We talk a lot about various aspects of feminism, such as reproductive rights, workplace equality, childcare, even dissect words when it comes to gender. But there is one area that we don’t talk about enough: how women manage money. In the recent decade, we have seen an explosion of great podcasts and programs by women on financial wellness, while we have been guided by financial guru Suze Orman for decades. More women have been getting into positions of power that naturally entail astronomical salaries. This is all good news and shows that women are moving in the right direction. I still believe, however, that women don’t talk enough about managing money, and even high earners are not always aware of how to invest and take care of their assets, often leaving it to their husbands, their 401(k)s, or simply neglecting it beyond putting it in a bank. Why is this?
Fundamentally, our financial system in America was developed by men, and a certain type of man at that: upper-class, white, from the Northeast, likely the scion of a wealthy family. As America developed into an industrial society with largely unchecked, rampant capitalism, these men became very wealthy, while the rest of Americans earned what they did and kept their money in a bank. Women often managed the domestic economy, taking care of the finances at home. Those whose husbands had died or left them had to understand how to navigate a very male world. There were a few women who were involved with investing and finance (the subject is too detailed to go into in this post), and their contributions were significant. Unfortunately, these women were few and far between, and did not represent the majority. The way for women to be wealthy was to marry into wealth, or to come from wealth. There is nothing wrong with this in theory; the problem has been that women have not often gotten enough education about how money works even when provided for.
With the rise of credit cards in the 1950s and the subsequent decades, women became excluded from this area of personal finance in that a woman could not apply for her own credit card–only through her husband. Thankfully in 1974, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act allowed women to get their own credit cards. Through the 70s and 80s, women came into lucrative professional careers, and began to take an interest in their personal finances, even when married. Some women chose to keep separate bank accounts from their husbands, and even do so today.
The question is, with women in so many professional careers making a lot of money (and sometimes being the breadwinners), why don’t enough women understand how to invest or even discuss money with their friends? I believe there is a good deal of fear about investing and still a bit of a stigma for women to talk about how much they enjoy money (other than spending it). We have a shameful gender pay gap, and women still hesitate to ask for pay raises or higher salaries, whereas men have no problem with this. A woman can be regarded as “too manly” or even “a bitch” if she speaks up about money. Very rarely in social settings do we hear men listen to women give financial advice. It is sad that money is regarded as a very masculine arena, though many women have been proving this wrong for decades.
Women need to become empowered to learn about personal finance and investing. They need to see it is something that they can do, even if they are “bad at math” (again, an area that is regarded as male-dominated). The data shows that women make better investors and are extremely shrewd when it comes to dealing with personal finance. And yet our media rarely highlights this; yes, we get Suze Orman and Martha Stewart, or TV hosts like Maria Bartiromo, but we never see women trading stock tips over martinis on a TV show. More fathers need to educate their daughters about investing, and if they themselves are not familiar with the topic, they should also learn.
It would be wrong to say that our extreme capitalistic financial system excludes only women, because there are many men, especially those of lower classes, who are excluded as well. Those who control our financial system take advantage of the lower classes on both the right and the left; unfortunately, the right-wingers scapegoat the left, immigrants, and minorities. Many minority groups, such as African-Americans, are largely excluded from our financial system and it has statistically been proven that they have a harder time getting credit cards and have lower credit scores, which make it harder to buy a home.
We need to educate women, lower income men, and minorities on how our financial system works and how to thrive within it. There is no question of the intersection between race and class and gender when it comes to money in America. As I’ve often said, the big elephant in the American room is *class*. Learning how to manage one’s finances is a great way to effect class mobility and be more informed to have necessary discussions about money in our American lives, and to make structural changes toward greater equality. And ladies, don’t wait till a divorce, split, or widowhood to learn about investing and money management!