take the fall. Plenty of men are also charged, and it’s possible a dad will go to jail, but I’m not holding my breath. For now to quote one woman, “…the moms have to do everything, including organize the crime.”