The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

May 19 2015 8:38 AM

Exclusive: The Performance Review that Decided One D.C.-Area Man’s “Husband Bonus”

A recent New York Times piece took an anthropological look at an exotic species known as the “glamorous stay-at-home mom” (Glam SAHM), whose perks include the “wife bonus,” distributed according to such criteria as “how well she managed the home budget [and] whether the kids got into a ‘good’ school.” But what about the husband bonus? DoubleX has exclusively obtained the annual performance review determining the bonus of one Washington, D.C.–based husband; the review is reprinted in full below.

As specified by marriage contract dated July 20, 1997, entered into by “Wife” and “Husband,” there shall be an annual review of Husband’s performance. Pursuant to a motion agreed by both parties, and in consideration of the mutual covenants and promises outlined herein, “Husband” shall receive an annual performance-based “Husband Bonus” on meeting or exceeding metrics laid out below.

The performance measure will use the agreed-upon rating scale:

Unacceptable

Needs Improvement

Satisfactory

Exceeds Expectations

Exemplary/Clooney

Self-Care

“Husband” has maintained a regular schedule of boot camp and gym attendance. He has additionally declared himself a “freak for the five-minute workout.” Weight has inched up this 12-month period, but given recent cultural vogue of the dad bod, any softness in the abdominal area can be considered a plus. Continues to cultivate adequate self-hatred over excessive dessert. Beard maintenance has been erratic, ranging from barely boardroom-acceptable to food-specked. Attire acceptable, discounting a recent public appearance in a moth-eaten shirt.

GRADE: Satisfactory

Self-Improvement

Despite avowals, “Husband” has failed to improve his French, conquer fear of water, decipher Arduino, or master bulletproof coffee.

GRADE: Needs Improvement

Enhancement and Support of Wife’s Work

“Husband” has exhibited considerable moral support but has failed to properly entertain wife’s colleagues or professional peers at several cocktail parties and dinners. In one case, yawned repeatedly at dinner with wife’s superior; in another, sneaked upstairs to read hypermasculine novel; in a third, planned to be “out of town” during gathering.

GRADE: Satisfactory

Contribution to Household Income

“Husband” has resigned from editorship of prestigious online magazine to “follow his dreams.” This has resulted in a much smaller-than-usual annual contribution. Also, “husband” spends his time interviewing other people about working and calls it working.

GRADE: Needs Improvement

Home Budget Management

“Husband” continues to pay all household bills and exclusively meet with accountant.

GRADE: Exemplary/Clooney

Child Maintenance, Basic

Children continue to attend middling local public schools, and only one of three bathes with any regularity.

GRADE: Needs Improvement

Child Maintenance, Additional

Attempts to teach smallest child how to ride a bike only marginally successful. Coaching of soccer team decidedly half-assed, although general enthusiasm for soccer excellent. Ditto for watching golf on TV. Children, at present, play neither lacrosse nor water polo nor baseball, despite stated goal to boost level of household athleticism. Boxes ordered from Evil Mad Scientist sit unopened in basement. Newly purchased skateboard lies under a pile of coats. Various Harry Potter books missing chunks of pages. Science project involved ketchup. Most ambitious extracurricular outing so far: Pitch Perfect 2.

GRADE: Needs Improvement

Community Involvement

Husband fails to maintain outreach with neighbors or organize school events, although he served as a masterful auctioneer at the annual school auction.

GRADE: Satisfactory

“Performance”

“Husband” always willing and reciprocal. Any deficiencies in this category must be blamed on “Wife.”

GRADE: Exemplary/Clooney

Based on aforementioned criteria, “Husband’s” year-end shall be assessed at 17.3 percent of “Wife’s” annual salary, the amount of which “Wife” will keep hidden from “Husband” unless she deems it necessary for him to know.

 

Video Advertisement

May 18 2015 1:58 PM

What’s Wrong With “Wife Bonuses”?

Over the weekend, Wednesday Martin, the author of the upcoming memoir Primates of Park Avenue, published a piece in the New York Times that deftly deconstructed the past decade's ongoing romanticization of “opting out” and “feminist housewives” and whatever other trendy terms have been used to spin the continuing practice of really rich men having wives with expensive educations but no employment outside the home. This isn't a new trend, Martin explains, but just a continuation of the way things were done in the pre-feminist era. 

Betty Francis might have been at death's door by the Mad Men finale, but her real-life counterparts are alive and well in what Martin calls the “glittering, moneyed backwater” of the Upper East Side, where “30-somethings with advanced degrees from prestigious universities” put all their intelligence and ambition into pleasing wealthy husbands; 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.” Theirs is a gender-segregated world reminiscent of the lives of Victorian aristocrats, where the men go off into one room to talk business while the women stay in another for female-only socializing. 

