The Slow-Cooked Sentence

In defense of marriage, motherhood for the mega-rich

Rachael Conlin Levy
McDermitt, Nevada

If marriage was a poker hand, this is where you’d fold.

A Seattle Times’ columnist recently chastised one-half of the wealthiest couple in the world, praising MacKenzie Bezos while reinforcing unfair expectations of marriage, motherhood and wealth.

On the eve of the third annual Women’s March, Nicole Brodeur said she expected more from Bezos following the announcement that she and her husband, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will divorce after 25 years. 

With snark and aspersions from anonymous sources, Brodeur entertained at Bezos’s expense. From first sentence to last, she diminished another woman’s work and self.

“It took this awfulness for most people to learn that you even existed,” said Brodeur, flirting with the outdated concept of calling MacKenzie Mrs. Bezos, while rebuking her privacy and pitying her lack of fame.  

To belittle someone for amusement is inexcusable. A woman should be free to make decisions on career and child without becoming a target of cheap shots.

Bezos published two novels, was one of Amazon’s first employees, and raises four children. But that wasn’t enough for Brodeur.

“This fortune, this freedom allows you to do so much more,” she said. “You will have billions to do whatever you choose, to step out from behind the Amazon smile and make a mark of your own.”

Such thought ignores the economic independence earned by liberal feminists, and perpetuates stereotypes. Washington was among the last states to extend financial autonomy to married women in 1889, about the same time feminism was fracturing over the issue of emancipation, said journalist Ann Crittenden, author of the 2002 “The Price of Motherhood.”

Interior view

Gilded view.

Women who wanted to be free of family roles pitted themselves against those seeking recognition as mothers and wives. The decision to seek liberation through paid work led to a numerous victories, and devalued motherhood, Crittenden said.

More than a century later the continued cheapening permits Brodeur to tell a writer and mother that more meaningful work could be found in giving. Emulate philanthropist Melinda French Gates, suggested Brodeur, because the wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates was the gold standard for living with purpose.

It’s hypocritical to urge a wealthy woman, liberated from family constraints, to ignore personal interests to focus on nurturing and protecting the world.

The Bezos family has financially supported early childhood education, homeless families and gay rights. But Bezos’ decision to not call attention to herself left her vulnerable.

“Last fall your husband announced a $2 billion philanthropic commitment. But your name wasn’t even mentioned,” Brodeur said.

The implication that a woman’s commitment to her community increases with her wealth is an assumption worth examining.

Bone of contention

It’s not talent, skill, intelligence or risk-taking that’s the secret to financial success — it’s luck, a 2018 study found.

Why does one couple who (like many) worked hard, but (unlike many) was blessed with tremendous luck, have obscene amounts of money and influence?

Growing wage inequality encourages reliance on the billionaire’s generosity.

Programs like The Giving Pledge, where billionaires voluntarily give away most of their money on or before death, is a moral commitment without legal teeth or public oversight. Gates is among the 187 of the world’s ultra-rich to sign; Bezos isn’t.

I neither congratulate nor condemn, but question the model of billionaire benevolence that shifts responsibility for public goods and services from everyone to the wealthy. Patronage, which mirrors the inequality between parent and child, undermines democracy and distracts from the systemic causes of income disparity.

What tugs at the heartstrings, tickles the fancy or tracks the politics of the richest woman on earth shouldn’t determine what’s best for you or me.

I want the billionaire fairly and squarely taxed.

Divide wealth more evenly between employee and owner. Replenish public coffers with the private gains reaped from shared resources. This returns power and responsibility to the voices of those who feel compelled to march in order to be heard.

I stand by both the right of both Bezos and Gates to choose what’s best for career and family. But wealth makes them no better a mother nor wiser a woman than you or I in deciding how to nurture and protect our world.

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