Finance Friday: Do You Shop Your Ethics?

Recently I was having a perfectly lovely conversation about eyeglasses that ended on a weird note about ethics and money. I was at the largest conference in my field (the history of women), where I gave a paper and tried not to fangirl over historians I deeply admire. I was there by myself—no cadre of buddies—and spent one evening chatting with friends of a friend, which was when this conversation came up.

Class Stratification in Full-Time Academia

Academia (the phrase refers to all colleges and universities, collectively) is a funny place. A chunk of its denizens are people like me, who—through a combination of hard work and good luck—overcame the odds against being there. I don’t teach at a prestigious university; I went to a really good college, and a good graduate school, but I’m not from Harvard. Other people, um, are. And while I can’t and shouldn’t generalize about Harvardians, I’d hazard a guess that there’s a class element there—its own website notes only 16% of students have Pell grants, and 20% have family incomes of less than $65,000. Many Harvard grads, particularly from their grad programs, go on to teach at R1 institutions—that is, universities that focus on faculty research more than faculty teaching. While I would much rather teach 3 to 4 classes a term than write frequent books, those R1 universities (1-2 classes per term) tend to pay faculty far more than small universities like my own. Thus there’s class stratification among even full time academics—and this doesn’t get us started on the problem of contingent labor.

In any case, I was at this conference, chatting with some very nice Harvardians, when I complimented one of them on her glasses. “Thanks!” she said, “I like yours, too.” And we got talking about the challenge and cost of finding interesting frames I said, “Yeah, I couldn’t justify spending the $400+ on new frames for fashion reasons, so I just got these on Zenni optical for a song.” She replied, “Because of my ethics, I don’t shop there.”

Oh. Well.

The conversation pretty much stopped cold and I stood there feeling like a poor at a rich people’s party. Perhaps she didn’t realize that by implication, she suggested I didn’t have ethics, or that leaving hers unsaid put me in a super awkward position of stammering that glasses were expensive, dammit. Maybe she thought they were made with child labor, whereas I didn’t; maybe she was all about supporting a local economy. We’ll never know. I got another glass of wine and ran off to get snacks in my awkwardness.

The whole situation was further uncomfortable because it was a conversation among women. Women are notoriously underpaid in academia; those who are full time tend to be chastised for having kids whereas men are complimented, as having kids has implications for the “tenure clock.” Both of these issues have serious financial and class implications we should be working to eradicate through understanding and respecting each other, rather than, however unintentionally, undercutting each other.

I am a firm believer in shopping your ethics when you can…

but I am also keenly aware that my class position and geographic location allows me to do so. It’s also an exchange—I’ll spend more on things that are ethically satisfying to me, but consequently spend less on other things, like fancy new specs. For example, I do not set foot in Walmart. I find what Walmart has done to small towns (I lived in one and watched this happen) in terms of decimating small shops on main street, and then paying people so little that they can only afford to shop at Walmart, is terrible. I avoid it whenever possible. But I live in a suburb with lots of options; I have the disposable income to make other choices.

Similarly, I try not to buy factory-farmed meat. I strongly disagree with our current agricultural system and what it does to animals; I have a local Whole Foods, so I buy most of our meat there or from the organic department at Costco. I can do so because of my privileged class and geographic position. It’s the same reason I can support our local hardware or paint stores rather than Home Depot whenever possible.

I do, however, still buy my clothes at Old Navy. I buy my glasses online. I’m not a purist, and I realize there are ethical implications to these choices. But I am also hardly so wealthy or, frankly, so motivated that all of our purchases can be sustainably, ethically sourced. I think it’s important to support your values when you can (hello, recycled printer paper!) but it takes a certain kind of gall to speak of those ethics as though they are a given for all, or as though they do not come with enabling or limiting conditions. I might, for example, seek to support women business owners in my neighborhood, but am also aware that I can’t and shouldn’t keep visiting the home décor shops on that principle alone. Or the bakery. Good god, those cakes are delicious.

How do you feel about these issues?

Do you shop your ethics, and do you find your ability to do so both enabled and limited by your situation(s)? How do you navigate social class in your world?

