May 17, 2015

"And then there were the wife bonuses. I was thunderstruck when I heard mention of a 'bonus.'..."

"A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance — how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a 'good' school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks. In turn these bonuses were a ticket to a modicum of financial independence and participation in a social sphere where you don’t just go to lunch, you buy a $10,000 table at the benefit luncheon a friend is hosting. Women who didn’t get them joked about possible sexual performance metrics. Women who received them usually retreated, demurring when pressed to discuss it further, proof to an anthropologist that a topic is taboo, culturally loaded and dense with meaning...."

From a NYT op-ed about the Glam SAHMs (glamorous stay-at-home-moms) of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, written by Wednesday Martin, who is identified as a writer and "social researcher." She has a memoir coming out called "Primates of Park Avenue."

4 stray thoughts:

1. The illustration at the link is really good.

2. Don't confuse this topic with the more general subject of stay-at-home mothers (a topic I prefer to call single-earner household). This is about how very rich people structure things.

3. It made me think of that excellent Woody Allen movie "Alice."

4. The book title "Primates of Park Avenue" made me think of another title that it took me a long time to drag out of the 1980s canyon of my mind: "Slaves of New York." Remember that? Tama Janowitz. That was a big deal back in the days of "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Less Than Zero." Here's the NYT review of it from 1986, by Jay McInerney (the author of "Bright Lights, Big City"):
Eleanor longs for the good old verities of marriage, the kind of legal bondage under which she'd have a few enforceable rights... Heroically passive, Eleanor has half a mind to think about doing... something. ''If I ever get some kind of job security and/or marital security, I'm going to join the feminist movement.''

When a friend calls from Boston to say she's thinking of moving back to New York and living with her old boyfriend, Eleanor advises her not to do it. She'll be a slave. ''Your only solution is to get rich, so you can get an apartment and then you can have your own slave.''

38 comments:

EDH said...

"Your only solution is to get rich, so you can get an apartment and then you can have your own slave.''

Was Umm a Glam SAHM?

Skeptical Voter said...

You look "Wednesday Martin" up and you discover she's a real piece of work. Divorced with two kids of her own at 35; meets and falls in love with a divorced father of two girls who's 42. Marries him.

As far as the new stepdaughters were concerned, Wednesday was "fun" when she was Daddy's girlfriend, but became a Stepmonster. Making lemonade out of lemons. Ms. Wednesday wrote and published a book "Stepmonster".

I dunno--she's one of those too precious people in New York City. The woes of Manhattanites are beyond me--not that I care all that much. I'm sort of a one marriage, one wife guy--I can relate to that. I may be in a minority, but I'm not too concerned about it.

John Christopher said...

No Things Not Believed tag?

Jason said...

Reminds me of the term "'Gorillas in the Mist' Journalism, if anyone remembers that.

I've had some fun parodying that idea over the years!

Bay Area Guy said...

The minute I read "Wednesday Martin" I thought of "Tuesday Weld"

themightypuck said...

The House of Mirth is the real Slaves of New York.

themightypuck said...

The House of Mirth is the real Slaves of New York.

sean said...

Generally, I think, the "wife bonus" is, in fact, a percentage of the husband's bonus, which is a perfectly rational method of managing household income. The part about a wifely performance component (sexual or otherwise) is kind of a joke.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, your loyal readers want to know. Do you pay Meade a husband bonus for his work around the house?

Michael K said...

Nothing in my experience compares to this sort of thing. Surgeons' wives do entertain but the e=rest is a mystery. It must be a New York thing.

Cynicus said...

Wednesday came across to me as a two-faced superficial bitch. These women welcome you into their club and you turn around and write a judgmental anthropological article on them. Othering them because they turned their marriage into a business transaction.

robother said...

"If you don’t bring home tubers and roots, your power is diminished in your marriage. And in the world." Does Ms. Martin really believe that the gathering/farming women of polygamous African tribes actually enjoy more relative power in their marriages than these Upper East Side stay-at-home moms? Anthropology has obviously metastasized into a mere outgrowth of Feminist/Ethnic Studies, where all observations are contorted into evidence demonstrating the feminist/racialist pieties of 1974.

Fabi said...

Clearly these wives need to organize as a union. Living wage, paid vacation, dental - what am I missing?

Christy said...

Last decade the mini-series Starter Wife with Debra Messing covered the issue comprehensively with humor.

Aren't most of these wives the daughters of rich men with trust funds of their own? One learns to chair charity events at one's mother's knee, after all.

Sebastian said...

She gave them some disclosure but not full disclosure.

