On Being A Feminist – Money As A Feminist Issue

 

I’m a feminist. Lately I have had to ask myself what that means when it comes to financial responsibility between couples. You see, I was brought up to believe that I had to be financially responsible for myself.  I never expected anyone to be responsible for me, not even my husband when I was married although I did expect that because we were married our independent finances were our mutual concern if only by virtue of the fact that we had committed to building a life and a family together.

What has been less clear to me was my financial duty to my partner. Somehow being a feminist came to mean I had to reject all my gender roles, and that it was okay for me to be financially responsible for my man. Being financially responsible for a man even seemed to prove my feminist credentials. After all, I was assuming male responsibility; I was paying the bills for my lover/partner/spouse as well as myself and my children. I was wearing the pants, bringing home the bacon.  Isn’t that what women’s lib meant?

I have never been attracted to a man simply because of his money and I never made his financial capacity a criteria for a relationship. I could earn my own money (okay maybe I was naïve, but I did not and do not judge the women that do set it as a criteria). I always picked the guy that I had chemistry with, the guy who I had a spark for when I looked at him across the room.  And while I admit I did find myself attracted to power it had more to do with me exercising my power, the power of having a powerful man lusting after me. It was never about the money.

Sometimes I found myself in a better financial position than the man I was with and even when I wasn’t I was willing to share whatever little I had.  Yet it seemed that during the course of the relationship I would take on more and more of the financial responsibility and begin to resent the burden it was becoming. I also came to resent what I saw as a disrespectful attitude to my money; it was spent with all the entitlement of ‘our’ money without any reciprocity when it ‘his’ money.

I dated a guy once who went on and on the first time I bought groceries about how he had never met a woman that was willing to spend her money to meet household expenses. According to him the ones he knew always left the responsibility to him even if they had money of their own. I wonder now whether that included his mother and sisters who I met. When he finally made some money he didn’t think to spend it on me or us. Anyway, he’s married to someone else now and tells me he doesn’t even know how much she earns or what she spends it on and claims he doesn’t care.

So if I was a feminist why did I end up being resentful of spending money on my man? Why did I become bitter when I had to carry the financial burden alone for both of us? Men have been doing it for ages; surely what men could do women could do too (and better) It seemed to be what we had been fighting for as feminists; the right to be like men. Isn’t that what gender equality was all about? It took a while for me to realize I was reacting to the added financial responsibility for another adult.

In an article in the New York Mag- “Alpha Female, Beta Male” -Ralph Gardner claims a growing number women in the urban liberal west are earning more than and supporting their stay at home or low paid husbands.  And apparently they are not always adjusting well to that role reversal either. The men felt emasculated or the women felt a loss of desire for their not so powerful freeloading spouses.  Even the marriages that survive experienced conflict and needed counselling or mediation to overcome the resentment.

I really don’t think there is anything ‘feminist’ or ‘liberated’ about financially supporting your partner, male or female. It is patronizing and infantilizing. It is a patriarchal paradigm that has merely been flipped, a role reversal that has nothing to do with equality. Both parties in a healthy relationship should be able to pay their share of the bills, and buy each other gifts, dinner or theatre tickets or a vacation. I tend to agree with Christina Vuleta who asked in Can A Woman Be Happily Dependent? Her answer is No.  The men in Gardner’s article obviously weren’t happy.

So why do we think women should be? It seems popular for some feminists and their critics to say it’s okay for a woman to choose to be a mom first and foremost and to be dependent on dad to subsidize her lifestyle. It’s not my intention to judge but it is not a choice that would work for me.  The mostly negative comments and reactions to Elizabeth Wurtzel’s article 1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible seem to suggest woman associate feminism with choice not equality.  Yet studies like this one here show financial dependence overall reduces women’s choices. In many less developed cultures choice does not exist.

I think financial dependence is corrosive to the self-esteem, no self-respecting adult should willingly be financially dependent on another person unless there are physical or mental challenges that necessitate it. Motherhood, parenting and marriage do not count; women and men do raise families successfully AND build financial independence. We hear more about the failures than the successes as part of the scare tactics constantly used to keep women in domestic servitude by the patriarchy.  While Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All resonated it’s not absolute truth.

