Feminist views on money and responsibility
When I hear advice on how to be responsible with money, my thoughts flash to 401k's and calculations of how much I spend each year on lattés. It's an onslaught of guilt and self-doubt about how I manage my finances.
Luckily, feminist perspectives on money take a broader approach. Responsibility from a feminist viewpoint means more than budgeting. It's about understanding the historical events and expectations that influence our money decisions and shape our financial impact on other women. Below are three key takeaways, courtesy of Andi Zeisler, Roxane Gay and Georgia Lee Hussey.
1. Pull other women up with you, but don't expect trickle-down feminism to solve gender inequality.
In the words of Andi Zeisler, cofounder and editorial director of Bitch Media:
Much as “trickle-down” economic theory was a linchpin of Reaganomics, “trickle-down feminism”—a term coined by sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom—has become central to mainstream feminism: both propose that entitlements and benefits will flow downward from the citizens richest in those resources, and ultimately benefit everybody." --Andi Zeisler, We Were Feminists Once
Sometimes, having women in positions of corporate power benefits everyone. Sheryl Sandberg recalls in Lean In that being pregnant as a Google department head helped her lobby for maternity parking spots that all female employees could use. But simply promoting more women to the C-suite doesn't solve gender inequality. Just because a woman is an executive, it doesn't mean she'll look out for more junior employees being underpaid. For C-levels of all genders, being responsible with money includes ensuring that your staff is fairly compensated.
2. Respect the difference between "poor" and "broke."
When New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay speaks about her early days as a writer, she remembers:
I worked at night and went to school during the day. I was broke all the time, which is not to be confused with being poor. I had a safety net and I knew I had a safety net." --Roxane Gay, Hunger
I've heard so many founders speak about building their companies from a garage while eating ramen three times a day. It's often a source of pride for successful entrepreneurs with humble beginnings.
While I respect and know all too well the discipline, risk tolerance and stress that accompany the early days of starting a business, I sometimes wonder how these stories would shift if founders were encouraged to tell the whole truth. Many of us have savings from previous high-paying jobs, or we have families to serve as a lifeline. Why does it feel embarrassing to admit that?
Hiding the existence of a safety net undermines entrepreneurs who truly don't have one. The expectation that building a booming business relies on determination alone isn't fair to those who would starve or lose their homes if their startup failed. In this case, being responsible with money means being honest in the financial stories we tell ourselves and others.
3. Understand the history of women and money, and continue standing up for the right to control your finances.
As Georgia Lee Hussey, CEO of Modernist Financial, reminds us:
It wasn’t until 1988 that a woman was no longer required to have a male co-signer for a business loan. Now, I say to myself, 'Oh, no wonder I didn’t think I could start a company. I literally couldn’t.' Structurally, I was not allowed.”
As women, we're in the very beginning stages of understanding how we manage money on our own terms. Legal barriers controlled women's financial freedom until as recently as the 1980s. In this context, being responsible with money means refraining from telling women how to spend, save and earn. While many people appreciate financial advice, it's worth asking women whether they're interested in hearing yours. In my view, women have been told what to do with their money for long enough.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.