The idea that women are somehow inherently bad at managing money has been around for too long, and we’ve kinda bought into it. Here’s why it’s time to call bullshit.
It’s a storyline I’ve been writing since the day I got my first job and accompanying debit card: I’m a wrecking ball at the sales rack, a tornado with the happy-hour specials, an incessant sucker for the magic of Postmates.
I have a bit of an indulgent streak, in other words. And it’s an MO that has earned me a reputation with friends, family, and most notably, myself, as being “bad with money.” But when I took some time recently to really look at my financial situation as an early-thirty-something, I realized something: I’m not thatmuch of an erratic mess when it comes to my finances—or at least, not as much of a mess as I’ve always believed myself to be. And there’s a good chance you might not be either.
“The trope of ‘woman as reckless waster of resources’ has pretty much always been a thing, and its vestiges have been infuriatingly long-lasting.”
Here’s a charming example: Until the Equal Credit Opportunity of 1974, banks required women to have a man co-sign for them on a loan, regardless of her income and whether she was single, divorced or widowed.
Literally, women had to find a rando dude to help them secure money from a bank because they were inherently seen as a liability. Fast forward a few decades and it’s a mentality that manifests in ways that are perhaps less blatant, but dire nonetheless.
Over the course of their lives, women and girls receive significantly less financial education and resources than boys, and it’s a lack that compounds over time and manifests in a negative perception of their own financial behaviors—a nasty hybrid of the “confidence gap” and the financial literacy gap.
Add in a dash of unsubstantiated gender biases, such as women being “shopaholics” (despite studies showing men make compulsive purchases at just about the same rate as women,) and it’s no wonder women are experiencing some damaging illusions about their own personal finance habits.
“What’s happening is that women are conflating a lack of confidence with a lack of competence,” says Stefanie O’Connell, millennial money expert and author of The Broke and Beautiful Life. “In other words, it’s not that we’re not capable of making strong financial plans; it’s that our lack of confidence keeps us from engaging in our financial lives altogether.
Which, when it comes to money, career and our respective financial futures, holds us back from affording and enjoying all the things we really want.”
Because our personal views of our financial behavior are essentially a product of our social conditioning, it’s something we must actively combat. And that starts with acknowledging your subjective relationship with money. A relationship, like, say, gender roles on the whole, that have been taught:
“When we start talking money and our relationship to it, we’re not just talking about numbers,” O’Connell says. “We’re talking about why we are the way we are, and why we do the things we do with our money.
“We’re talking about the sum of our experiences, feelings and interactions with money—from our first memory to present day.”
“And to change our financial situations and move towards the financial future we really want, we have to start by looking backwards.”
Considering our views of money are perhaps shaped more than anything by our upbringing, taking a long look at the kinda emotional and idealogical factors that have shaped your financial views—potentially with the help of a financial therapist—is a good place to start.
Whatever hangups we might have surrounding our personal finance habits, it’s important to keep an eye on the bigger picture and how much power we really have—collectively and as individuals. Women now hold more than half of the wealth in the US and drive 70 to 80 percent of all consumer purchasing.
Financial therapist Patricia Boswell says that keeping women’s social progress in mind is good for keeping perspective: “Within our lifetimes, we’ve known women who could not vote. My grandmother was not able to vote until she was in her 20’s…The history of being chattel is in our lived histories and informs our notions of who we are in, and to, the world.”
Progress towards equality has always been frustratingly slow, but Boswell adds that every day, we are surrounded by evidence of inequality. With a few exceptions, she notes that “Our faces are not on our currency. Every time we exchange bills or coins we do not see ourselves. We are not mirrored in our money. This hampers our relational connection and attachment to money.”
It’s also a reminder that there’s a lot of work to be done. And it starts with taking ownership of our own financial futures. While I’ve never managed to use Mint for more than a week straight and my debt is greater than my assets (by a long shot), I also have a credit score that’s above average for my age group, *some* money in my savings account, and a retirement account (humble though it may be). I might not be killing it, but I’m also not fucking it up nearly as bad as I tend to tell myself I am. And I bet your aren’t either.
And seeing our finances from a more comprehensive and empowered viewpoint is something we’ll all need to do in order to keep rewriting larger narrative of women achieving economic equality.