In my family law practice a lot of the women enquiring about divorce were financial responsibility for their family and told me they were unappreciated, abused and exploited by the men they married.  They are strong, capable, opinionated women that knew what they wanted and for all intents and purposes feminists even though they may not identify themselves as such. They are happy not to be at the financial mercy of a man but dissatisfied and resentful at being the primary breadwinners.  I also know quite a few women both socially and professionally in similar situations.

I wonder if men ever feel resentment as primary breadwinners, how they handle it or if they are even allowed to express it. A lot of them of are still socialized to accept financial responsibility for their wives and have numerous socially accepted ways within a patriarchy to release tension such as domestic violence, rape, prostitution, pornography, promiscuity, violent sports, misogyny and sexism.  Of course not all men are violent chauvinists and I’m sure some would consider themselves lucky to have a wife that earns more than they can (and hopefully they would show appropriate appreciation).

As with all things in life, what works for me, doesn’t have to work for you or anyone else. I will not go so far as to say “real feminists don’t depend on men, real feminists earn a living” like Wurtzel, but it’s certainly an integral part of my feminism. I’ve realized that personal financial capacity and independence is important to me. I don’t want to be dependent on anyone financially and I don’t want anyone financially dependent on me either. I want each of us to be financially secure and independent and I want us to be able to make choices and decisions about our future together as equally contributing partners.

I can’t help but wonder whether this new realization will preclude me from further dalliances with impossibly handsome young men with tight bodies and low net worth? Indeed that maybe for the best, I must admit that even I expect to exercise the power in a relationship and have it acknowledged when I hold the purse strings, just like any man does too.  Money is after all about power and I will admit I’m not always very nice about it myself, maybe counselling will help. It’s just human nature, isn’t it? Good to know I’m only human after all.

Chao bella

 

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4 thoughts on “On Being A Feminist – Money As A Feminist Issue

  1. The concept of what’s mine’s mine and what’s yours is yours doesn’t work very well, in my opinion. The dynamics of any given relationship is fluid especially in the ‘globalised’ environment we live in today.

    We can never all be truly equal financially. Whether women are the big earners or the housewives, we need to work with our spouses to find the right balance in our relationships.

  2. This is one of the most thoughtful posts I’ve seen on this topic. It seems like gender roles (and race as well) are so deeply embedded in our culture that each generation dilutes it but a little. But with equal pay being a goal, and with college educated 20-something women out earning male peers in certain urban areas, this is something we’ll be struggling with for quite some time.

    You wrote, “I wonder if men ever feel resentment as primary breadwinners, how they handle it or if they are even allowed to express it.” I think, yes, and I suspect that not doing equal housework (or doing it poorly) is often a passive-aggressive expression of this. Or worse, the abuse you mentioned. Yet, pay differences are a fact of life. I chose to be a social worker because I enjoy it, and I accept that many women see me as not good enough because I earn less than them. But never having been in a relationship with someone who earns more I really can’t say how I’d feel about that, how I’d react, because often you don’t know till you’re there.

  3. I want to say “Good Morning” to Mz Agams. (Whilst we await her promised blog post on “feminism and intersectionality” said promise made to the world on Aug 19th 2013.)
     
    Mz Agams, says to all who would listen, read, follow and scrutinise (through all and any of the rest of her world wide web antics, which she maintains that as a writer, she must disseminate) she was brought up to believe that she had to be financially responsible for herself and that even her husband at the time, was not expected (by her) to be her financial salvation, but simply a partner in building their life and family together (Its one of life’s ironies that she did not even allow him that satisfaction, ultimately) Could the answer to feminism lie within that belief?
     
    We cannot answer that question because she goes on to aver, that for her being a feminist involved an absolute imperative to reject all gender based rules and roles. Everybody in the partnership relationship that she would be able to put her ‘seal’ against would have to strive and contribute each according to their own best/highest ability and or capacity.
     
