Infuriating Article About Women and Money

Here is an article in the “Europe” section of the New York Times that made me angry in the first few paragraphs, and got even more upsetting as I saw it take all the milestones women have achieved when it comes to money and flushes it down the toilet. It is essentially an article about couples who have separate banking accounts, but also a joint account to pay for shared expenses, and other necessities. It starts out very poorly:

A completely unscientific snap poll of 44 girlfriends in Europe and the United States — all highly educated, in their 30s and in relationships, most with children and a job — showed that 41 pooled at least some money with their partners.

Oh, so a trend piece about women and money based on a completely unscientific snap poll—what can go wrong? 

I asked Paul, Rachel’s husband, why he felt that shoes (and, it turns out, makeup and clothes! What am I doing wrong?) should be paid for by the joint account. “There are so many explicit and implicit requirements on how a woman should look,” he said. You shouldn’t be punished financially for being female, he said.

Caitlin Moran, author of the best-selling “How to Be a Woman,” called it a tax on being a woman.

“For a woman to feel normal she has to spend more than a man. If you don’t want to have to justify yourself every time you walk out of your door, you have to throw some money at it.”

For. A . Woman. To. Feel. Normal. She. Has. To. Spend. More. Than. A. Man.—I mean, really? I went through mental list of all my female friends and couldn’t think of a single person where this might be the case.

Okay, I’m going to show you one last maddening excerpt before my head explodes:

Half of the 36 women in my sample with joint mortgages did not know the interest rate they pay. Fourteen admitted not remembering the password to their joint bank account. Ten couldn’t say how much money was currently in their accounts, and a handful didn’t know how much they earn after tax.

What it is with us liberated women? We took care of our financial affairs when we were single. Why do we give up control when a man shows up?

“It’s boring,” groaned one French friend — a banker, no less — echoing many others.

“I’m rubbish at math,” said another.

It’s just a division of labor, suggested a third. “He is finance minister, and I am minister of culture and entertainment.”

I can’t with this. You can read the rest of it if you stomach it. I mean—am I crazy but is this just so ill-conceived?

 

Photo: DMJarvey/Flickr

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32 Comments / Post A Comment

Caitlin Moran is a feminist, and you misunderstood her quote of out context. It’s not something she’s in favour of or agrees with (parts of the book are about how low-maintenance she is, and how there’s too much pressure on women to look amazing at all times).

But you’re being a bit disingenuous if you’re saying that your female friends don’t spend more than your male friends on their appearance. Come off it.

I’m a complete scruff bag, and I still spend more on potions, makeup and clothes than my boyfriend does. I barely wear makeup. But guess what? He never wears it.

Mike Dang (#2)

@londonistheplaceforme Sure, if she said women spend more on their appearance I would have agreed with that. But it was the way it was put, which was “to feel normal.” (And as if men don’t spend money on expensive suits and haircuts either?) I don’t think we should generalize women by saying they can only feel normal if they spend money. And, as I said, the article went wrong right at the beginning when it decided to conduct a completely unscientific poll. It made it seem as if women are just completely terrible with money, when that’s certainly not the case.

peacheater (#733)

@londonistheplaceforme I completely agree. That last paragraph that Mike quoted is completely infuriating and patronizing. But I don’t think there’s anything sexist about saying that women need to spend more on their appearance to “feel normal.” Perhaps a better way of saying that would be that women need to spend more on their appearance to be treated as normal in society’s eyes and thus to “feel normal.” This is something I’ve calculated with my boyfriend many times and I’m hardly a high-maintenance sort of person but I still end up spending way more than he does on makeup (nothing), grooming (pretty much nothing except for a haircuit every two months) and clothing (women are just expected to have more types of clothing than men). I think it’s completely reasonable that expenses like that should come from a joint account, since it’s not as though I’m just being frivolous and vain in trying to look a particular way — I’m just doing the bare minimum to get by, and even that is expensive. The expenses would add up even more for women who have to maintain that put-together corporate look I’m sure (I’m just a grad student). The point is, a lot of this appearance related expenditure is unavoidable and shouldn’t be treated as though it is.

wearitcounts (#772)

@peacheater agreed. not to mention bras and all other manner of female undergarments. i think the problem was conflating the idea of women needing such things to feel normal in an organic sense as opposed to be treated the way they would like to be treated in order to carry out their lives in a normal fashion.

@Mike Dang Well yeah, a friend survey is never a good start, but I think most journalists have fallen into that trap at some time or another.

Also, sorry but I don’t know any men who spend much money on haircuts and suits, but maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong men. (My boyfriend is very well turned out, in fact but he still doesn’t use 10 different products in the bathroom or a special hair serum or foundation or blusher – like many women I know.) In the UK, where I live, men’s haircuts are usually a third of the price of a woman’s, if not less.