 

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Finance Friday: FREE Downloadable Budget and Spend Spreadsheet!

Is this you? The Street reported this week that as female breadwinning grows, so does financial anxiety. They report that women tend to a) earn less than men and b) worry more about money than men and c) worry about retirement more than men. It would appear that money–duh–is gendered, or at least sexed. Nine out of ten women, they say, are the main support of their families at some point, and many women support themselves alone. Having some sense of what money you have, where it is going, and where you might change those paths to meet particular goals (so long, student loans), brings at least some sense of calm. My free Budget and Spend Spreadsheet is here to help.

I am the primary breadwinner in our household and my husband has fluctuating income as an adjunct professor (we should talk about labor exploitation in academia some other time, as well as women-as-breadwinners ). We’ve had some hefty expenses over the years—hello, front steps needing replacement; sick tree in front yard; kitchen reno we sloooowly did ourselves—but we never quite seemed to be getting ahead. Mind you, we are very, very fortunate; we’ve been extraordinarily lucky to live comfortably since I started my job in 2008. Even so, I was surprised that every year our balances seemed to be exactly where we started, and our credit cards were constantly in use, creating high monthly balances we paid off.

Where did the money go? I expect I’m not alone in my wonder here. Many Americans don’t keep track of their funds, and the stuff they buy—little and big—add up over time (google the “latte factor” –the idea that buying expensive coffee frequently is a money pit). Many Americans don’t budget, either. I was one of them, even after my financial adviser suggested doing so. Budgeting seemed like a pain to do, and it could bring up some painful truths I did not want to face. So I ignored her.

But ignoring my advisor’s advice and my own internal monologue telling me something could be better meant that I wasn’t making my money work for me. Spending it with no plan is fun sometimes (buying new front steps less so), but it came with an opportunity cost—that money might be put elsewhere, better used. I had no real way of knowing. Those Target runs might have added up to something more consequential.

Good thing I like spreadsheets.

I built this one originally for me in a much simpler form. This version features all the bells and whistles I’ve added in five months of working on and with it. William Buffet (evidently) once said that what you spend is what remains after you save (thanks, feministfinancier.com!). So let’s get a handle on what we’re actually spending. And maybe—if we’re feeling brave—consider a budget, so as to better save.

spreadsheet snap
Spreadsheet snapshot

This Budget and Spend Spreadsheet allows you to do both. It’s set up with pre-build categories for both expenses and income, so you can just punch in some numbers and get rolling. It’s also got blank spaces for new items. That’s just the main sheet. Subsequent sheets are set up for each of those expense categories; you just punch in the number you allowed on sheet one at the top of each subsequent sheet and enter your expenses in that category as you go. For example, there’s a sheet for dining out. Say you allot $5k/year for that (you crazy minx, you)—you put that number in at the top and fill in the rows as you go and it does the math for you, allowing you to see what you have on balance to spend.

I like spending down. Beats spending up.

piggy bank
Feed the piggy.

If you run out of rows, you can always add some with the edit function. Then copy the last cell that contains a number derived by the formula (that is, the last one that math-ed correctly), copy it, and paste it into the new boxes below. That’ll keep your math going.

The very last sheet is a net worth sheet. This is a fun little element that lets you track your net worth over time. Net worth, simply put, is assets minus liabilities. On my own personal sheet, for example, I have our house as an asset with its approximate value (somewhere in between Zillow and the town’s recent revaluation) and what we owe on it as liability. The difference between them isn’t just equity, it’s part of your net worth. There are areas for 401k balances, bank accounts, student loans, car loans, the whole kit and caboodle.

The sheet is entirely editable, so if you want it to have different themes, different topics, or math in different ways, you can adjust it for your own consumption. It contains a number of comments that will help you fill boxes in. Feel free to send any questions along to me as well at admin@tenaciousfeminist.com.

benjamins
Knowing where these go means (hopefully) keeping more of them in your accounts.

If you talk about this spreadsheet—and please, talk about it, on your blog, your twitter, your instagram, whatever!—please link back. It’s creative commons copyrighted to me.

