The single best column out of Davos this year has to be Anya Schiffrin’s piece titled “Jealous Davos Mistresses.”
Schiffrin, who is the wife of Joseph Stiglitz, describes the caste system created by the nametags handed out to attendees at the Davos World Economic Forum.
Here is how it works: everyone at Davos has to wear a name tag and these are color coded by status/occupation (speaker, organizer, journalist etc). Usually these name tags include some kind of affiliation, such as the company or organization you work for.
But wives’ name tags state only their name. This means there is nothing on it that could help a stranger strike up a conversation. If you don’t use your husband’s name then you are guaranteed virtual anonymity. Upon being introduced to someone new, the normal Davos gesture is not to look at the face of the person they are meeting but to look down at his/her name tag.
The wives’ name tag guarantees that the Davos man in question will instantly decide you are of no value and so he immediately looks over your shoulder for the next best opportunity, i.e. someone without a white name tag who is, by definition, more important than you. Many wives refuse to be Davos wives and the white name tag is the reason they most often cite for their decision to stay home.
I can already hear the gnashing of teeth over this one. “Why does she insist that it is only wives? What about Davos husbands? Why is this so heteronormative, anyway?”
Zzzz. The truth is that there are a lot more Davos wives than husbands. And the Davos husband is probably so rare a creature that he defies attempts at categorization. The real action is with the women, regardless of whether or not this fits into our contemporary views about the equality of men and women.
Schiffrin goes on to describe the plight of two other categories of Davos women: the pitied mistresses and the feared single ladies prowling to score a Davos man.
But if wives have it bad, mistresses, who are invited under a variety of guises and usually wind up with a white name tag, have it worse. Typically their men are swallowed up by a tsunami of meetings and interviews and don’t have the time or inclination to take their mistresses around with them. Often these men go to high-level dinners to which wives and mistresses are not invited. The skinny and beautifully dressed Davos Mistress typically hangs around the auditoriums waiting for a couple of minutes with her man. While waiting, she keeps her eyes peeled looking to search and destroy the competition.
The only thing worse than a white pass, is no pass. Rumor has it (heard first-hand from more than one jealous Davos Mistress) that there are legions of women — let’s call them the aspiring mistresses — who do not get a coveted Davos invitation and badge and so can not enter the Congress Centre but who come anyway. They book a hotel room and prowl the streets hoping to snare their prey. They are the worst enemies of the Davos Mistress.
So here’s an open invitation: if you are a Davos mistress or an “aspiring mistress,” I’ll give you room to write your own view of Davos. Are you really worse off than a Davos wife? Should you be feared? Are you there to stalk your prey? Send an email to NetNet@cnbc.com.
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