I read Caitlin’s book and follow her work. She definitely wasn’t saying that women should only feel normal if they spend money on themselves. She was pointing out that it’s not right, but THAT’S JUST HOW IT IS. Seriously, IT IS. She was commenting on societal expectations, not espousing her views.

And here’s my friend poll: contrary to the piece you’re talking about, among my friends, men are WAY shitter with money.

allreb (#502)

@londonistheplaceforme Yeah, I’m usually 100% on Team Mike Dang Is Awesome, but here, not quite. “Normal” is a bad measuring stick to use, but there is much more societal pressure on women to look a certain way, much more scrutiny paid to those who don’t conform, and that certain way is not cheap. The choices often feel like pay the money (and time) to conform (ie, feel normal), or *don’t* do those things and be made aware constantly that you’re not pretty/stylish/thin/etc enough.

The article is wrong, but not because it acknowledges that societal issue, even if it doesn’t do it very well.

@londonistheplaceforme Yes–while there are many legitimate flaws with the piece, I didn’t think the “normal” excerpt was one of them. I can see why some people might object to the use of the word “normal,” but I don’t think the semantics here are enough to invalidate the argument. As someone suggested downthread, if you replace “normal” with “professional” or “respectable,” I think it IS a good point.

A man can use the pieces of one suit to make an appropriate outfit for a wider range of occasions–a business meeting, wedding, nice dinner, etc. A woman, on the other hand, could not show up to a business meeting wearing a pretty dress, nor would she show up as a wedding guest wearing a suit. She needs a much more diverse wardrobe. And don’t forget at least a little bit of jewelry. That’s pretty standard, and is amazingly expensive, even if you’re not buying fancy stuff.

And how about bras–there’s AT LEAST $30 for a piece of underwear, and for anyone with a sizeable bust, you’re probably paying between $60-90 just for one bra. Multiply that by however many bras you need, and that’s probably more than the cost of my boyfriend’s entire wardrobe.

Add in a haircut. That’ll cost you whatever a man pays, times two. Throw in some basic cosmetics… (I use a men’s razor, even though it’s harder to control when shaving my legs, because even women’s RAZOR BLADES are more expensive). No matter how you put it semantically, I don’t think it’s outrageous to say that it costs much, much more for a woman to make herself look put-together than it does for a man.

@OneTooManySpoons Just realize I should add–I do realize this is a bad, poorly-researched article. I’m not trying to defend it. I do think, however, that lots of men (including even Mike, who I think is just the awesomest), don’t fully understand the “normal,” not-frivolous expenses that come with being a woman who wants to look, you know, like a regular, nice, respectable person.

nyikin (#32)

@OneTooManySpoons

Some of the BASIC expectations on women (to be perceived as hygienic): remove hair on body (legs, underarms, upper lip, nether). Decent hair (this cost can skyrocket for black women). Tampons/pads. >5 shirts and >3 pants. Moisturizer and lip tint/chapstick. Bras and underwear (the latter which periodically needs to be replaced due to point 3.

I’m not even talking about frivolous extras that can make the difference between being seen as just acceptable versus competent. This really is the bare minimum to be “normal”.

Mike, this stuff costs money. Real cash money.

@OneTooManySpoons OMG, also, two words: FACIAL WAXING.

I actually do think that “normal” is the right word to apply to that stuff. I know that some ladies do feel fine about their dark facial hair, and they are awesome, but I’m 99% sure that most of us wax, bleach, etc., after having learned very early on that being a hairy lady makes you the butt of every joke. That adds up real, real quick, especially if you want to go someplace that won’t give you a skin disease from gross waxing hygiene.

Agreed with @peacheater and @londonistheplaceforme. I think Mike just happened to pull out one quote that wasn’t totally unreasonable in an otherwise completely unreasonable article. (Sincere thanks to Mike for getting frustrated about this! It’s crap!) Bennhold is hiding behind the word “unscientific” to excuse a poorly written, poorly researched article. Some women in heterosexual relationships are embarrassed by their spending and want to hide it from their partners. Okay. But did she ask any of the men if there are expenses they’d rather keep private too? I bet there are! I also bet there are just as many male-halves to those couples who don’t know their passwords, don’t know their pay after tax, don’t know exactly what’s in their accounts. I mean, I get it. We all know it’s a crappy article. But how is a trend piece of such poor quality getting published by the New York Times? It makes me tired.

Aunt_Pete (#693)

Normal is an arbitrary word. I tend to be skeptical of its usage. I haven’t read Ms. Moran’s work directly, but the decontextualized quote used in this article annoys me.

@Nicole@twitter WORD. You’re absolutely correct. Unscientific doesn’t begin to excuse this drivel.