I’d love to hear about your progress! Let me know how the Budget and Spend Spreadsheet works for you.

Just a reminder: I AM NOT A FINANCIAL ADVISOR. You can take whatever I say with a grain of salt. I’m sharing what has worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. I am not responsible for any action taken based on my posts.

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Considering our Relationships with Stuff

finance friday: talking about stuffLast week we talked about our relationships with money, looking at their origins and considering how they play out in how we handle, save, and spend. This week, we’ll take the next logical step: let’s talk about our relationships with stuff.

It seemed no coincidence to me that the pre-recession era, marked with the growth of McMansion subdivisions and the rise—as well as the fall—of the Hummer also seemed to feature the growth of storage centers. Now I’ve never fact-checked this, but I don’t remember seeing more than the occasional, isolated storage center when I was a kid. But in my early adult years, these places seemed to multiply like rabbits and take on gargantuan proportions. They’re eyesores, and always led me to thinking: what has caused such a demand for these? The answer: stuff.

I myself have a mixed relationship with stuff.

I have, if I’m honest, a real love for Sephora. We are book keepers. I wax and wane in terms of clothing purchases. We have a mess of a basement full of god knows what.

I’m working on thinning out this mess, putting stuff in the garbage bin and in a yard sale pile. If I can make a few bucks and clean out the basement, I’ll be a happy camper.

Some folks fill their emotional needs with things.

Others feel caught up in the race to have the newest-best-fastest car, phone, you name it. Mercifully, I am not one of those people. I’m not a must-have-this-tech person; I have a bare-bones phone (I’ve only had a smartphone for about a year, and had a flip phone until then), an older-model iPad I got through work, and a work laptop. I reason that these things do what I need them to do, and so I’m generally pretty happy with them and certainly unwilling to spend more money to upgrade them. I tend to fill my emotional needs with chocolate rather than iPhones.

For a long time I was easily lured in by those “here’s $10 off $25” coupon deals to places like DSW. One day I bought a pair of shoes accordingly and brought them home to find I already had a pair just like it. That’s when I began to really reconsider the shopping choices I was making, and the reasons I was making them, and why I made them when I had little disposable income to make them in the first place, nevermind when my economic position improved. (I also wonder about the gender and sex breakdown of all of this, tho I haven’t done the research, in terms of who gets what kind of advertising and who then takes advantage of it.)

Since then, I’ve tried to save more money and spend what I do on experiences.

Eating out is still a money pit for me, but I’m working on it. I still feel that as long as I’m enjoying the experience of dining out, it counts for more than a pair of shoes I don’t need.

So here’s today’s question: why do you buy what you choose to buy? Do you buy just for fun? To satisfy emotional longings? To meet concrete needs? To take advantage of deals when they present themselves? How might these categories overlap? Do you spend money you don’t have in order to meet any of these categories? What’s the opportunity cost* in such spending, whether you’ve got the income or not? How might all of these questions revolve around sex and gender?

Down the road we’ll prod these questions further as we start to map out better uses of your cash than stuff, or figuring out your cash-stuff balance.

*a fun economics term that refers to the other things you might have done with the money (or time, or whatever) spent.

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How I stopped worrying so much about my weight and came to love heavy lifting

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Full disclosure: post contains affiliate links

For many, many years, I, like many people, hated exercise. I also wasn’t too keen on my body. I saw exercise mainly as a tool for body modification, but one which left me generally tired, frustrated, and easily thwarted. I am 5’ tall. I am genetically predisposed to big ol’ legs, and I saw these as a penance rather than a gem. When I was 28, I lost something like 30 pounds so that I was a mere 117 through strict food control, limited booze, and walking. So.much.walking. I did this after seeing a doctor at the university where I was a grad student for an indigestion-and-tightness feeling. Her advice? Lose weight. (didn’t help, btw.)

run, Jen, run!
A blurry, young me, in one of my very few action shots.

Man, if I had a nickel for every time I heard or felt that impulse to drop pounds. BMI is too high. Clothes are too tight. Self-love was not part of the equation, ever, even though I went to a feminist university for undergrad and was a believer in the rhetoric. Knowing something in your brain and your gut are two different things. I was a chubby youngster, and even as my weight went up and down over the years, that kid’s voice tended to be the loudest in my head.

