Monday, November 7, 2011

On Men and Women and Money and Things

Money and power fuel gender inequality in a way that is very different from other types of discrimination. It’s not just about how much buying power a given group has – it’s about who makes the money, and who pays. As someone who
generally picks up her own checks in the interest of maintaining power, this has always intrigued me.

Women have always had most of the buying power in our country, and advertisers have spent the last 100 years leaping to take advantage of that fact. There is concrete research behind the decision to have Kelly Ripa sell us kitchen appliances instead of Regis Philbin.  Traditionally, women select our own major appliances, we influence the cars our family drives, we select the groceries, the clothes and the furniture and now, we even carefully bookmark the ring we would like to be given for our engagement.  Those decisions translate into a lot of power, but for some odd reason, it has never seemed to bother men to hand over the purchasing reins.

The reason is probably because traditionally, men have held the pocketbook. They worked all day to earn money and women worked all day to select the best ways to spend that money. Both of those roles are challenging, both require a lot of time, skill and attention, and both generally make the person doing them feel valuable. Men can sigh all they want about women spending all of their money, but the fact of the matter is that they neither want nor have the time to make all the buying decisions that women are making for them. At the same time, women know that their decisions are important and valued and get to reap the benefits of the choices they make for their homes and families. Right?

But it’s not the 50’s anymore. It’s not even the 60’s or 70’s or 80’s. We’re addressing Betty Friedan’s “problem with no name” and most families involve two working adults.  All of a sudden, both men and women have lost their traditional and familiar (if somewhat stifling) roles. Men feel stripped of their power because they are no longer the sole provider of wealth. Women feel stripped of our power (and energy) because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep a sparkling kitchen, cook gourmet meals and succeed in our high-powered careers. We’re “failing” everywhere we turn.


So we’re all stressed out when really we want the same thing – to have equally meaningful roles both in our family units and in the outside world. What’s so infuriating is that in the middle of this highly emotional and personal debate about relationships are money and things. We’ve let the meaning and value in our lives become defined by the power associated with money and things! Does that make anyone else angry?   

I want my power and validation to come from somewhere else - like finally nailing a headstand in my yoga practice, or by finishing War and Peace, or when I pull that perfectly cooked turkey out of the oven this Thanksgiving and say "hell yes, self. We did it!". And it's all on me and The Grige to make those the power sources of value in our home. 

What will yours be?


  1. Very very interesting topic. I read a blog post, probably a year or two ago now, about how there is often a "CEO" and a "CFO" in the relationship. I thought that was an interesting way to look at it and maybe when you are both working professionals that's a simpler way to look at the division of labor because there's no automatic gender assumption with those roles (versus, husband/wife, breadwinner/homemaker ?). I would say I'm CFO with a consulting role in the CEO's office and T is CEO with a secondary role as adviser to the CFO.

  2. Wow - what a great way to think of it! Sometimes I think about how much our personal lives would improve/change if we treated them more like a business, or more like the other parts of our lives. For example - check out this amazing NYT article "Married (Happily) With Issues".
    Elizabeth Weil writes (bravely) about her experiment in attacking her marriage with the fervor and perfectionism with which she approaches the rest of her life... it's fascinating.