I’m with you, Mike Dang. Gross and awful. How couples spend money, especially when the two people involved have income disparities, is a fascinating topic, and this article is a wasted opportunity to address it. “How can I get my husband to use more of his money to buy me shoes I can’t walk in? I need them to be a laaaaaady and because math is hard.”

@Ester Bloom@facebook Also, the article completely glosses over the huge expenses men incur in maintaining their mistresses and secret families. I mean that’s essentially racist against men.

I think the part that rubs me the wrong way is the language of battle:

Another makes her husband pay half her cellphone bill…I couldn’t defend it if you shoved a spreadsheet in my face…Another tries to get away with the occasional shopping spree…But if the women spend the money, the guys control it.

The word choice implies, not so subtly, that money is the means of a battle between the sexes, and it’s unclear if this how the 44 girlfriends phrased it and think of it, or if it’s the author’s interpretation. Either way, it’s a pretty uninformative article.

aidan (#803)

I couldn’t care less about the shoes/makeup/ice cream and slippers comment. Or whatever it was. Some women feel that way. Some don’t. Ditto men.
The utterly shocking excerpt is the one about those women who didn’t know their financial standing. Not only does the article strongly imply that their husbands did (and I’m pretty sure they don’t EITHER), but it’s just… Did I say shocking already?
Now that I’m an adult with assets, I simply MUST know all the fascinating nitty-gritty details of all my assets AND my debts! To imply that the knowledge is beneath one is startling to me.

lalaland (#437)

@aidan Agreed. However, completely anecdotally, my mom has absolutely no idea of her financial standing. As in, her paycheck is direct deposited into a joint bank account that she does not (nor does she care to) know the password to nor the balance of. It is the most frustrating thing and I think that’s why I am so uptight about the state of my finances.

I asked her once what she’d do if my dad passed away before her, and she laughed and said that I would take care of it for her. ARGH.

P.J. Morse (#665)

@lalaland Oh, no! Women and men should know their financial standing. I don’t know why people think it is too hard or “beneath” them (appalling). That is why so many people were hoodwinked into bad student loans and ridiculous mortgages.

OhMarie (#299)

@aidan Yeah, my husband is the one who doesn’t pay attention in my relationship. He does know the password to at least our main checking account, but I am SURE he has no idea how to pay the mortgage or do our taxes.

DrFeelGood (#401)

@lalaland Yea the article is pretty bad, but in my totally unscientific sample of, the females in my family and in my husband’s family, I am the only woman who does 50%, if not more than 50% of the financial work. My husband pays our taxes, and I do most everything else. He is not incompetent or in the dark about our finances, but I enjoy it more. I get so infuriated when I talk to my sister and she’s like oh, I have no idea, my husband takes care of it. She literally does not know how much money they have and what they owe, etc. To not know where you stand financially and to assume that someone else is “taking care” of it for you is… maddening.

sony_b (#225)

Yep. The battle language bothers me, and the use of the word “normal”. I could sub in “professional” or even “respected” in some cases. I work in tech. The male office uniform is khakis or jeans, some form of lace up shoe, and a product t or simple button down shirt. Women at the same level in my company couldn’t get away with a girl version of that uniform and expect to move up – it’s just not perceived as professional enough. Chances are, per item of clothing her clothes are more expensive, and even without makeup many women will spend on things like facial moisturizer or sunscreen that men wouldn’t. Women’s haircuts, dry cleaning, and personal care products tend to be more expensive across the board.

I choose to spend a lot more than the basics as part of my career goals. It’s an investment I feel I need to make, being female and 40. Facial waxing, manicures for speaking events, more expensive clothes tailored to fit well, etc. My boyfriend wears the techie uniform, gets a haircut every six weeks and shaves when he remembers. I easily outspend him by several hundred bucks a year on what are “the basics” to me.

P.J. Morse (#665)

Oh, indeed. If only the author had said “For a woman to [get ahead in the workplace] she has to spend more than a man” instead of “For a woman to feel normal she has to spend more than a man.” The first would have been more truthful and would have sparked an interesting discussion on the inequality of appearance in the workplace.

I’ve been in tech, too, and the guys are so lucky. I’d love to be able to sit around in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops all day. I sit near dudes who wear the same shirt two days in a row. For real. But I am required to bathe and shave, like all the ladies.

@P.J. Morse@twitter I work in a dressy office and I kind of feel the other way. I’d love to be able to wear relatively normal skirts and blouses to work, especially on a hot muggy day, rather than have to drop $300 minimum for a decent new suit that I am never going to wear anywhere but the office or weddings.