    So it was, in her later life (post marriage) that she had absolutely no issues at all with being in a position where she was “wearing the trousers,” when appropriate and also being financially responsible for “her man” even though sometimes it felt to her that she was the one “bringing home the bacon”, contrary to the cultural norm of her parent society. She always picked her men, because they had “chemistry” between them even though over the passage of time she began to suspect that there were beginning to be too many chemical re-actions indulged with, and she started to have reason to wonder whether chemistry based relationships were best left to animals only, as possibly this was becoming somewhat mis-leading to the heart (but we begin to digress)
     
    I am limiting this observation to one consequent upon her own musings on money as a feminist issue. So what here seems to be the issue, that engages the undoubtedly erudite mind of Mz Agams? The spending of her money, dis-respectfully. i.e. with all the entitlement of “our” money by her current “man in her life,” without any reciprocity when it was “his” money being spent. (Let us not not dwell on the irony of this possibility, since at the material time presumably – by her own accounting – she would be the one wearing the pants, as he invariably,  would have no money, to speak of, at the time)
     
    Is she telling the world at large that the guy she once dated, who expressed his surprise and went on and on about how he had never before met a woman who was willing to spend her own money to meet household expenses (how she would get to countenance such troglodytes , without recourse to basic human chemistry might be a point worth no small consideration) was still tied to her emotional (chemical) apron strings (and presumably still dating her) when she now started making money of his own, at which point he shut her immediately out of the cash flow, moved on and eventually married another woman. (hopefully for moralty sake, they were no longer still “chemically” attached, at this point?? In any case there is a strong argument here, for her to stop awhile and reflect on what the relationship must have meant to the young man, at the said time. Not to mention what her own perception of what the relationship was all about when at the time apparently he felt emasculated and resentful of her. Apparently he turned around and started spending on the very next woman in line! This happenstance does not appear to the neutral observer to be a feminist issue, maybe more a reflection of on the in-equitable power dynamic of that particular relationship.
     
    She finally came to the realisation that she resented the added financial responsibility for another adult and that feminism had nothing to do with it. She further discovered that she was far from alone in this regard, there being a documented evidentiary trial (Ralph Gardner and Christina Vuletta) that a lot of other women are discovering that traditional role reversal is emasculating their men! (OMG, could this be what might also have happened to her earlier date?)
     
    I can inform her, from personal knowledge and experience that it a tru-ism that were men NOT socialised by their cultures to “be the man,” they would of course feel the same resentment she has experienced.  (Both men and women are only human) This is why the African man is more likely to be accepting of that role definition, and the European man, expects more of a partnership with his spouse/partner. In African culture the man gets to wear the trousers, lay down the law, etc – but it goes with the implied responsibility that he “pays the bill.” Brings home the bacon, – call it what you may. He is the boss. But he pays. (The man is boss inversely proportionally to the slimness of his wallet) In the UK, domestic partners expect to share the bills, each according to his/her ability. It is simply a cultural norm – no feminism involved here.
     
    Mz Agams’s 3rd to last paragraph of her blog, bears out this observation. In her experience at her family law practice, she found that African women do not “do” primary breadwinning – be they feminist or otherwise. So where does this leave ‘money as a feminist issue.?’ (the subject of the 30th Aug blog post) She realised that “wearing the pants” is not necessarily a feminist issue, but rather more an issue of ‘power’ and ‘control’ within relationships. This is a key realisation for her more important it is because it makes her finally realise that indulging in chemistry induced relationships with impossibly handsome men, was never a backlash of being a feminist but just simply a personal indulgence. My goodness! She has reached the conclusion, all by herself, that maybe she is just human after all (subject to the same chemistry induced phantasms and silliness as we all are) This sounds to me like a growing up process – no feminism here, I’m afraid!!
    Bini Man say, “Any time when peson wake up, na him be im morning.”
    Good Morning, Mz Agams. 
     
     

