Gender Dynamics of the Upper East Side

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 received these bonuses usually retreated, demurring when pressed to discuss it further, proof to an anthropologist that a topic is taboo, culturally loaded and dense with meaning.”


This past Sunday, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by Wednesday Martin titled, “Poor Little Rich Women.”


The author, a social researcher, discussed her experience of living alongside the highly educated “Glam SAHMs” of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The social dynamics were compelling. The husbands and wives desire gender segregation in social settings – it was “easier” and “they prefer it this way.” Most revealing was the “wife bonus.” The husband gives an allowance to their wife for accomplishing certain goals? Even the extravagance of high-society New York is not immune to the male hierarchy more commonly seen in other parts of the world; where it is blamed on patriarchal cultural norms or lack of education.  The women don’t have a choice in these subservient societies. However, the “glam SAHMs” are willingly submitting themselves to this treatment. What does this say about gender rights? If a woman chooses this environment, do we patronize her, or do we respect her right to choose her lifestyle?


Photo credit: MALIKA FAVRE


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