@stuffisthings ETA: I do think the article is utterly ridiculous. Also, obligatory “why no edit button?” whine.

readyornot (#816)

Thanks, Mike Dang, for the heads up on this thought-provoking article. I have so many reactions! Where to begin?

One of the remarks that got me was, “‘I know that a lot of my spending is frivolous, and I couldn’t defend it if you shoved a spreadsheet in my face,’ said one American friend who has been resisting her fiancé’s efforts to open a joint account.” This comment gets to the heart of it: surreptitious consumption, whether eating or spending, is kinda addictive. Maybe it’s immediately satisfying but not in the long run.

Next, I don’t know this reporter’s friends, but I’m in the same demo, and mostly it’s the women halves of marriages who manage the finances. But, at least for me, I take great pains to fill my husband in on everything that comes in and goes out and how much is left.

That said, it is a huge investment of time. More time than I spent when managing my money on my own, just for the communication, and we have to have a system for keeping up with monthly budgets, etc. But if the alternative is one of us is ignorant of our financial standing, I say that’s a small price to pay.

For us, it feels like joint control, and that is what is most important. The most insidious part of the article is its message that it’s ok for the male partner to be the ultimately responsible party. If that’s true, come divorce, he’s also going to get to call all the shots in settlements. And during marriage, she’s not going to get the benefit of taking any financial risks for herself.

DrFeelGood (#401)

@readyornot I am in the same situation; most of my female peers are pretty money savy, but perhaps that’s because we’re all married less than 10 years? But all of the women in my family and my husband’s family are completely in-the dark about their money. I find it maddening, like, what if he leaves you? Or what about when he dies? My mom cannot even operate an ATM. My sister’s husband could literally clear out all their accounts tomorrow and she’d have no idea. I also still keep 2 accounts in my name for this exact reason, I had a co-worker who calls it her “divorce fund”. Does it sound crass? Perhaps, but id rather be on stable footing if something were to happen to my marriage than to blindly trust that’s all going to be OK.

City_Dater (#565)

Thank you, Mike Dang, for your justified outrage. The NY Times has become the official concern troll of newspapers for anything to do with women. The principle behind these stories usually appears to be “reporter with middle-class, educated background polls peers who tell him/her exactly what he/she needs to ‘prove’ bullshit premise for article.”

chic noir (#713)

@City_Dater

The NY Times has become the official concern troll of newspapers for anything to do with women

Oh the concern troll articles about Black women are truly scary. Journalism is tuff these days, everybody is looking for a Pulitzer prize, an Emmy, and a book deal. Soundbite nation FTW!

Megano! (#124)

I took care of all the finances with the ex, as we lived together for 6 years. I definitely couldn’t trust him to do it! We did not have a joint account though. And I am for the joint account paying for things like haircuts and shit (AND BIRTH CONTROL), but it’s dumb that those women don’t even know the state of their finances. That’s how people wind up with nothing while the other one doesn’t even know!

Wanderer (#873)

Christ on a bike! That article is drivel to be honest – I mean, what kind of women does the article writer hang out with? Those women need a real wake up call. Expecting someone else to manage your money is a recipe for disaster! Having said that, most couples need to work out what’s best for them. I don’t expect my fella to pay for fancy work clothes and makeup and I have my wages to cover those expenses. What works for one couple won’t work for another I guess.

Megoon (#328)

I think a more objectionable quote is at the beginning: “And how many pairs of Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin could I afford if I was reimbursed for half of all the (much less fancy) footwear I’ve bought with my own money since I met my husband 15 years ago?”

I’m going to throw it out there that many women – like myself – don’t really dream about spending $800 on a pair of shoes.

But you know what? My husband manages our money, and I’m fine with it. We go over the savings and investments once or twice a year so I’m clued in to where everything’s going, and we talk it over before he makes any major changes, but he manages money for his job; why wouldn’t he manage it at home? In the end, his account, my account, the joint accounts… it’s all our money. I don’t really care which account pays for my fancy face wash or his Amazon hardcover habit. We both have reasonable spending habits, and if we want to go out for drinks with friends or buy a new coat, we don’t feel the need to defend it to each other. I guess my point is that having my husband handle our investments doesn’t make me feel dependent or unfeminist.

Fig. 1 (#632)

I’m going to play devil’s feminist here and point out, that once you position cultural mores on appearance as a way of cultivating insecurity in women and distracting them (us) from the larger sources of inequity in society, suddenly having hairy legs seems inconsequential.

Thanks for your concern, Mike. I really mean it – we need more discussion of stupid yet accepted societal dictums in all areas, not just blogs concerned with dismantling patriarchy/kyriarchy/hegemony.

Women can’t win – if you spend little money on your appearance, you’re shunned; if you spend too much, you’re ridiculed. The only question is, why do we still keep playing the game?

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