I just finished Primates of Park Avenue, a “memoir” by Wednesday Martin, published a couple of years ago. Written in a satirical manner, the book criticizes the lives of Upper East Side women, particularly mothers, from a “transplant” perspective – as in someone who is not really “from” there, but instead, moved in after her children were born. However, their lives are far from happy.
In the book, the women all seem to project the same type of image – tanned, perhaps overly bleached/tanned and wearing the standard “uniform” of a privileged, stay-at-home mom in the area. In other words, their closets include brands like Hermes (specifically Birkins), Lululemon and Christian Louboutin. In other words, a bit casual (Lululemon), yet extremely expensive (Birkins and Louboutins). Names are expensive, and if you don’t wear the “right” clothes, you’re not one of “us.” It’s kind of like middle or high school – in order to be in the “right” groups, you have to behave/look a certain way. Their kids have to attend certain schools at each level as well – the “right” (read: independent) kind of schools. I’m sure that’s at least somewhat truthful as many of the parents I know worry about specific programs or schools (and I know I’ll likely be that way if/once I have kids. My mom certainly was! I interviewed with Havergal, St. Clement’s AND BSS (The Bishop Strachan School), as well as TFS (Toronto French School), the only co-ed school on her “approved” list. Don’t know why she didn’t bother with Branksome. In any case, she preferred Havergal, I preferred BSS. I won. However, I’m not 100% certain HOW truthful the brand name obsession mentioned in the book really is. I’d say, perhaps, 50-75%?
On the outside, these women might seem to have the most privileged lives one can imagine, with huge summer homes in the Hamptons, private jets and spectacular Manhattan apartments, but really, they’re very sad. The author notes that because these women don’t work, their money depends on their husbands. If the husbands leave them, the money goes, leaving them with “just enough” to get by from the divorce settlement (there are some women who have their own, inherited money, but it often comes in regular “allowances,” like those with money from their husbands. As many aren’t investing and handling the money themselves, they have little to no control of how much goes in). The women, most who are very well educated (some with advanced degrees like an MBA), would have been away from the workforce too long to get a higher paying job, meaning the lifestyle they had for years would disappear. The women DO keep themselves occupied, with school committees, non-profit boards and, of course, fitness classes, but like the money, this could very well go. And, in turn, it is very stressful for them, with many of them on anti-anxiety meds (it’s all about keeping up with the Joneses). Many also turn to drinking. It’s not too different from the life of a middle class, suburban mother in the middle of the 20th century. It’s just more expensive. And with eating disorders and obsessions with fitness classes mixed in (with some taking two barre classes IN ONE DAY, according to the book. I’m pretty sure this is unlikely, though I know of a woman who took spin, followed by a lighter ballet class).
I feel the women are presented as being not very confident about themselves. They seem snobby towards others, and feel they have to have certain things and look a certain way. Sure, one should have “standards” – like wearing “real clothes” when you need to run to the store to grab, say, milk, or dress a certain way at nicer restaurants or at a wedding (yes, I believe in dress codes. Strict ones, at that), but to ostracize someone for wearing the wrong brand (as the book seems to imply)? Not good. I also have a feeling many of the women in the book did not grow up all that privileged, and because they scored wealthy husbands, feel that they need to flaunt. It’s kind of tacky, actually. Almost Kardashian-like. Actually, very MUCH Kardashian-like. Ew. And sad.
No matter how truthful or fictitious the book is, the book DOES teach us, as women, need to control at least some of the finances ourselves. Luckily, in most of our worlds, we do – we have jobs, and thus, contribute to the family budget. We know how much we can spend on what the family needs, whether it be necessities like food or laundry detergent, or “extras” like summer camp, a post-secondary fund or music lessons for the kids. Whatever else is left over can be saved and eventually used for oneself (like those pretty shoes you’ve been lusting).
NOTE: This post did not address other inaccuracies in the book, including brands, stores, etc…which weren’t in existence at the time the book was so-called “researched.” That would be a WHOLE OTHER PIECE!!!!!!!!!