Just when you thought there was nothing new under the sun to really despise, over the weekend, a breakthrough: anthropologist Wednesday Martin exposed the world to Glam SAHMs: glamorous, rich, Manhattan Stay-At-Home Moms who devote themselves exhaustively to looking good and advancing their children academically and economically, and who are paid handsomely for it with actual financial bonuses from their rich husbands. Cue jaw drop.
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.
For starters, I would seriously hope that not getting your annual bump would come with clear feedback as to how to remedy that next year—better beej or more prestigious preschool acceptance letter, whatever it takes.
Either way, this was a lot for everyone to get their head around out here in the 99 percent, a perfect storm of everything you could dare to want to despise and envy all at once, wrapped in a wife bonus. Because these mompetitors aren’t just loaded, though they are—their husbands amass great wealth running private or equity hedge funds. Glam SAHMs aren’t merely well educated, though all in the piece are described as “30-somethings with advanced degrees from prestigious universities and business schools.” And they aren’t simply beautiful, either—though most are said to look a decade younger than their age and exercise themselves “to a razor’s edge.”
It’s that they are all these things together, plus, get this: In an act of either truly admirable game-recognize-game brilliance or sad, pathetic self-imprisonment (you choose!), they have actually elected to not have careers, unless you count a life spent devoted to “intense mothering” and hustling those children up the whatever-it-is-really-rich-people do pole as a career. Say it with me: Barf/You go girl?
Either way, the Internet was truly aghast, confused and so stunned they couldn’t even hit character limits:
Finally at Dealbreaker, Bess Levin cracked wise:
Puzzled as to how you could spend a dozen hours each week at the gym, have an ass one could bounce a quarter off of, successfully supervise the staff on both Park Avenue and the Hamptons, do all that weird sexual sh*t with the balls gags and the whips and the calling him Rachel that he’s into and keep it quiet and yet see a 10% dip on this year’s bonus because Chip Jr. didn’t get into Dalton?
But elsewhere, it seems while we’ve all been living our lives fully aware that rich people have, you know, more money than us and therefore better lives, we rarely get a glimpse into the extent to which they are negotiating the fine print of those existences. Plus, the whole notion of the highly educated, kept woman feels so retrograde. Doesn’t it?
Writing at Glamour, Caitlin Moscatello surmises:
To the outsider, the practice of being given this type of bonus seems, at best, demeaning. At its worst, the payment structure magnifies patriarchal marriage to the point where it hurts the eyes. A woman’s husband doesn’t just control her financially in this scenario, but emotionally. He’s her husband, yes, but he also becomes her boss. She reports to him, spends her days trying to impress him, and he evaluates her. And as his earning potential presumably grows with the progression of his career, she in turn becomes increasingly dependent on him over time. Writes Martin, “While their husbands make millions, the privileged women with kids who I met tend to give away the skills they honed in graduate school and their professions—organizing galas, editing newsletters, running the library and bake sales—free of charge.” But it also appears to be voluntary, even a badge of honor, to have the so-called luxury of not needing a career. Martin writes that it’s “an act of extravagance, a brag: ‘I used to work, I can, but I don’t need to.’ ”
On Facebook, I watched the debate unfold. “I’m not sure if I even these women or pity them,” one woman wrote. “What kind of life can one have in a gilded cage?” another asked.
It’s confusing—we’re supposed to think less of stay-at-home-moms, more so of those who are wasting brilliant minds, or at least excellent educations, on something so mundane and frivolous. But we also recognize the soul-sucking sacrifice of motherhood, and the thanklessness is also part of the narrative. Here that script has been flipped, and instead of nothing, there’s something—a very exact specific something that recognizes exactly the sacrifice of career and time being made to further children and legacy.
As for these wives themselves, never forget: There is, and always has been for a certain woman, no better life than the one described by Martin’s piece: affluence, domestic power, the thrill of jockeying for position, the reflected glory of breeding the best, to say nothing of winning at life and looking so good while doing it.
You don’t have to be angling for your own wife bonus to see the appeal of having all career anxieties removed to focus on doing the best for your brood in a well-supported, highly rewarded, lucrative position with a quantifiable reward. Even if there is mounting evidence that working mothers are good for children, does that really apply to the wealthiest one-percenters anyway?
And even if wife bonuses aren’t really a thing, as some suspect, the idea of women getting paid to be mothers intrigues more than enrages, all things considered. For most of history, we’ve done it for nothing. If a really rich lady runs her home like a CEO and gets paid big bucks to do it, has she not pulled off the ultimate lean in? Serious question.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.