It seems like it should be filed under Crazy Things That Happen in America – but there might be something to this whole ‘wife bonus’ thing.
Last week, we learned that women on New York’s well-heeled Upper East Side were being paid “wife bonuses”.
It turns out that wife bonuses are exactly what they sound like: money paid to women for fulfilment of their “wifely duties”.
The idea has got a lot of people excited/upset/furious/throwing-up over the past month, since the concept was mentioned an excerpt of a forthcoming book about wealthy women in New York called The Primates of Park Avenue. The author of that book, Wednesday Martin, wrote in the New York Times:
“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.”
It’s money for being a Good Wife. And when I say, Good Wife, this is in the context of a world where men do the working, and women do the working out. Says Martin:
“No ponytails or mom jeans here: they exercised themselves to a razor’s edge, wore expensive and exquisite outfits to school drop-off and looked a decade younger than they were.”Advertisement
Now this all seemed very foreign and filed squarely in the category of Crazy Things That Happen in America until women started coming forward and saying that they received wife bonuses and they loved them. Including Polly Phillips, a 32 year old woman who lived in Australia. She wrote in a piece titled, “I love my wife bonus – deal with it”:
“[My husband] Al came out in favour of the idea of the wife bonus almost as soon as we moved to Australia. He’s got a very politically incorrect sense of humour and joked it was to reward me for being a “good little wife,” which made me laugh out loud.”
Polly says that she actually heard about the idea in Australia, after she and her husband moved to Perth. The wives of her husband’s colleagues enthused about their jewellery and handbags that they had bought with their bonuses. Designer treats seems to be what most of these bonuses are blown on. Polly described some of her own spending conundrums:
“As I stroll around the mall on a recent trip to Houston, Texas, moving from designer store to designer store, my mind is crunching numbers. Will I splurge on the elegant $750 French navy Chanel ballet pumps that I’ve been lusting after for months? Or shall I be pulling out my gold card to grab a pair of limited-edition $800 Louboutins, with striking red Valentine’s hearts on the toe, to match their distinctive sole? As I tally up the total, I can’t help but smile — I can easily stretch to both pairs of shoes, and still have plenty left of my five-figure bonus.”
Now, the natural instinct is to call wife bonuses out as anti-feminist and misogynistic.
And that instinct makes a lot of sense: The idea that men are bosses of the household who have exclusive rights to dole out money to wives as long as they are Keeping it Tight is an idea rooted in sexism, inequality and deeply antiquated views of relationships and parenting.
Certainly, the genesis of this trend (if it can be called that) is sexist – but that doesn’t mean that its effect is bad for women.
Actually, the notion that we put a value on the work that women do in the home is one that is quite helpful.
We find ourselves saying time and time again that one of the problems that we have is that caring responsibilities are undervalued – and it is these responsibilities that are mostly borne by women.
Even when both partners in a heterosexual couple work, it seems to be the women’s salary that is supposed to be used for caring outlays. How many times have you heard families complain that it’s not worth mother’s returning to work because a large part of the mother’s salary would be taken up by child care fees – like somehow their salary is the only one that could be used for this purpose.
If the effect of a wife bonus is to put value on those caring responsibilities and the unpaid work done by women, then perhaps it’s a good thing.
If it forces us to see that when women are doing unpaid work in the home then they aren’t building their own wealth, saving for their retirement and are more likely to end up on the aged pension, then it’s definitely a good thing.
If it forces us to recognise that the only way that people can earn the big bucks or become CEOs and politicians under our current structures is to have a willing help-meet to take care of their home and their children, then it’s probably a reasonable idea to pay someone for doing that work – especially when they are foregoing their own career to support the career of their partner.
Sure, it’s a terrible name.
But not such a bad idea.
What do you think of the idea of a ‘wife bonus’?
For more on wife bonuses and household chores: