Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Money, It's a Guy Thing... or Is It?

Tina Brown thought well enough of Daphne Merkin's article "The Brotherhood of Money" to rerun it in her Daily Beast. It first appeared in January; it reappeared yesterday. Link here.

The article was certainly worth a second read. Besides being compelling and well-written, it also raises a question that has mostly escaped scrutiny.

At a time when people are constantly talking about gender balance, no one besides Merkin has been asking why so many of the main actors in the current financial crisis are men. Mary Schapiro and Sheila Bair notwithstanding, it appears that money is a game run and controlled by men.

As Merkin states it: "Money, it goes without saying, is still a men's club of the most secretive kind. The fact that until recently men have been the sole breadwinners is not enough to explain this profound separation of the sexes when it comes to lucre, shiny or filthy."

In days of yore, as Merkin testifies, women in certain communities were told to ignore money issues. If they showed an interest in money it had to mean either that that they did not want to be taken care of, or that they were not confident that men could do so.

A woman's interest in money would have threatened the male role of provider, and would have made her a less attractive mate.

And it is probably true, even at a time when most women work outside the home,that many learn about financial issues only when they are forced to... by divorce, widowhood, or financial crisis.

While feminism has certainly opened the workforce to women, still and all, a
s Merkin says, the world of money is still a brotherhood.

Is that because that's the way men want it? Or are there other factors involved?

I hesitate to blame it all on the patriarchy because precious few women today feel beholden to do its bidding. How many young women do you know who want to be the helpmates of dominant patriarchs? Today's young women are far more likely to identify themselves as feminists.

If that is true, ask yourself this: When a young woman goes to college and takes courses in women's studies, will she be learning anything about finance and investment.

I think not.

Young feminists are being taught to deconstruct the capitalist hegemony. They learn how to protest injustice and to assert their grievances about the way they are treated on dates and in relationships.
They learn how to ferret out signs of sexism and to denounce them.

But they do not learn about balance sheets, investment portfolios, and the banking system.

Women's studies belongs to the humanities. They emphasize soft sujects, subjects that involve emotion and art, subjects that stereotypically exist within women's domains.

Part of the problem is that feminism holds as dogma that reality is constructed out of power relations that seek to exploit women.

But, money is about numbers. And like it or not, numbers are real. They are not a social construct. If you have learned from critical theory and deconstruction that there are no facts, you will never develop a good relationship with money.

Obviously, it is highly desirable that women learn about money, the better to gain more authority in the world, and the better to have control over their lives.

Blaming the problem on the patriarchy is too simple. If the patriarchy is trying to keep women out of the financial world, it has found a willing group of enablers in contemporary feminists.

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