    1. First of all I had no intention of responding to your comment which I found more than a tad bit patronizing, cherry picking your way through my post and making rather wild assumptions about my personal life, my marriage and what happened to it. That I found ironic. I also felt you completely misunderstood my intent. You either did not read me well or more likely you read into my statements what you wanted to. Then again perhaps I failed as a writer to come across clearly. However some of my loyal readers have insisted that I respond and well what would I be without my loyal readers, so here goes. This is actually more of a why I didn’t respond in the first instance;
      My beliefs about money are not born of feminism; my belief was part of the values that I learnt from the women I grew up with in my very working class family. I learnt that self-respecting people, men and women are also self-sufficient, proud and hard working. I learnt that you work for the things you want in life and the life style you want. In working class homes working and contributing to the home is never a matter of choice, there is no division between your money, my money and our money. Both partners work and build their home and life. To say it’s ironic I did not give my husband that satisfaction is an ignorant assumptions about the reasons why we are not together.
      When I rejected my gender role, I took on a gender role reversal before I came to the strong conviction that both parties to a relationship must contribute as equally as possible. I see nothing wrong in contributing as a woman to household expenses. However, I came to wear the trousers by default not conscious choice, feminism or women’s lib as I still thought of it then made me feel this was acceptable and the men involved did not say ‘please put away your wallet’ till yes quite literally I sometimes found myself ‘bringing home the bacon’. And this piece was an honest reflection on the resentment that built up as a result despite my ‘liberation’.
      This was why I referenced the articles about how other women too have felt that resentment, for me it was important to find out how other women in similar situations felt and to know that I was not alone in this feeling. The Nigerian women who I saw in my divorce practice also resented being primary bread winners in their families. I had to view my resentment through a feminist lens because I am not a supporter or believer in traditional gender roles, so I had to ask myself why was I feeling resentful.
      You however choice to focus on the men’s feeling of emasculation, I guess since you are a man this is quite natural. But to suggest that in the single relationship I referenced that the problem was the man’s feeling of emasculation, again without knowing anything about the context, why the relationship ended (because I did not say money ended it) or other details was grossly presumptions and wide of the mark. Needless to say we can assume, you were merely projecting how you would have felt in his place, emasculated.
      You say that African men are socialized to be the bread winner – but that is not the evidence from my divorce practice. As I said most of the women coming to me to file their divorce petition were complaining of abusive, exploitative, dead beat husbands that felt entitled to their wives earnings. Are they not African men? The men I dated were African, Nigerian precisely. Perhaps they behaved this way because their wallets were thin, but then I get confused, if your wallet is thin and you are socialized to be the boss why did you get involved with a woman or married in the first place? I must point out that this is precisely the sort of stereotypical gendered thinking that leads to domestic violence and rape among other evils against women.
      So in your opinion the African man gets to lay down the law because he brings home the bacon/pays the bills? Well then you seem to justify my argument then, since I do not believe a man has the right ‘to lay down the law’ to me and I was right to decline the numerous offers of rich powerful men and trust instead in my chemical instincts. And I am still correct in saying that in a relationship (presumably here with an African man) a woman has to have financial independence. Oh wait, they used to. That must have been the reason my grandmother and great grandmother were financially independent too. But my grandfather and great grandfather did not strike me as emasculated men; as a matter of fact they were very alpha men.
      Your statement that in the UK and Europe both partners contributing to the bills is nothing more than cultural norm is ignorant. This cultural norm is the direct result of more than a century of feminist struggle. For the working class contributing has always been a necessity of survival and even then working class women aspired to marry up so they would no longer have to work or they held their men to traditional gender expectations, for middle and upper class women it was a fight to get the right to work outside the home and the worsening economic conditions increasingly made it a necessity for middle class families too. Please read the history of feminism in England, not a regular part of the school curricular I know. Nevertheless we are glad that you see it as cultural norm, it gives us hope that the cultural norms in the Africa’s can undergo a similar change – someday.
      For the benefit of my female readers more than for your edification I must address what you call my personal indulgence in ‘chemically induced relationships with impossibly handsome young men’ it was and has always been about my feminism because it was feminism that allowed me to overcome the socialized inhibitions that limited the free expression of my sexuality in the first place. I am reconsidering these relationships because I realized that I am not yet mature enough to have a relationship with someone that I have significant financial privilege over without exploiting my advantage and power and I have a problem with that, something men seem to have no problem with at all by the way. And from your comment we can assume you are one of those men.
      Your snide remarks about my honest expression of choosing chemistry between me and partners (which you said is best left to animals, insolent even) do not deserve a response from me. Instead, I will refer you to the very extensive body of research on the chemistry of love for your edification and education. Unlike the many I do not deceive myself or my heart to think that what I first feel for someone is ‘love’. In my opinion love, the enduring kind that lifetime partnerships are built on is not how you feel for each other although that is a good start, but what you do for each other.
      Indeed growing and evolving is a daily process. If I had the same opinions today as I had at 20 the past 30 years would have been a waste. I have chosen to nurture my growth in a feminist direction. If anything I hope your comment underscores for the women that read my blog just how important financial independence is. It would be difficult to go into the complex nuances of a relationship in this response but I remain confirmed that financial independence is important for married women, being contributing partners is important (in other words contribute to the rent and school fees) and money is a feminist issue. As a matter of fact I am so strongly confirmed of this that I shall write a whole other post to explain just why.
      Good day to you Elhadjibeni.

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