Wednesday Martin: Unlocking the Privileged Code

Primates of Park Avenue Cover

As many of you might know, in addition to Style Sprinter blog I am also working as a contributing writer for a New York based InLove Magazine. I was thinking that you might be interested in reading some of the interviews I wrote for them and decided to start sharing those with you. My first interview features a popular writer Wednesday Martin who published a book Primates of Park Avenue where she researched the habits and secrets of New York’s Upper East Side housewives. I hope you enjoy this new format and look forward to your feedback on whether you’d love to see more interviews on my blog.

Wednesday Martin Interview

The wealthiest 1% has been attacked in American mass culture multiple times, starting from a cult TV series about preppy kids, “Gossip Girl” and ending up with massive Occupy Wall Street protests. This summer a Michigan born and New York based author Wednesday Martin, made the headlines of the national media with her book Primates of Park Avenue, where she reveals secret obsessions and habits of Upper East Side (UES) moms. In this exclusive interview for InLove magazine, Wednesday provides even more details on what it takes to be a member of the elitist Manhattan community.

Reading the chapter of your book dedicated to Physique 57 and SoulCycle, I couldn’t stop recalling a famous saying, “The smaller the dress size, the larger the apartment.” It seems like for many UES moms analyzed in your book, this notion of ultra-thinnest is indeed very relevant and important. Why do you that think is? Does the size of your clothes really indicate how wealthy you are

Yes, I think you are right on target. In poverty cultures, there’s nothing more shameful than being thin. There, fat confers status. Here we are just the opposite. Being thin communicates that you have the luxury of refusing food.

It was important for you to write about your UES experience (and you did it gracefully). Why did you choose this topic for your book? Was it more important for you personally (as a woman) or professionally (as an anthropologist)?

Once I set eyes on these women, with their beautiful, enviable bodies and outfits, looking fashion front row ready for school drop off, I knew there was a story behind it all. I learned very quickly that they were an elite tribe. When you see tribal behaviors—hiring Disney guides with disability passes, cultish dedication to particular exercises practices, a deep suspicion of outsiders—you just know that anthropology is your key to unlocking it all.

I can’t agree more with your thoughts on anxiety that so many women are struggling with. I personally think that this is one of the side effects of capitalism: when people have too many options to choose from, it’s frustrating. What do you think is the main cause of anxiety of UES women you are writing about? Is it money or inability to fully conform to the existing social norms?

There had been a lot of writing—Malcolm Gladwell and other people—about “the choice dilemma”—the way more choices (and wealth) and options lead to more unhappiness. In my view, the choice dilemma is gendered—it’s worse for women. And particularly for mothers who are choosing options for their children. Because there is no way you can just say, “It doesn’t matter which nanny or car seat I choose. It’s just my kid.” I think economic dependency and living in a body display culture where the bar is set very high are two other factors that create anxiety.

What did your typical day look like while you were “in the field” collecting data for your book? We already know that you dropped off your son at the school where you met the Queen Bee and Co., but what happened after that?

A typical day of fieldwork was coffee with some moms, taking the little ones to the playground or museum with or without nannies, maybe a school meeting or a charity luncheon. Or going out to lunch. Sometimes there were evening events. There were lectures that mommies went to as well—the Rockefeller Science series was big, as were lectures at the 92nd St. Y—and planning meeting for charities.

Wednesday Martin InterviewWRITER’S PROFILE

Wednesday Martin, PhD, has worked as writer and social researcher in New York City for more than two decades. The author of Stepmonster and Primates of Park Avenue, she has appeared on Today, CNN, NPR, NBC News, the BBC Newshour, and Fox News as an expert on step-parenting and parenting issues. She writes for the online edition of Psychology Today and her work has appeared in The New York Times. She was a regular contributor to New York Post’s parenting and lifestyle pages for several years and has written for The Daily Telegraph. Wednesday received her PhD from Yale University and lives in New York City with her husband and their two sons.