But the detail that seemed to grab readers' attention the most (judging by the comments and by social-media chatter) is the existence of “wife bonuses.” Martin explains:

I was thunderstruck when I heard mention of a “bonus” over coffee. Later I overheard someone who didn’t work say she would buy a table at an event once her bonus was set. A woman with a business degree but no job mentioned waiting for her “year-end” to shop for clothing. Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.
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.

One just hopes there isn't a weigh-in every year to help determine your bonus as well. 

Disgust was the prevailing reaction to Martin's revelation about wife bonuses, and understandably so—in the wife bonus, income inequality, commodification of love, and the objectification of women all converge at once. As Martin notes, the recipients “usually retreated, demurring when pressed to discuss it further,” suggesting that they may feel some shame about this practice. 

But the wife bonus should raise some hard questions. Americans love to emphasize the role of the dependent housewife or the stay-at-home mom as just as much a “real job” as that of any woman who works outside of the home. You often see infographics, articles, and social media memes about how being a stay-at-home-mom is the hardest job that anyone ever worked and how, if it were paid fairly, every housewife would be making all the money.  

In theory, then, wife bonuses should fit right into this narrative. If it's a job, then it should be treated like one, with bonuses and promotions based on performance reviews. But of course, the whole “stay-at-home motherhood is a real job” meme was never really about the actual work of housewifery. It's a defensive maneuver, a way to argue that just because a woman is economically dependent on her husband doesn't mean her marriage is sexist or any less equal than a marriage in which both spouses work. Wife bonuses, however, remind us that if stay-at-home motherhood is a job, then that means your husband is your employer. Not very egalitarian at all. 

May 18 2015 8:41 AM

For Once, Game of Thrones Treats Rape With the Gravity It Deserves

Another season of Game of Thrones, another Internet rage-fest over having to witness another major female character suffer a rape. For many fans who were appalled at the horrible scene of Jaime Lannister raping his sister/lover Cersei last season, it felt like the showrunners had only doubled down, putting Sansa Stark into the hands of sadist Ramsay Bolton and, to add insult to injury, making her former foster brother Theon Greyjoy watch. Just as last year, accusations that the show takes sexual violence lightly and declarations of breaking up with Game of Thrones forever populated social media

But while I agreed with the critics of the Lannister rape scene last year, this time around, I believe that, while it was horrible to witness a beloved and innocent character like Sansa get raped, it didn't feel gratitutous or unserious. Unlike with last year's twincest rape, the director of this episode is quite clear that what we're witnessing is, in fact, a rape. It wasn't played off as rough sex, but as a deliberate act of dominance. For once, rape is being portrayed accurately, as an act of sadism instead of just an overabundance of passion. (It was also, as writer Bryan Cogman explains in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, much worse in the book. Just trust me on this.)

Once Sansa was engaged to Ramsay, it would have been a cop-out to play this storyline any other way. As my co-host Marc Faletti and I discuss in House Slate, our weekly take on the series, the point of Game of Thrones—and A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series this show is based on—is to subvert and complicate the standard tropes and narratives of fantasy fiction. In traditional fantasy, the Stark family would be the conquering heroes, their great honor and love for one another rewarded as they triumph over their corrupt enemies to save the realm. But in this story, the world is not so simple. The honorable family patriarch's honor results in his death. His valiant son dies, unarmed, at the hands of people he believed to be his allies. We are meant to look at the grotesque realities of war lurking underneath the gleaming armor and fancy banners of medieval myth-making. 

Sansa Stark's rape was, like Ned's execution and the Red Wedding, not treated lightly, but presented as an act of war against the Stark family. Yes, it was horrible. It was meant to be. 

May 16 2015 3:02 PM

Which State Was the Worst for Women This Week?

The legislative season grinds on, and so do the Worst State of the Week honors, in which DoubleX recognizes the member of the Union showing the most vim and vigor in its assaults on women's basic rights. 

Second runner-up is Texas, for reasons of pure hypocrisy. Republicans in the Lone Star state talk a big game about how much they love motherhood—so much so that women should be forced into it for their own good. But when it comes even to the most minor show of actual support for mothers, legislators balk. Republicans in Texas are quietly killing a bill that would guarantee breaks for public school teachers to pump breast milk at work. As Andrea Grimes at RH Reality Check noted, one supposedly "pro-life" opponent of the bill, state senator Lois Kolkhorst, dismissed the struggles of breastfeeding teachers by saying, “I’m a female who actually was a working mom and had the same issues and was able to be able to continue to breastfeed for my children while I was working." If she can do it, anyone can! 

