Tales of simultaneously charmed yet not-so-charmed lives on the Upper East Side are nothing new. But in Wednesday Martin’s latest piece for The New York Times, “Poor Little Rich Women,” she took a shocking step into a world that is a mystery to most.

 

In her piece, Martin mentions “Glam SAHMs,” which stands for glamorous stay-at-home moms and their earnings of “wife bonuses.”  These bonuses are annual sums awarded to stay-at-home moms by their wealthy husbands in exchange for a job well done in house. Many of these women are betrothed to investment banker type husbands and earn a greater bonus as a result of their husbands’ own handsome bonuses. The sums are based on a strong performance of tasks, such as managing the household budget or getting their children into good schools.

 

Women gathered around a formal table at a luncheon

Martin describes that Glam SAHMs “don’t just buy lunch, but they buy a $10,000 table for their friend hosting a benefit.” (hauteliving.com)

The bonuses, as observed by Martin, may be agreed upon and outlined in a pre-nuptial agreement or post-nup and serve as a source of financial independence for SAHMs. These wife bonuses are an important ticket upwards into social hierarchy.

 

Responses to Martin’s piece have been mixed. Some express shock at the prevailing sexism highlighted by this kind of marital and familial arrangement. Such an arrangement appears to strip women of their agency, independence, and power, both in the private and public sphere.

 

Others support the Glam SAHMs as women who honorably dedicate to their lives to running a household and raising children. Moreover, these women still hold on to many skills valuable in the workforce such as planning events, editing newsletters, etc.

 

Either response has its merits, and herein lies the problem.

 

Cover of Wednesday Martin's memoir, "Primates of Park Avenue"

“Primates of Park Avenue” is Martin’s upcoming memoir about living amongst Manhattan’s elite. (amazon.com)

The fact that such different but valid responses exist highlights the inherent subjectivity that exists within society. It is a quality that has long been deemed an enemy of good anthropology. While an anthropologist must strive to omit subjectivity from his or her work, it may never be omitted from public reception.

 

A primary argument in the defense of Martin’s Glam SAHMs is that these women have chosen these lifestyles for themselves and thus should not be labeled as powerless victims. Did these women choose their lifestyles based on preference or their own personal upbringing? Are these decisions based on free will or borne of habit?

 

Anthropologists hold the power to essentially brand entire cultures, sub-cultures, religions, and communities through their accounts. Even if it is their role to give an objective account of his or her subject, any question unanswered and any issue left unaddressed can compromise one’s objectivity.

 

Do you think Wednesday Martin stays true to anthropological objectivity in her portrayal of stay-at-home moms on the Upper East Side? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi.