Someday, Dorothy will pull back the curtain on the internet and we’ll discover not a man pulling levers, but the greatest communication tool of the 21st century, entirely powered by human outrage. Look no further than the recent flap over social researcher Wednesday Martin’s forthcoming book Primates of Park Avenue, which examines the phenomenon of the “glam SAHM” – real Real Housewives who probably don’t change a lot of diapers, but spend their time managing the careers of the future one percent. The inspiration for the furor? Like their financier husbands, these ladies apparently get a cash bonus for their efforts.
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“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,” writes Martin. “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.”
Fortunately for Martin’s book sales, the internet exploded with opinion. Wife bonuses are retrograde, sexist relics that make a woman into her husband’s employee. Wife bonuses are well-deserved, because they reflect the hard work that goes into “intensive mothering” on the level required of the subculture of the super-rich. Wife bonuses are a big, fat lie, created to boost Martin’s Amazon sales rank.
My take? While I couldn’t care less how the wealthy distribute their personal funds, I’d like to see some of that wife bonus action head toward my friends, male and female – but let’s be real, mostly female – who deprioritize their own careers and financial stability to work inside the home taking care of their children.
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Who should pay this bonus? Not the working spouse, that’s for sure. If your partner isn’t a banker or a Vanderbilt, odds are slim he or she has the cash. No, what I’m suggesting is that the government cough up a stipend, the same way Sweden does (SEK 1,050 per month, per child, or about $125, as of 2014), as well as providing long overdue support like paid parental leave – for both mothers and fathers.
Before you scoff and accuse me of building castles in the air, consider this: the idea of the government helping out working families with cold, hard cash isn’t new. The International Wages for Housework Campaign proposed compensating homemakers for the labor in 1972, and as I mentioned, other countries already provide small stipends to families, to help them bridge the gap.
And, while a housewife wage obviously never made it into law, the idea behind it is still worth discussing. If raising children is the most important thing a person can do – and ask any politician on either side of the aisle, and they’ll tell you it is – then why is it the country’s very last financial priority?
Realistically, of course, I don’t expect the government to start issuing checks to stay-at-home parents. But a little federally mandated paid leave, for both men and women, would be a start. It wouldn’t buy much Prada, but it might narrow the gender wage gap by making it easier for mothers to hold onto their careers, which is good for families and good for the economy.
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