First runner-up is Tennessee, for reasons of gluttony. The state constitution's privacy protections barred the legislature from trying to end legal abortion for years, but a ballot measure in November changed all that. Now anti-choicers in that state are like kids in a candy shop, or more accurately, like a bunch of pent-up religious fanatics unleashed on the public, Game of Thrones–style. The governor just signed a bill requiring clinics to meet a bunch of expensive and medically unnecessary building requirements that will no doubt shut many clinics down. Now it looks like he's going to sign another bill attacking patients themselves, making them wait 48 hours for an abortion.

This week's winner, however, is Wisconsin, where Republicans—undeterred by a federal court striking down their most recent law restricting abortion—are at it again with a proposed ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Bans on abortion after 20 weeks are a hot trend in the red states, but Wisconsin's sticks out for its deviousness and sadism. Proponents of the bill claim that there's an exception to the ban in the case of medical emergencies, but if you read the fine print, that turns out not to be true. As Jessie Opoien of the Capital Times explains, even in cases of emergency, doctors are required to perform a procedure "in the manner that, in reasonable medical judgment, provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive." 

In other words, deliver the baby, even though, at 20 weeks gestation, you're looking at a 100 percent death rate anyway. While this move won't save any fetal lives, it would force women to terminate their pregnancies in the most miserable way possible, then wait while doctors run around trying to save an unsaveable baby, racking up thousands of dollars in unnecessary medical expenses. This is, remember, for women who generally wanted their babies, but had to terminate for medical reasons. No level of cruelty, these days, is too much to put women in their place. 

May 15 2015 3:09 PM

Female Staffers on the Hill Are Being Shut Out Of One-On-One Meetings with Bosses

The National Journal conducted a study of women congressional staffers on the Hill and has been releasing some of the findings in a series of articles. On Thursday, Sarah Mimms highlighted how women are still held back from certain networking and career opportunities. Many staffers, she writes,  are "not allowed to spend one-on-one time with their male bosses."

Several female aides reported that they have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.

This is what happens when appearances are put ahead of substance. Sexual harassment shouldn't be reduced to the appearance of impropriety. Sexual harassment is an active choice that the harasser makes, and the way to fight it is to hold men who harass accountable, not to act like life on the Hill is taking place within a Victorian novel. Instead, because some powerful men mistreat women, the solution is to deprive women of opportunities for career advancement. 

In Missouri this week, state house speaker John Diehl was caught in a "sexually charged" relationship with a college freshman interning in his office; Missouri Southern State University responded by shutting down the internship program. That is punishing people who have little or no power because some middle-aged man allegedly gave in to some teenager's flattering attentions. 

You're not taking sexual harassment and abuse of power seriously if your solutions focus on depriving victims and potential victims of job opportunities. These women are willing to run the risk that some gross older man will get grabby with them in order to advance their career; their bosses should meet them halfway by running the risk of "impropriety."

May 15 2015 1:57 PM

Sorry, Evo Psych Fans. Our Caveman Ancestors Probably Practiced Gender Equality. 

It's a sad week for evolutionary psychology buffs. A new paper out in Science, by a group of scientists led by University College London anthropologist Mark Dyble, suggests that despite widespread claims to the contrary, early hunter-gatherer societies likely practiced equality between the sexes.

“The scientists collected genealogical data from two hunter-gatherer populations, one in the Congo and one in the Philippines,” the Guardian reports, “including kinship relations, movement between camps and residence patterns, through hundreds of interviews.” In more sexist societies, “tight hubs of related individuals emerged” as men try to amass as much power and influence as possible through their own families.

More egalitatarian societies, however, spread out a lot more, as women have more control over how they live and who they sleep with. “When only men have influence over who they are living with, the core of any community is a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery,” Dyble told the Guardian. “If men and women decide, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.” 

Because of this, Dyble and his team argue that gender inequality is tied directly to agriculture, when owning land and wielding power over others starts to become a big deal. “It pays more for men to start accumulating resources” in an agricultural system, Dyble explained, “and becomes favourable to form alliances with male kin.”

Guess evolutionary psychology aficionados are going to switch gears and start arguing that our “hard-wired” gender roles evolved during the advent of agriculture and not during our hunter-gatherer days. But evolutionary psychology has always been a conclusion looking for an explantion, the reverse of how science is supposed to work. Goodbye paleo fantasies. Hello, pickup artist manuals that romanticize some ancient dude harvesting wheat. 

