Rebecca Walker on freedom to talk about finances in “Women Talk Money”

Although women’s bodies, work and very existence have always been interchangeable with money itself, their lived experiences of this reality are often unspoken, silenced or forced into incoherence. Women’s stories of their struggles with money are shrouded in secrecy and shame, and often marked by paralysis and disenfranchisement. Women’s domestic work is still undervalued at nearly $11 trillion a year; the wealth of 22 men in the world is equal to or greater than the wealth of all African women; and the mass exodus of women from the workforce during the Covid pandemic is set to reverse a decade of progress towards global gender equity. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, our silence clearly does not protect us.

Until women start talking freely about money, gathering information about money, thinking critically about how money works in our society, and developing strategies to change it, until ‘unless we devote as much attention to negotiating our money as maintaining our relationships, planning our careers or raising our children, we are even more likely to remain victims of a predatory financial system. Our contributions will continue to be unrecognized and undervalued, and our compensation will continue to pale in comparison to that of our male counterparts. We will remain ignorant where we should be informed, silent where we might be loud, and weak where we need to be strong.

It was in the years following the Great Recession in America that I became aware of how few women spoke honestly to each other about money.

More than

My circle of friends at the time – mostly women artists, writers, doctors, lawyers, academics, entrepreneurs and consultants of all persuasions – were socio-economically displaced. For the most part from middle class backgrounds, with outliers at either end of the spectrum, we have felt the same economic winds that have carried over our working class and working poor counterparts, and we have had to deal with many the same results: reversed, sudden mortgages and unfathomable debt, growing financial anxiety about health care, school fees, food. The mainstays of our privileged lives — like a trip to another country, a meal at a favorite restaurant, a random theater performance — were now expenses to be carefully considered. Whole neighborhoods were suddenly beyond our means.

Talking to the women in my life during this time, listening to their stories and sympathizing with their stress, it occurred to me that we were all, in our similar but separate ways, going through a Class Crash. collective and distinctly gendered. Even if we hadn’t caused the economic crisis, we wondered what we had done wrong and what we could do about it. We took every gig we could get, pushed ourselves harder than ever, and contemplated our growing fatigue. Is this the new normal? we wondered. And if so, how will we survive it?

Carried away by the crowd, child on my feet and living in Maui, where a shopping bag can cost a hundred dollars, I tried to stay calm and carry on. I pitched projects and took on gigs and writing assignments in faraway places like Estonia and Bulgaria, grateful that my son’s father was still taking care of our son while I was away. Although I have been privileged most of my life – private high school, Ivy League college, international travel, etc. – I haven’t always been and, unlike many of my peers who were second, third and fourth generation. – or the big bourgeoisie, I felt the specter of poverty keenly. I knew how a culture punished single mothers by depriving them of respect and financial support. I knew how an economic system built around slave labor treated black women, limiting their opportunities to backbreaking work, paying them just enough – not even that, sometimes – to survive.

My father’s mother was an accountant who worked multiple jobs to feed and house her three sons in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn after World War II. My mother’s mother worked as a sharecropper in Georgia, then as a servant, cleaning white people’s houses and caring for their children more than she could care for her own. In comparison, we had a lot, but I still noticed the differences. When I was a kid, we lived in a beautiful but rundown brownstone. I loved my public school, but I loved the private school across the park. But even though my father often worked 16-hour days defending civil rights cases on behalf of people who needed his help, my parents couldn’t afford the tuition. After their divorce, I moved into a two-and-a-half-room apartment with my mom and watched her track her income and expenses down to the dollar.

Women talk about money: breaking the taboo

Women talk about money: breaking the taboo

I also made a few financial mistakes in my life before the recession, decisions that haunted me decades later and left me too close to the edge. I bought expensive clothes when maybe I should have put my money in a high yield savings account. I sold my first apartment—bought with an advance on my second book and my mother’s help—impulsively, in a state of runaway infatuation. Perhaps because the object of my romantic fixation was a woman, I conveniently forgot the teachings of Virginia Woolf and glossed over the wise words of the women in my life who taught me to cling to what was hard earned and hard earned, to remember the generations of toil that brought me to my own bought and paid door.

But when the recession supposedly ended, the details were no longer relevant; only shame remained, feelings of failure and irresponsibility, a nagging feeling that I had wasted my financial base. I had made a lot of money by then, yes, and I bought new dresses and life insurance, and I put money in my son’s 529 account even though he was only in second grade; I donated to organizations that supported women’s entrepreneurship around the world, to politicians who I believed could make a difference, to the fund I had co-founded for young women and trans youth working for social justice, but that was never enough. I will never catch up to where I should be. I was tortured by this thought, and yet I didn’t tell anyone. Until I did, and it changed my life.

As my friends and I were squarely in the wreckage of our new reality, the effects of the global economic crisis around us, we talked about our shame and what we hadn’t talked about in decades, centuries , forever: money. And what it did to us. Money. And what we had done with it. Money. And how it had been used to control us. Money. And how the operation of it had been hidden from us. Money. And what our parents taught us about it. Money. And what we had learned from it ourselves. Money. And how it has shaped our lives. And the lives of our parents. Money. And what we needed to change – or not – in our way of thinking about it. Money. And what we wanted our children to know about it. So that they live their life with money in a thoughtful way. Out loud. Without shame. As we had planned.

It was extraordinary. I found myself in an underworld with one, 12, 100 other women, eventually unraveling stories not only of financial missteps and miscalculations, but also of shrewd decisions, calculated windfalls, and fiercely negotiated salaries. above the norm. I was far from alone. One friend received one meal a week from a food bank, while another got a small business loan and opened a restaurant that was barely breaking even. A colleague was about to be evicted, and another had just flipped a house and cleared $200,000, but lost his partner in the process. A college classmate had twice filed for bankruptcy, and another, who always looked perfectly dressed with fashionably dressed children, was awaiting child support payments that never came.

For me, these conversations were a catharsis pulled straight from the Greek drama. Medea. Iphigenia. Antigone. And we were the choir. It was like talking about any other collective cataclysmic event. Except that we had never approached our experiences with money in this way, as something that happened to all of us, that was tied to a system designed to separate us, in our respective places. We thought telling the truth about money might divide us by revealing how different we were; we had not thought that the same honesty could unite us against the forces that still separated us.

The authors of this book are here to help you find that same freedom. They are, collectively, some of the bravest and most wonderful women I have had the good fortune to work with, and I applaud and bow in gratitude to each of them for the pain, the struggle and the wisdom they have spread on these pages. in the name of fraternity and recovery. Because what I know now is that it’s extremely difficult for women to talk honestly about how money works in our lives; it is in fact almost the last taboo. The way money flows through women’s lives, mysterious and mystified, locks us in even when we start talking. Our stories of money resist their own narrative, as if the revelations could bring down an empire, starting with us, those who dare to look. This is exactly why we must.

Rebecca Walker is the author of several bestselling books; a lecturer who has attended over 400 universities, literary conferences and corporate campuses; and DEI consultant for several Fortune 500 companies. She is a co-founder of the Third Wave Fund, an organization that provides grants to transgender women and youth working for social justice. Walker was nominated by Weather magazine as one of the most influential leaders of her generation. She lives in Los Angeles.

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