Magazines, websites and TV pitch cardio to women as the be-all end-all of exercise, because it’s trumpeted as the best, fastest way to lose weight. The equation is thus simple: women should primarily exercise to take up less space. Thus, run, use the elliptical, or in my case as a young person, get down with those awful Cindy Crawford workout videos. Do not do so for reasons of personal accomplishment, unless that accomplishment is to become smaller. In which case, good for you.

When I see photos of myself at 117 pounds, I’m kind of floored by how scrawny I was. I am forty pounds heavier now. I am not always good at accepting that. But my god, I am strong.

I started lifting heavy weights a few years ago at the university gym. It took a lot of swallowed pride to put on my gym clothes and be vulnerable—gasp—in front of my students. But the gym was free, and I had a book—The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess—I’d taken out of the library and eventually ordered on Amazon. I watched videos to get an idea of good form. And then I tried. I used the barbell, the plates, the dumbbells. Within a year, I could lift my (then-smaller) bodyweight. And I loved it.

That’s evidently the trick with exercise: Find something you love, and you won’t mind doing it (as much—I do still have those days where I don’t want to go to the gym). And for me, I hated cardio. It generally left me bored and feeling bad about myself. But lifting? It’s always a challenge. Successes are exciting—new personal bests!—and failures are motivating. Don’t get it today? Get it later. It’s a very different motivation than “yay I made it through half an hour on the treadmill,” which is something I don’t find even remotely motivating. At all. Even better, it allowed me to eat more (I wrestled with guilt cycles about counting highly-restricted calories) because you have to eat to lift and make gains.

It’s the best exercise ever.

I no longer work out at the university gym. When I was on sabbatical, I started working out elsewhere so as not to get sucked into university stuff. Now I just prefer my other gym; it’s the one “crazy” annual expense in my budget. I also spring for a trainer.

I can lift 200 pounds off the floor.
I can carry all the groceries in one trip.
I can move my own furniture.

My bones are strong as a consequence of resistance work, which bodes well for me in the future.

And while I use a lot of serious gym weights, you can do a lot with your own body and stuff you can find—google and see for yourself.

The traditional ways of knowing you’re doing well, health-wise, don’t quite work for me, and that’s taken getting used to. My pants are always becoming too small (I’ve stopped buying any at full price and hit up thrift shops) because my booty is huge. I have great quads—sure, they’re huge, but they support my whole body and let me do pretty much whatever I want. My shoulders are broad—these are great for filling out shirts, sure, but also help stabilize my growing arms.

Exercise is important—it can help stabilize mood (it keeps me from killing people), improve bodily function, ward off disease, and promote community. But don’t exercise for some mythological state of smallness, or because you feel you have to for reasons tied to the awful covers of “Women’s Health,” a misnomer if I ever heard one. Do it for you. Find something you like, and to hell with the rest of it. Find workouts that challenge you, that hold your interest. For me, that’s heavy lifting.

Being strong kicks ass. Being big kicks ass. It’s all infinitely better than spending your life seeking smallness. If you’re looking to feel good, carry all your own stuff, and rival Beyonce’s thighs for strength, you should give heavy lifting a go.

We’ll talk about all of this more later, when I interview my trainer. He’s ALL about empowering women in the gym, so I adore him. Just wait until I ask him about the pink dumbbells.

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Let’s talk about relationships with money.

We all have them, but I don’t know how often we explore them or consider their roots.

How does money make you feel? Anxious? Eager? Safe? Afraid?

Our emotions about money oftentimes fuel our money habits, and are complicated by our historical past. Women, in particular, have historically been responsible for a home’s consumption while at the same time having no access to the inner workings of bills and income. When we’re kids, we might have parents who still maintained this kind of system, and as we learn much by parental observation, many of us women might be as confused (bemused?) as our mothers were, however long ago, by our finances.

Our parents also serve as other models: models of spending, models of saving. Sometimes we turn into them; other times, we choose deliberately not to be them.

