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Toxic Femininity

I recently read an article about how women should plan differently for retirement, based on the stats about women. It said we were more conservative when it came to financial risk taking, that we earned less over our lifetimes due to caretaking responsibilities, and that we tended to live longer than men, and so would need more long term care insurance coverage. It also said we were better investors and savers with that little we have. It reminded me of a time I was sitting in a financial education presentation in a local library. I was heavily pregnant, sitting beside an elderly Asian woman who was probably around 80. At the end during the Q&A, she raised her hand and said, with a wise and knowing self assurance, “I think we should just have as many sons as possible for our retirement plan. No need to save for ourselves, as our sons will take care of us.” It was like time traveling into a historical time and attitude, but it was still alive today. The idea that we’re more financially vulnerable comes as no surprise, since no women were even allowed to own credit cards until 1974. That’s within my parents’ lifetime. My mom was born into a world in which she would have had to get my dad to co-sign for her financial moves. Just imagine how this affects culture: if I needed a man so I could have money to just live, and I’m a practical planner type and not a Jayne Eyre type, that’s all I’d be working on: attracting men to take care of me. What a burden for the man, to never know if a woman truly loves him or if she just needs him. And what of lesbians? What of Jayne Eyre types? A woman would have to remain a spinster and hope her other male family members care about her or at the very least feel obligated to, be destitute, or live a disingenuous life. When it became law for women to earn the same minimum wage as men for the same type of work… it had to have shaken our cultural foundations to the core… men who needed financial dominance over women would have needed to reassess their contribution to relationships. There would have been some employer lag, where mental gymnastics had to occur to justify still paying women less, or maybe expecting women to do more to make up the “raise.” Sound familiar to today’s workplace culture? As this new law began to affect real lives, it was like opening the flood gates for women to go get their financial independence and chase their own American Dream for the first time! Just imagine, women could now get their own money and spend it without asking a man for an allowance. I remember when I was in my dating phase of life, that there was a mixture of attitudes about when and whether to split checks. It was likely borne out of female financial disempowerment, and became a part of our dating cultural expectations. Some viewed the man paying as chivalrous, others found it controlling and oppressive like a tit-for-tat. Some viewed 50/50 as fair, since they both were sharing an experience, while others felt each should pay for their own meals/choices. Some liked when women offered to pay, and the man would never let them actually pay. Some appreciated when women paid, others felt ripped off by the “too strong/independent” woman. I’m sure money scripts played a role in the varying attitudes about that. Just imagine how enterprising capitalists felt: a new market no one knows about selling to! Is it any wonder that the following decades have seen this insane increase in GDP? Female money in the economy enriched Americans and improved our collective quality of life. We literally made the people who take care of us richer, and they spent it on taking care of us even more. We humans are gold. Did you know that each of us is worth $10M to the US government? The Equal Credit Opportunities Act in 1974 made it possible for women to get their own credit cards without needing a man to co-sign! How long do you think it took for banks to ACTUALLY let women have them? Is it any wonder that many women I speak to about finances are intimidated by it all? How many of their parents and teachers were teaching them about personal finances as they were growing up? How many of us had people in our lives who believed that money wasn’t in the realm of female responsibilities, and kept us out of their knowledge-imparting conversations? How many of us know less about money than our brothers do, and attribute it to our own “lack of interest?” I assert social messaging has told us we aren’t supposed to know, that knowing somehow makes us less attractive women, and we only valued being attractive because our actual livelihoods depended on it historically. This is something we inherited and we can decide we don’t want it once we see it for what it is.

Ladies, 1978 is when we could be pregnant AND legally keep our jobs. Our fear of reprisals for pregnancy is a hangover from historical attitudes... and those beliefs and biases are still in the workforce today. I was born into that new world... but my mom soon became an entrepreneur... I wonder if it was easier than gender discrimination and the motherhood penalty. This was before the time of the Silicon Valley tech unicorns, so there wasn't a cultural romanticism around entrepreneurship at that time. We have been left out until recently, through the laws in this country (the United States). There’s the change in attitudes, then the change in the law, followed by all the people who are resisting change being forced along with actually following the law. Just because women were allowed by law to do a thing, doesn’t mean people didn’t try to keep women from their financial empowerment. Keeping people ignorant, to me, is a form of violence. As someone with a background in science and cybersecurity risk analysis, I know there can be a difference in conclusions when analyzing data. It’s easy to look at differences and fallaciously conclude things based on what we already believe… that’s human nature. However, we’ve done our share of logical reasoning in our day, and recognize that there are ways to compensate for our own failings and to create heuristics that work better and better. Every now and then, I might have time to look at the original data and draw my own conclusions. If we’ve historically been relegated to housekeeping status, then the numbers for women’s financial health would show some lag while we catch up. Slower still is the education for women: unless we invest in women’s financial education and empowerment, it will go slowly and organically. Grassroots programs like my Money Club, book, and blog are sharing the information out, but how many people can it reach who really need it? I mean, I don’t recall any financial institutions showing up at school fairs to teach us. And now they lament not having enough women in their ranks to help them sell to female customers. I have been approached by financial planning and life insurance organizations because of my work in this space. I have a vision for our collective future, in which we are financially empowered and truly equal. That’s when we can have relationships with people because we love them, freely and truly. When we can make choices freely, and not need to code switch for survival. It's a vision in which single mothers are no poorer than single parents generally, where all children are well taken care of, with food security and access to quality education and healthcare. Where the only differences between children are their looks, personality, interests, and how spoiled they are, not in their basic necessities. Where our aging parents are also well cared for in their basic necessities, where social security actually means social security, and we can see them enjoying the quality of life they became accustomed to during their wage-earning years. I believe the next cultural revolution will come from men, the men being raised to love instead of being cold. Then caretaking responsibilities will be shared in an egalitarian way, and the go-go-go culture of workplace brown out culture will have to flex to the will of the people collectively, who all value work-life balance. I'm seeing Gen Z leading the way here. So yeah, I celebrate when my kid cries over lost relationships or empathizing with others’ losses or loneliness. I tell him I love him most then.

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