It might be tempting for feminists to flip the argument around and declare that we're actually hard-wired for equality. That urge should be resisted. What this paper should really do is remind everyone that human beings are incredibly flexible and adapt rapidly to changes in our environment. Under some circumstances, we're more egalitarian; under others, we're more sexist. And because we now have significant power to control our environment, we should choose what's fairest to everyone. 

May 13 2015 4:02 PM

House Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban With Exciting New Hassles for Rape Victims 

150513_DX_GOP20Wks
Rep. Trent Franks, picture here in 2011, introduced the 20-week abortion ban in January.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Back in January, a handful of Republican women in Congress stopped a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. The women, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers, didn't object to the ban, but were worried that it was unduly hard on rape victims, forcing them to produce a police report in order not to bear a rapist's child. Republicans tweaked the language to take out that requirement, and on Wednesday afternoon, they passed the bill, with all but two Republicans voting for it. 

Still, Republicans made sure that rape victims still have to undergo unnecessary hassles to get an abortion. As reported by Rachel Maddow and RH Reality Check, rape victims have to endure a 48-hour waiting period to get the abortion. And a woman can't start the clock by going to her abortion provider: She has to find someone else—another doctor or counselor—to begin the 48-hour period. Which means more paperwork and more money to shell out, which will likely extend the waiting period past two days for many women, who have to do their jobs and live their lives while also filling out pointless forms and running around to make-work appointments. Guess rape victims should have thought about that before they got raped. 

Republicans say this bill is necessary because fetuses after 20 weeks of development can feel pain. This is, of course, an entirely false claim; what's more, the required waiting period gives the game away. If an abortion at 20 weeks is immoral, why is an abortion at 21 weeks—after you've jumped through your waiting period and paperwork hoops—OK? This bill's goal isn't to protect fetuses; as with all attacks on reproductive rights, the goal is to punish and control women—even women who are perceived as "innocent" because they didn't choose the sex that got them pregnant. 

The good news is that this bill has no chance of becoming law; even on the off-chance it reached President Obama's desk, he would veto it. But Republicans' doggedness about this entirely symbolic attack on women's rights shows that, despite hopeful claims to the contrary, the religious right still wholly owns the Republican Party. 

May 13 2015 12:10 PM

Austin Greets Female-Majority City Council With Workshop on How Women Are the Worst

Recent elections in Austin, Texas, have given the city its first majority-female city council, with seven out of 11 members of the lady persuasion. It's a milestone, though not an earth-shattering one. But city manager Marc Ott—or someone in his office—apparently thought the change needed to be met with a training workshop for city employees on how to deal with this confounding creature, the female human being. 

The first speaker was Jonathan K. Allen, whose claim to fame is being the city manager of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, which has an all-female city council. Austin-American Statesman writer Lilly Rockwell collected some of the highlights of Allen's talk—which appeared to be given to a majority-female audience—in which he explained that women lack interest in “the financial argument” and would rather ask questions than read handout material. Allen shows heroic forbearance in putting up with all these chattering females, because “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient.”

“They don't process things at [sic] the same way,” Allen said, to women, referring to women. (The same way as what? Woman, you ask too many questions!) 

Shortly after Allen's talk, the women of Lauderdale Lakes fired him as city manager. (Lest you think that a feminist cabal is running all the men out of town: They appointed another man, Dan Holmes, as acting city manager.)

Later in the session, business consultant Miya Burt-Stewart concurred with Allen's assessment that women can be irritating with their endless questions and also argued that men have a “dominating” management style while women have a “compromising” one. 

Training workshops full of self-important puffery are an unfortunate fact of the modern American workplace, but rarely do you see one this ridiculous. That this happened in Austin, generally a laid-back and liberal city, makes it all the more puzzling. When the Statesman asked why the city subjected a majority-female audience to evidence-free stereotypes about their own gender, city spokesman David Green said it was a “timely and relevant professional development opportunity.” Consultancy jargon will also teach you the importance of being patient.

May 12 2015 5:22 PM

To Battle the Scourge of “Double-Dipping,” Australia Will Cut Paid Family Leave

Earlier this year, the New York State Assembly passed the Paid Family Leave Act, which would require local employers to provide 12 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds salary. It's a modest advancement, but also an exceptional one, since America is an embarrassment when it comes to paid parental leave. As John Oliver pointed out on Sunday, only the U.S. and Papua New Guinea do not give their citizens paid family leave. 