A real anthropologist would have gotten into serious research-on-human-subjects trouble.

Beldar said...

The illustration was clever, but I don't think it was especially apt.

It was better than the story, though.

Big Mike said...

Or maybe I should ask Meade ...

Freeman Hunt said...

The writer has laid too much hope and store in money. Also, positions on boards.

Balfegor said...

You have to consider the context in which this article is being published. In the New York Times. Whose primary audience is probably comprised -- in good part -- of exactly the kind of women who are the subjects of the article.

Viewed in that context, the article is -- whatever the pretensions of its author -- best understood as flattery of its subjects. Something that reinforces their sense of distinctiveness and importance. And perhaps offers them the chance to enjoy a brief frisson of condescension at the poor rube who has come among them to write such twaddle.

Freeman Hunt said...

No one remembers that you were on a board. If they do remember, it will only be in brainstorming candidates for other boards. Someday there may be a wall with your name printed on it that no one looks at. Some boards are worthwhile, lots aren't. It's only the actual work and its results that matter. Simply being on a board doesn't matter.

chickelit said...

When I worked for a law firm, I noticed that mostly women did the pro boner work.

chickelit said...

Blogger Freeman Hunt said...

No one remembers that you were on a board.

Bored w/ boards!

rcommal said...

I do, in fact, remember many things.

I did, in fact, choose some things among many things at various different points in time.

I agree with Freeman Hunt that no one will remember when *you* were on board. I am one of *those* people. I'd prefer to do well by my son, and, if it can work out, well enough by folks from 10-12-14 years ago.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

She herself is the wife of a much more wealthy, accomplished and powerful man:

https://sipa.columbia.edu/faculty/joel-moser

I rather doubt that her earnings could pay for her lifestyle in Manhattan let alone afford her the pleasures of a second home in Sag Harbor. Her playacting at being a strong, independent woman is hilarious when one considers the privilege that she married into.

rcommal said...

To be clear: Freeman Hunt gave me good advice, indirectly, and that it is what underpinned this:

I agree with Freeman Hunt that no one will remember when *you* were on board. I am one of *those* people. I'd prefer to do well by my son, and, if it can work out, well enough by folks from 10-12-14 years ago.

rcommal said...

That said, I was learning some stuff well before Freeman Hunt was. (Sorry, just sayin'.)

Hell, I was even learning some stuff along-side when Althouse herself was, way back when, only she got the benefit of being born a decade-ish earlier that I was, right?

(Sorry: I am NOT sorry for just sayin' that.)

rcommal said...

What is it about women who insist on starting and re-starting start-times on timelines?

rcommal said...

nudge, nudge.

CStanley said...

This economic arrangement seems based on the idea that women are still in an earning position (getting paid to take care of the household and children), as though that is important and gives them a sense of power and control.

The best part of a good marriage though, IMO, is the ability to relinquish control to someone that you trust completely.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Reminds me of Unbreakable Kimmy Scmidt, but I highly doubt every single male character in this story is bisexual or flaming gay like in the Netflix bigoted, racist program.

Having the child "Buckley" bash black queers is edgy I guess.

St. George said...

Betty Draper died for your sins.

Meade said...

Big Mike said...
"Or maybe I should ask Meade ..."

Show me your anthropologist credentials.

pduggie said...

I wonder to what degree such a "contractual" view of marriage represents a jewish perspective.

Yeah, since we're discussing NY financiers.

Meade said...

I can't share details of my tribal life with just anyone. Without the proper training, you could become "thunderstruck" upon learning of all my bonuses.

Paco Wové said...

"No Things Not Believed tag?"

Indeed. I found myself becoming highly skeptical at this ("wife bonuses!") point, wondering if we had entered Stephen Glass territory, or alternatively the author took some throwaway inside joke term and turned it into a Real Thing.

Big Mike said...

@Meade, it's 10:30 Eastern, and so far this Blue Monday has been much worse than most. Then I read your response to my impertinent, tongue-in-cheek comment, and the day has brightened. Much obliged.

Franklin said...

Oh my God this article is so fake.

Seriously if you believe this nonsense you should talk to a doctor.

holdfast said...

"Aren't most of these wives the daughters of rich men with trust funds of their own? One learns to chair charity events at one's mother's knee, after all.

Some likely are. Others may be women who married their college sweetheart who just happens to have become a great fund manager. This isn't really an old money thing - many of the big funds are pretty new (at least in NY terms) - all you have to do to get in the club is be very smart, obsessively hard-working and damned lucky - it's easy! :)