Primates of Park Avenue24 Feb 2017 – 4 minutes to read
Wednesday Martin describes how she scientifically studied, sort of through participant observation, the lives of women living on the Upper Easy-Side of New York: the mothers of Part Avenue. An account that to me as both a mother and academically trained sociologist was more enthralling than any crime novel. She actively uses academic terminology like “population” and “species” and draws humorous and precise comparisons to indigenous tribes and numerous ape colonies to explain and exemplify human behavior.
It is through this relationship between primates and the housewives of Park Avenue in terms of breeding and foster of their offspring and the description of the hierarchies and the importance of beauty from the biological perspective that the “Primates of Park Avenue” becomes such an enjoyable popular scientific book that has you smirking and rolling your eyes with every page turn.
One must inevitably think about what codes the author might have decoded upon witnessing the mothers in placid Augsburg if she had spent a couple of years amongst us on our playgrounds and in our WhatsApp groups.
The reading matter does not fail to leave its mark. The long descriptions of the levels of regard and disregard sent by mothers in the way of other mothers during their early morning encounters in the preschool and the reasons for this behavior rub off on the reader. I myself suddenly notice how some mothers seem to always greet me in a friendly manner when picking up our children while most of them simply do not. This probably also conceals a code of affiliation of sorts. Who has been around the longest? Whose children have an afternoon date for fun and play? Who can bake the best birthday cake?
And all of this while we are finding ourselves in a quite heterogeneous environment and institution. In our son’s preschool are a lot of children from foreign countries, different skin tones and originating from diverse social backgrounds (social status). The woman on Park Avenue only seem to differ by the fact wether their husbands are rich, very rich, or extra super rich. Nevertheless or even therefore they constantly strain themselves to establish the hierarchy between them.
When Wednesday Martin goes on to describe the Birkin bag over the course of 34 pages and no word is too much or too exaggerated (from my point of view of someone who will never afford a Birkin bag) than it begins to dawn on you how defining your wardrobe is inside this social fabric. I am familiar with the names of most designers mentioned by Martin only from watching the “Sex and the city” series. My wardrobe originates mostly from second hand shops and mail orders. But I ask myself which codes are in effect amongst the mothers of our neighborhood.
Of course your are tempted to search for such codes in your own surroundings after reading. But when having fulfilled your role in society for a long time already you are unable to tell wether you act like you will or how the social norms dictate. This book could as well put you into an identity crisis.
But one thing is for certain: after reading no single woman on earth could desired to change place with this mothers of park avenue. Money alone will not make you happy. This fact has not been dissected in such glorious fashion as by Wednesday Martin.
Take for example the critique of capitalism carried by her observations on the stress caused by having a choice. Wether it is handbag or private preschool each decision influences your social status. There is no relaxation. The whole existence means stress and stress leads to sickness and discontent. Stress might even delay ovulation. I mean…wtf?
The feminist in me of course cares most about the role allocation on park avenue. Wednesday Martin observes: the women are totally dependent on their husbands - not only money wise but socially since their husbands career governs the weal and woe of the family while her career consists of raising the children. Divorce is a kind of social stigmatization that these women are unfit to survive since their whole existence is targeted on playing by the rules of hierarchy. Therefore divorce is not even an option. Period. You can imagine how this affects the quality of a marriage.
I can most warmly recommend the book and anticipate the codes you will detect amongst the parents of your population.
PS: Content Note: the book contains description of miscarriage