Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve likely seen the flurry of articles and responses regarding Wednesday Martin’s new book, Primates of Park Avenue. The focus for many has been the ‘wife bonus’. At the core of the argument is the scorching contention that a woman earning a bonus for services rendered knocks organized feminism back into the bra burning decades.
A recent acquaintance wrote an articulate article outing herself as a wife who has been on the receiving end of such a bonus for years. The article generated a lot of press and a lot of commentary. Precisely what an article aims to do. Most of it was negative, a lot of it personally attacking the author for coming out of the wife bonus closet to make room for more shoes in there.
Far from setting feminism back, she argues, the idea of financial remuneration means her spouse recognizes the monetary value of her work as a stay at home mother. Achieving a high enough place at the negotiating table to warrant a monetary bonus actually means feminism has succeeded. If true, the argument means that we, sister suffragette, have come full circle. Instead of being regarded as a parasite within a global society which values the number of zeros on your pay stub (are there still pay stubs?), a wife bonus means non-earning women have finally reached a level of equality in which the unpaid work of women in the home sphere is equal to the paid work of the working male.
We’ve come a long way, baby. But not as far as you think.
If you are tee-shirt wearing member of Team Happily Ever After you may not like what I have to say next. Until the last century and a half or so, the notion of love and marriage decidedly did NOT go together like a horse and carriage. Marriage was merely a legal way of transferring land, property, money and possessions. And in the case of Game of Thrones, bleak, icy castles and slippery allegiances. In the best case scenario a wife was offered societal protection, financial security and a modicum of independence (in the sense of being afforded the umbrella privilege of ‘wife’). I need not go into the worst case scenarios, (poor, poor Sansa Stark) whereby a woman’s name was listed somewhere in between the linens and the clay pots on a laundry list of transferred possessions.
Somewhere along the way, the legal side of it got mixed up with Love Potion #9 and suddenly couples were making goo goo eyes at one another and the idea of marriage as a social and legal construct was usurped by the idea of marriage as an emotional one.
The current view of marriage is as a partnership. My husband, as with many husbands of his generation, will happily shout from the rooftop that his career and indeed the life he lives, especially as an expat, would not be possible without someone (me) at home taking care of business so he can free up his days, desk, and head space for the money-making business.
A partnership, by colloquial definition, means that both parties have an equal stake. Partnerships naturally veer toward the mutually beneficial. Ideally, in a marriage, both parties have an equal stake. That’s where the word ‘bonus’ becomes contentious.
In reality, any partner not earning money is reliant upon their partner’s salary for their basic needs. For many people, that stay at home ‘bonus’ pays the electricity bill, buys milk and bread and Christmas presents for the kids. No one bats an eye. But bump up the zeros and the ‘bonus’ is paying for shoes and bags and vacations and it becomes anti-feminist and makes anyone who owns up to it the object of vitriol.
Is there a difference? What’s the difference between buying milk and bread with your spouse’s salary and buying a five-figure handbag with it?
Move over white privilege and enter wife privilege.
Should a wife go out and buy herself a new pair of shoes if she doesn’t work? As long as she’s not putting the rest of the family in debt, as long as the milk and bread are covered, absolutely. Is there a difference between a buy-one-get-one-off sale at Payless and a pair of Jimmy Choos?
This argument is not about feminism as much as it’s about money. Very few people would balk at a Toyota driving Mom of 2 treating herself to a pair of vegan leather knock-offs at Nine West. But if a woman admits to buying herself something expensive merely because she coveted it, even if the family finances can afford it, she is vilified unless she earned it. If she then submits an invoice for family services rendered, she is accused of, essentially, cooking the books along with the dinner.
Work inside the home though it may be valued anecdotedly, is still viewed by detractors as deserving nothing more than ‘pin money’. It’s not real work. Real things, important things, are not done in the home. There is no tangible value. So therefore the non-earning partner is dependent upon the charity of the working partner to make life bearable or livable or in some cases, simply luxurious.
Wife bonuses or wife privilege has little to do with self-worth, it has little to do with deserving. None of this is new, it’s been going on since before marriages had anything to do with love, since back when Targaryens married Tyrell and tried to bridge the narrow sea. The only thing that’s changed is the brand names and the number of zeros rung up at the register. And what we call it.
We’ve come a long way, baby. But there’s still a long way to go.