I have a secret.
Some of the folks who know me in bloglandia know about it.
It’s kind of embarrassing.
OK, I’ll just say it.
I’m a capitalist.
(Granted, not an all-holds-barred capitalist, but a fan of regulated capitalism, to adjust for privilege issues untouched by laissez-faire capitalism.)
Since I do get involved in progressive groups, this can be quite awkward. I remember going to a philanthropic function once where we sat down in a healing circle and introduced ourselves and gave a brief summary of our work backgrounds. One guy had been a PETA organizer and a Peace Corps volunteer. One woman taught inner-city drum lessons and did henna tattoos. Her friend was a chef at a raw food restaurant and did pro bono piercing.
I escaped to the bathroom before they came around to me and then snuck back in once the brainstorming session started. What was I supposed to say: IBM, Big 3 Automaker, Big Law Firm? (this was before the addition to my resume of “Vegas Stripper,” which I don’t think would’ve helped matters much – maybe a little if I’d upped the street cred by dubbing it “sex worker.”)
Shoot me now, please.
There are few areas which create such disdain with Third Wave Feminism (as per usual, if this isn’t applicable, it’s not about you) as money. Even though, as Lauren points out, low wage workers are likely to be young and female. The reason for this is on a continuum with women’s lack of parity at all levels. As Lauren also notes, canned financial advice often isn’t helpful or relevant for low wage workers.
The kinds of programs that could help, whether it’s mentoring on an individual level or job training on a larger scale, typically cannot be easily embarked upon by other women without security of our own. And yet, the concept of money in TWF is often scorned.
Not, however, just any money. There’s money and money.
Now, it’s perfectly OK to have money that you had no or little role in producing. We all know TWF folks who fit this category. So you have deniability and can gently, knowingly scoff at those who did produce it as having lowly priorities (this usually doesn’t extend to not accepting the fruits of those priorities, though).
The only rule you need to uphold to be totally AOK per TWF is to apologize at frequent and regular intervals for this unasked-for privilege and blame someone or something for not everyone having it. If you do that sincerely enough, you’re totally off the hook and you can resume the regular programming of suggesting that others who are trying to earn similar privilege, especially those who aren’t apologizing, are corrupt.
Now, up until about my early 20s, I was right there with TWF (although possibly before it began) as to the vulgarity of money. My parents were liberal arts professors (my mom later quit to get into social work focusing on disadvantaged communities). They were proud of reading the New York Times, doing the crossword in a couple of minutes, and never reading a word of the business or real estate sections. There was something déclassé about devoting time to that.
I don’t know whether we were middle-middle or lower-middle. Somewhere in there. Sometimes it was hard to pay bills, but we managed most of the time. I had to re-wear clothes too frequently, but we never lacked the essentials. It did bother me a bit when a neighbor brought over some used clothes for me and my sisters in a garbage bag – the implication being that they would be an improvement over what we typically wore. But while it was clear that not everyone was working 20 hours a week during college or was there 100% on loans, it didn’t particularly bother me.
Towards the end of college, though, with divorce (with its associated lawyers and shrinks and their hourly fees) and family medical issues rearing their ugly heads, it dawned on me that maybe it would have been good for someone to have been reading the business section, or thinking about things like marketing or networking. During that period, when my ulcer-ridden dad got a traffic ticket, he’d go into a panic knowing it’d be the difference between paying and not paying car insurance, even on a ten-year-old clunker.
But none of that really bugs me too much. My parents are similar to various other (not all) academics who do not derive cerebral benefit from pursuit of the almighty dollar and don’t prize the other benefits enough to make them seem worth the effort. Not everyone needs to be highly interested in money. Especially if they’re doing thing they love and don’t feel the incentive to save up to retire early.
What does bother me is when lefty guilt over money is launched onto the glass ceiling to push it down another few notches.
Let’s look at what lefty guilt tells us money is vs what it can be.
Here’s the bad:
• Golden handcuffs keeping someone in an unfulfilling job
• An addiction to toys
• A wasteful lifestyle
• A feeling that one can buy rather than earn things
• A collaboration with the patriarchy (I didn’t say they all made sense)
But look what else:
• Health insurance, housing, transportation, general bill-paying
• Backdrop for emergencies with kids or elderly parents
• Ability to live below means so as to save money to switch to more fulfilling employment
• Ability to leave an unhappy relationship
• Ability to retire sooner to devote time to philanthropic and other meaningful activities
• Time to pursue activities that involve a fee, eg therapy or a gym membership
Decisions about jobs or money in general happen at many times. At major-picking time, job-interviewing time, when you’re pregnant and you and your significant other sit down to talk about what kind of work if any it “makes sense” for you to do, or when you’re sitting around with your progressive friends and the discussion rolls around to careers and money.
Deciding at any of these times that money’s one factor should not, for women, be influenced by some kind of fear that we will inevitably turn into some kind of leering Trumplike figure, obsessed with green. Or that she will be unable to locate her conscience.
Why do I think this has an estrogen slant to it? Well, because I have both male and female friends, and looking at people with similar backgrounds and education, it’s most often the women whom I hear complain about paying bills, maybe not having healthcare, feeling trapped in relationships. And they seem more likely to talk about how soulless or corrupting various high-paying jobs are, or mention that a male relative or friend had cautioned them to avoid such positions for these reasons.
And on a personal level, with one of these soulless, corrupting jobs advising parasites, I mean lawyers, it’s constantly suggested to me that I’m a failure as a liberal and a woman. It is besides the point what my goals are after retirement in 10 years.
In contrast, my male friends in the same or similar lines of work are surprised when I mention how disappointing I apparently am. They don’t feel disappointing, nor do they recollect being told that they are. They feel good about feeding and helping their families, putting money in savings, giving some to charity, being in a position to mentor. Those who also spend significant time parenting basically feel like superheroes.
Ultimately, I’m not asking for sympathy here, nor do I think I deserve any. In the soulless circles in which I sometimes run, there are other female sellouts with whom I can commiserate and ultimately come to the realization that, all things considered, we can find a way to live with ourselves.
The problem, to my mind, lies for women before they have such a support network. At the decision times above, in which a woman is on her own. We have much less effective mentoring and networking to help us understand how to protect ourselves. We are much more likely to yield to the ostensibly well-meaning TWF messages.
Because of course there’s validity to them. The “bad” list above demonstrates that. But sometimes, we can’t help others until we help ourselves first. And have a little faith in ourselves that we’re worth it, and that we’ll make good on it. We need a support system in place to help even things out. I hope someday I can be part of this support system.
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