Housework and child care are real work and deserve real money, so many women are 100 percent behind any initiative that fairly pays women for their time and labour. But after decades of feminist advocacy for fair wages and material acknowledgement of domestic work, what women have got is the “wife bonus”. A “wife bonus” is a standby on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where rich husbands reward their stay-at-home wives with a hefty end-of-the-year cheque to thank them for all their hard work. One such woman, Polly Phillips, wrote in a much-reviled piece in the New York Post about the designer bags and shoes she buys after her bonus, which she calls “the nod from a happy boss for a job well done.”
The prospect of paying women wages for domestic labour is hardly a new idea: Feminist activist Selma James started the Wages for Housework campaign in the 1970s. Women absolutely should be recognised for their contributions at home , and while ‘wife bonuses’ are apparently limited to ultra-rich, despite the fact that most women who stay at home are lower-income, studies show that male executives’ ‘stay-at-home’ wives do make it possible for their husbands to put in the long hours often required to succeed in high-powered careers.
But why a bonus and not a salary? As Washington Post writer Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out: “It’s not getting paid for work that is necessarily condescending or sexist. It is doling that money out like a year-end treat, rather than delivering it regularly like the wage that it is,” she writes. And why is it that a woman’s husband is her “boss” instead of her partner?
And how is a “wife bonus” different from an allowance in any way beyond the name? If men’s preferred careers require that someone else take care of their children and do their laundry — and support their work outside the home in all sorts of other, non-tangible ways — it seems only fair that the money they make belongs equally to their marriage partners as well as to them.
Women are not children who deserve allowances, but adults who should have equal access to the family finances without reservation or guilt. And considering the serious risk women take on when they tie their financial futures to husbands that may leave them or that they may one day want to leave, it is more than appropriate to ensure some level of security.
A “wife bonus” may be objectionable — husbands are not bosses and wives are not their employees — but paying women for the difficult and important work they do is not. It is just unfortunate and unsurprising that the first women finally remunerated for the labour they do in their own homes are the women who, financially, need it the least.