Overcoming the Taboo Subject of Money
It’s not polite to discuss money. Or so many of us learned at a young age. For women, this lesson was even more deeply embedded, as men have long been seen as breadwinners in charge of family finances. But that message is outdated and destructive: Not talking openly about money has left women at a huge disadvantage.
Women talk about money: breaking the taboo highlights the many financial issues that are integral to women’s lives: well-being, equality and freedom. Edited by Rebecca Walker, founder of third-wave feminism in the 1990s and daughter of prolific author and activist Alice Walker, the collection tackles many aspects of money – from credit card debt to healthcare bills. health to guilt over inherited wealth – highlighting how money plays an important but usually hidden role in women’s personal lives and careers.
“The way money has worked in our lives,” Walker tells Shondaland, “is veiled.” Such obscurity kept men in financial control. Look at the numbers. White men make up nearly 90% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. Then there’s the pay gap, with white women in the United States earning 79% of what white men earn, and black women earning only than 63% of what white men earn.
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The ways in which women have been handicapped when it comes to financial independence are many. Traditionally, women did not learn about money in the same way as men. And many were raised to keep the peace, be kind, defer to others – qualities that, while considerate, often conflict with the skills needed to ask for raises or negotiate a salary. Walker says: ‘There was a feeling of ‘I have to deal with it myself’. She hopes her collection of essays will address the stigma, shame and discomfort that many women feel when talking about money.
Another huge problem? Women are more likely to struggle with childcare and elder care, as highlighted during the pandemic when many were forced to take on these responsibilities. They quit their jobs at such an alarming rate that Vice President Kamala Harris called it “national emergency.” And women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence and assault, which can also rob them of financial independence. Until the 1970s, women could not open credit card accounts without the permission of their husbands or fathers, and many women did not inherit property.
women talk about money is Walker’s fifth anthology and was the most difficult subject – even more so than race or gender – for her to find writers willing to explore. “People didn’t want to acknowledge that they were in trouble, that they were fighting the financial aid office, or that they came from extreme wealth,” she says. They feared judgment. As a result of the writing process, Walker noticed that nearly all of the writers had come to a “cathartic review of their relationship to money”.
But telling these stories is not only helpful on a personal level; it can have a wider effect. Transparency on financial matters has been linked to greater equality at work, with companies like Whole Foods and SumAll adopt transparency policies to help retain and attract employees.
Walker believes women have been victims of a “predatory financial system” for decades. In particular, she notes, women’s emotional and psychological labor has never been considered worthy of monetary value. “Our culture of capital,” says Walker, “takes advantage of women’s free labor.” While women help increase the population, people who join the workforce earn more money.
Although she was raised by a mother who publicly fought for fairness, Walker acknowledges that conversations about money didn’t happen outside the home. “There was a real divide between this kind of public activism and the personal,” she notes. Women had too little and felt shame or had “too much” and felt guilty or vulnerable. She would ask her father, who was active in the stock market and investing, for financial advice, but she says, “He really didn’t take me seriously,” despite mentoring her brother.
Dominique Broadway, finance expert and CEO of Finances demystified, wants to help black women in particular become financially confident. As a black woman herself, Broadway says she’s been “at an information deficit” about finances. She taught herself to trade stocks at age 16 and became the first person in her family to attend college. However, when she looked at her peers, she realized that many of them were struggling with their own finances and she wanted to do something to help level the playing field.
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Broadway says financial education is generally aimed at men. But another big hurdle she’s noticed is that many women who become mothers can “put their finances on hold because they’re so focused on their family,” she says. “They may feel overwhelmed by it and not prioritize it.” On top of that, women often don’t “ask for what we want” and are told “we should be happy for what we have”.
As an employer herself, Broadway often sees men asking for what they want and “women putting themselves down.” She believes that employers have an obligation to correct the imbalance. According to her, being financially independent can help women make better life decisions. “It can allow us to set an example for our children,” she says. “How can we as women earn money? We can be in charge.
Hope Reese is a freelance journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Voiceand Atlantic. Follow her on Twitter @hope_reese.
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