Today's New York Times Thursday Styles section features a story by Laura M. Holson all about the busy philanthropic life of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt's wife, Wendy Schimdt, who spends a lot of her time (and money) making life better on the island of Nantucket. If Schmidt weren't married to a high profile tech mogul, who also happens to have a net worth of an estimated at $6.9 billion, per Holson, the article would boil down to "Rich Woman Does Community Work." And, while that's nice, it's not interesting or news. However, because Wendy Schmidt is married to someone with so much wealth and a high profile tech job, we're supposed to applaud the fact that she does anything at all. The title itself even suggests she has overcome our low expectations for the wife of someone like Schmidt: "You Could Google Her," as if we should be surprised that she's done anything noteworthy enough to show up on the search engine that enabled her wealth. (By the way, you can Google people with far less prominent accomplishments than Schmidt and come up with something.) Nonetheless, we're supposed to feel differently about Schmidt because she does something with her life, even though she doesn't have to. She could sit around like a Real Housewife of Silicon Valley all day, after all. That assumption doesn't give women like Schmidt much credit, but it runs through a lot of similar profiles.
We see this kind of writing about Silicon Valley's elite wives every so often. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg married longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan in March, many reporters felt it necessary to mention the fact that she wasn't just another "stereotypical billionaire’s wife of the many-spouses-of-Donald-Trump variety," as Forbes' Claire O'Connor put it. Chan had a medical degree from the University of California San Francisco—a doctor! Another article informed us that she "isn't just arm candy," again pointing to her academic achievements. Beyond Chan, high powered wives is a thing in the tech world: "Chan joins a group of Silicon Valley billionaire spouses who are achievers in their own right rather than kept women or arm candy," continues O'Connor. MSN created a whole slideshow of these "Silicon Valley's billionaire spouses who are over-achievers in their own right," which leads with Chan, but includes the late Steve Jobs' wife, Lauren Powell Jobs, who after getting an BSE from Wharton and an MBA from Stanford started her own health food business and Melinda Gates, who started at Microsoft but now runs the well known Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.* You've come a long way, babies!
What makes these women's achievements more interesting than other rich women is that the tech CEO wife as subject says something about these technology moguls who rule the world—or at least the Internet. (Hint: They are not superficial.) Rather than pick the Real Housewives or yoga moms, these geeks-turned-billionaires chose smart, motivated partners with goals. We can use this data point to judge the moguls' overall characters, since, by the logic of these articles, wives still pretty much only exist to reflect positively on their husbands. Maybe it says something about their morals, too, that their wives are virtuous, as they must be. And those are the same morals with which they built these companies that now rule our lives. Then before we know it we reach this conclusion: If they're the type of dudes who marry women with values maybe their companies have values, too. Google isn't evil—which is embodied not only by Wendy Schmidt's good work, but by Sergey Brin's wife, Anne Wojcicki's startup, 23andMe.
But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It shouldn't be considered a noteworthy thing for these men that these women choose to do something in the first place. Most families in America have two working partners. The latest from The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number at 58.5 percent. Sure, many of these people do it out of economic necessity, which is not an issue for these families, but, there are many women out there who work who don't "have to" but because, you know, they want to. Some of them aren't married to billionaire CEOs, either. People, male and female, like the idea of contributing to the world. And it's not surprising that those who attended top universities before meeting their rich husbands would share such goals. (Gold diggers, on the other hand, are merely in the business of marrying rich.) Of course, these women are extra lucky because their wealth allows them to pursue their passions -- healthcare, health food, philanthropy -- rather than the other fields in which their higher ed degrees would have given them entree.
But, no, instead we are expected to marvel at their will to achieve when their husbands already possess enough money for a lifetime supply of yoga classes and bonbons. We understand the theory that nobody would work if they didn't have to, but, these women aren't stuck in unfulfilling office cubes. They're doing what they want, trying to make their own dreams happen because maybe seeing their husband's dreams come true isn't enough. We should definitely give them credit for their successes, but not for trying in the first place.
*This post originally stated Laurene Powell Jobs got her MBA from Wharton.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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