How much do you think Jeff Bezos will get in the divorce?
In the Bezos marriage, the partners are equals. Jeff and MacKenzie started the company together. And they worked side by side. When the company was big and they had four kids, MacKenzie took half the load (kids) and Jeff took half the load (work).
Why do people assume Jeff will be doling out money to MacKenzie? The money is as much hers as it is his. Some headlines are simply despicable. NBC ran the headline The settlement between the world’s richest man and his wife. But if he is the world’s richest man, then she is the world’s richest woman. Already. Before the settlement. Because all his money is her money.
Consider what it would be like if NBC ran this headline: The settlement between the world’s richest woman and her husband. It sounds odd, right? Because the power in the sentence is so firmly on MacKenzie’s side. But then we should recognize the first headline as odd, too. The headline NBC ran is bad journalism because it distorts reality.
The language of divorce is about power, and we take power away from all stay-at-home spouses when we talk about MacKenzie like she has no money of her own.
Wired magazine published a great piece about how the famed companies of Silicon Valley are never founded by one, single person. It takes a team of people to do something so grand as Amazon, and MacKenzie was a key part of that team. Years ago, MacKenzie put any doubts about her contribution to rest in a long, meticulous review of a biography of Jeff. She gave the book one star.
MacKenzie has always stood up for her contribution in the marriage. But it’s not so easy for most women. Most women did not work side by side with their spouse to start the most disruptive company in the world.
Most women do their half of the team’s work and get very little credit for it. Because when it comes to spousal partnerships, society talks about the stay-at-home spouse like they are a freeloader, waiting to pick up their check in the divorce.
USA Today describes MacKenzie and Jeff starting Amazon together. But then USA Today frames the marriage this way:
Since then, Bezos became the world’s richest man, supplanting Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Forbes’ annual list of the 400 richest Americans three months ago, with his net worth rising to $160 billion, up from $81.5 billion a year ago.
MacKenzie Bezos became a novelist, winning an American Book Award for her 2005 debut novel “The Testing of Luther Albright.” Subsequently, she released the book “Traps” in 2013.
This is not an accurate representation of either Jeff or MacKenzie. One of the most dangerous parts of the USA Today summary is they left out that “since then” Jeff and MacKenzie also became parents. This is very important because it’s the work that MacKenzie did that makes her an equal partner in the marriage and equally as wealthy as Jeff.
So, USA Today should make a correction to give a more accurate description:
Since then, Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos became parents. At the same time, Jeff was the CEO of Amazon, and MacKenzie became a novelist. They also became the richest couple, supplanting Bill and Melinda Gates.
It’s unusual for such a high-profile CEO to be married to someone who is their equal. Which is why the language we use to talk about this divorce is so important. Society does not celebrate the contribution stay-at-home partners make to corporate jobs. But huge jobs like CEO of Amazon are actually two-person jobs.
When we automatically assume the stay-at-home spouse is the one with less money, we disparage the contribution of the stay-at-home spouse. Today more and more women choose to stay at home with kids, but only after they spend time in the corporate world, where people get money and accolades and promotions. The transition to parenting is difficult, because there are no awards or promotions. The transition is even more difficult when journalists don’t give women credit for their contributions.
How you talk about the Bezos divorce says a lot about you. We don’t come across divorces like this very often; MacKenzie is a powerhouse. Let’s talk about her that way, because talking about women with power while being respectful of that power teaches us to respect the power inside ourselves.