Every single woman I’ve gabbed with this week about the recent college admissions scandal has demanded to know where, exactly, William H. Macy was in all of this.
Why was Felicity Huffman’s husband, an equally famous actor, not also charged with trying to bribe and fraud his kids’ way into college? Why were there so many dumb puns about her being a “Desperate Housewife,” and hardly any about him being “Shameless”? Why was he listed in the affidavit as, merely, “SPOUSE”?
“Oh, I bet I know why,” sighed one friend, currently mired in her own kids’ school applications. “It’s because the moms have to do everything, including organize the crime.”
Macy, for what it’s worth, actually appeared to be a very involved parent. In the recorded phone calls, it was SPOUSE who brought up that his kid needed high enough scores for Georgetown. It was SPOUSE who declared the kid would perform better if the family could finagle an extended two-day SAT testing period, usually reserved for students with learning disabilities.
Ultimately the couple didn’t go through with the scam for this child, their younger daughter, which might have been what protected Macy. In charges related to their older daughter — a ringer was allegedly paid $15,000 to take the SATs on her behalf — only Huffman’s voice is heard on the recorded call.
And so, People magazine ran the inane headline “William H. Macy turns 69 as wife Felicity Huffman is arrested in college admissions scam.”
And so, Radar ran an anonymously sourced article in which a family friend says Macy “didn’t know the details, but he knew she was trying to do something. . . He wasn’t fully aware of what she was planning.”
Truly, I’m not sure which is a worse scenario for Macy: that he blithely participated in an alleged illegal plot, or that he blithely participated in an entire phone call in which the alleged illegal plot was hatched and apparently didn’t know what anyone, including himself, was talking about.
I don’t think it’s fair to couch this scandal as a sexist problem — an issue in which women must shoulder even the felonious emotional labor. Plenty of men were indicted in the scam, which the FBI is calling “Operation Varsity Blues.” Mossimo Giannuli, i.e. Mr. Lori Loughlin, was extraordinarily dedicated in his paternal scheming. He was the primary email contact; he was the one sending photos of his daughter on an ergometer machine to support the lie that she rowed crew.
The most vomitous line in the whole indictment comes from a dad — New York attorney Gordon Caplan — who tells a witness on the phone, “To be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue.”
But, I do think it’s fair to talk about whether gender plays a role in this saga. Whether we view the desperation of moms differently than the desperation of dads. Whether there’s a reason B-lister Lori Loughlin’s photo has accompanied stories about the scandal far more often than photos of her massively successful designer husband. Huffman’s “Housewives” character spent one episode trying to bribe her twins’ way into a private school, BuzzFeed points out (for $15,000 — is that how Huffman knew it was the going rate?), and so, the story goes, of course Huffman would do the same in real life.
In terms of outrage, the Varsity Blues affidavit reveals more egregious sins than the ones committed by Huffman. She did not, for example, shell out $500,000 and Photoshop her daughter into a water polo uniform. But in terms of moral dissonance, Felicity Huffman is the most surprising villain, and the one whose motives I keep trying to unpack.
While other celebrities started lifestyle brands dedicated to jade vagina eggs (Gwyneth Paltrow) or butt-sculpting yoga pants (Kate Hudson), Huffman created the website What the Flicka, dedicated to parenting. Specifically, to being a mom. Even more specifically, to being a real, relatable, imperfect mom.
WhatTheFlicka.com is a land of sardonic coffee mugs and wine-o’clock-Wednesdays, and scented candles with names such as “Juice Cleanse” that purport to smell like “greens, mint, and regret.” The articles about parenting have headlines such as “10 ways I’m totally screwing up my kids” and “10 reasons to dread summer with kids” and “9 ways parenthood is like ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”
In other words, the site buys into a children-are-a-battlefield theory of parenting. Parenthood is impossible, and making it to bedtime without becoming an alcoholic is an excellent reason to reward yourself with a martini. We are all a hot mess!
In Felicity’s mind, did she do something at odds with her theory of motherhood, or was the alleged scamming an extension of it? Was allegedly buying her kids’ way into school a twisted, privileged version of, Ladies, amiright, sometimes we serve frosting for dinner and sometimes we bribe Georgetown?
“Ruh Ro!” she chirpily wrote in an email to her contact in the scam. “Looks like [my daughter’s high school] wants to provide own proctor.”
It was a problem to be solved, practically and without much fuss.
Every woman I’ve gabbed with this week, at least the ones who read the whole affidavit, mentioned that breezy, cheeky line. Because in the middle of their own kids’ applications, and their own work-life imbalance, and their own parenting partners who occasionally receded into the distance — SPOUSE!! — that line threw something into quick relief. It was one thing to joke about being a bad mom. It was another to actually be one.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.