Australia was one of the last countries to leave this ever-dwindling group—it didn't introduce paid leave until 2011. Now, it seems, Australia wants to turn its back on some of its leave policies. What's more, the cuts were announced on Mother’s Day. Great P.R. move! 

Currently, Australian parents earning less than $150,000 a year are entitled to 18 weeks of paid leave at the Australian minimum wage. They may take this leave in addition to employer-provided leave, either concurrently or by using the state leave to stretch out their paid time off. So, for example, if your employer gives 12 weeks of paid leave, you could then tack that onto the 18 weeks from the government, and get 30 weeks of paid leave.

According to the government, though, using both sources of leave is “double dipping”—a way for parents to receive double payments for the same time period. But according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Fact Check, the leave plan was built this way deliberately; Australia gives parents a potential total of 52 weeks of leave. “That’s not all paid. This is a way of extending the pay period," says Fact Check's John Barron. "It’s all very well to have time off work, but if you’re not getting paid, you have a lot of pressure to try to get back to the workforce even sooner.”

Under the new cuts, women who have no employer-provided leave will still get the same government benefit of 18 weeks. But women whose employer-provided leave is as or more generous than government leave will get nothing. And if your employer-provided leave is less than the government's benefit, the government will only make up the difference.

This is particularly insulting to Australians because the government had previously promised six months of paid leave, an increase from the current scheme of 18 weeks. The Sydney Morning Herald estimates that almost 80,000 new moms will lose their government payments under the new policy. Watching this unfold halfway around the world is hugely dispiriting. It shows that even if we make progress on this issue in America, we can’t relax. We have to keep fighting.  

May 12 2015 12:30 PM

The ACLU Demands an Investigation Into Hollywood’s Gender Discrimination

Gender bias in Hollywood is so entrenched that it seems insurmountable, but the New York Times reports that the ACLU is confronting the behemoth anyway. “On Tuesday the American Civil Liberties Union will ask state and federal agencies to investigate the hiring practices of Hollywood’s major studios, networks and talent agencies, and possibly bring charges against them,” Cara Buckley at the New York Times writes, “for what the organization described as rampant and intentional gender discrimination in recruiting and hiring female directors.”

The ACLU of Southern California, which is leading the effort alongside the national ACLU Women’s Rights Project, has details on the investigation, which could reveal whether Hollywood studios are disregarding state and federal regulations banning discrimination against women. They have plenty of statistical evidence to bring to the table:

Last year, 70 network shows—nearly a third—hired no women directors at all. The numbers for women remained static from the previous report. White men directed 69 percent of all television episodes analyzed. “Women directors simply aren’t getting a fair opportunity to succeed, because of systemic discrimination,” said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

The go-to excuse for these discrepancies is the claim that there's not enough women in the pipeline who have enough experience for these jobs. But according to ACLU lawyers, female students “are well represented in prominent film schools such as USC, NYU and UCLA,” with a “roughly equal” number of women as men focusing on directing. What's more, the number of women being hired for Hollywood jobs has remained static or worse for two decades: “In 2014, women were only 7 percent of directors on the top 250 grossing films, [which is] 2 percentage points lower than it was in 1998.”

There's reason to believe that women are held to a higher experience standard than men when it comes to directing jobs. Take, for instance, Michelle MacLaren, who was set to be the first female director of a major superhero flick, departing the set of Wonder Woman so hastily. Variety reported that inside sources told them that studio executives “became increasingly concerned about MacLaren directing a large-scale, action-packed production when her experience was limited to the small screen.”

“With most of her recent experience coming from quiet, small-scale kitchen sink dramas like Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead,” Mike Vago of the AV Club sarcastically wrote, “[MacLaren] clearly didn’t have enough experience with battle scenes or complicated location shooting.” Contrast her experience with the Russo brothers, who directed Captain America: Winter Soldier and are on tap for three more Marvel films—prior to helming some of the biggest superhero movies of all time, the Russo brothers worked mostly in sitcoms such as Community and Happy Endings

It's easy to dismiss this as a bunch of rich people haggling over a few choice jobs. But Hollywood movies and TV shows really define American culture, both in our eyes and around the world, more than nearly any other single institution or industry. The male-heavy leadership has led to that vision being a weird, corrupted one: a world where men seem to outnumber women 10-1, where women disappear from view after they turn 40, while elderly men are treated like they're at the height of virility, and where no one has noticed that men yelling “Let her go!” at a villain manhandling the damsel is a cliché that needed to die years ago. Hollywood needs to hire more women—not for the sake of those women, but for the sake of those of us in the audience who are done watching the same male power fantasies regurgitated again and again.  

READ MORE STORIES