When I was growing up, we did not have a lot of extra money. I did not want for food, a roof over my head, or warm clothes in the winter, but luxuries were not frequent. Perhaps consequently, when I went to college and got my first credit card, I got a little bit out of control. I had access to money (well, plastic money) and before I knew it, I had a $4k credit card debt at 21 years old. Then I went to grad school, made a whopping $11k a year, and had looming, enormous undergrad bills to pay off.

But money made me anxious even before then. I expect I’m not alone. I have often vacillated between “SPEND NOTHING!” and “I’ve spent so little, I deserve this item here on sale at Target.” I suspect part of my anxiety and spending habits had to do with my father’s repeated injunctions to BE CAREFUL with money, which often felt like a principle to violate (oh, hey, credit card) and which, once violated, left me feeling guilty for having done so. I wonder sometimes if he felt the same way. He always had a “bigger, better, faster” streak that reminded me of Tim Allen as the dad on “Home Improvement” when I was a kid.

As an adult, I am only just getting past my money anxiety.

For a long time, even as I began to make a reasonable salary, I felt like I was teetering on some financial precipice, even if that wasn’t true. My money anxieties are bundled up—as I expect they are for a number of women—with insecurities about who I am and what I do. Classic “Imposter Syndrome” stuff. They’ll figure out I’m a fraud, and I’ll never work again. I had nightmares along those lines for years.

Finding some control over my finances has helped me get change my thinking about money considerably. Not that I was ever really out of control, but by laying stuff out on paper, both on a grand scale with a financial planner last year and on a smaller day-to-day scale now on my own, I feel like I have a better understanding of how my money works, where it goes, and what I can do about it and with it. Since then, I’ve paid down a chunk of our debt, improved our bottom line by cutting expenses, and given us a framework with which to evaluate what we do spend. I’m not beyond picking fights with utilities for better rates when I don’t like what I see.

So for this Finance Friday, spend a little time thinking about how you feel about money, and where from where those feelings might arise. Contemplate how those feelings might shape your spending habits, and how those habits themselves make you feel. How might control—or lack thereof—figure in?

Consider this article, as well, which is honest in some amazing ways. http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/poor-people-worries/

We’ll chat again next week.

J.

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The House Hates Women and their Pesky Bodies: the AHCA

Warning: Many, many swears

Yesterday was a long day for a whole host of reasons, least of which was the passing in the house of that bullshit bill they claim is about “healthcare.” I know it’ll likely die a swift death in the senate, but that it was passed at all—many people evidently not bothering to read it, but the general facts of which were easy enough to find—reaffirms the bullshit contained in the executive order we talked about on Tuesday. Women are second-class citizens in this country. (as are disabled people, seniors who are not wealthy, people with asthma, you know, most of us).

No War on Women?

Many people presented the bill yesterday as preserving the preexisting conditions rules that the ACA created. What they left out—and what became popular knowledge in the last couple of days—was that the MacArthur amendment to the original AHCA bill stated preexisting conditions can now be charged ENORMOUS surcharges and states can refuse to cover them. There’s also a sneaky provision in there that suggests insurance companies can get rid of out of pocket maximums. This combination guarantees that the rate of bankruptcies for healthcare reasons will skyrocket, once again, if this bill becomes law.

What are particularly galling are the conditions on the list of those considered preexisting.

For example, pregnancy. C-sections.

Let’s break this down. The people who passed this bill are the same people who go on about the horribleness of abortion rights, so at this point they are all about fetus preservation but not actual birth circumstances. They want to gut welfare, generally speaking, but want to cause women who have children to be gutted by their insurance plans. How can we raise kids—which costs serious money—if birthing them is a preexisting condition that costs a serious fortune on an annual insurance basis? The surcharge for pregnancy is $17000! We cannot afford to have kids, we cannot afford to not have kids. There is so much wrong with this situation, including that such conditions carry on ad infinitum–get insurance 30 years after having kid, that pregnancy is still a preexisting condition.

Next, a c-section—the modus operandi of many maternity wards—itself comes with a surcharge. Preferred by—ready?—insurance companies because it is allegedly less risky (which is generally nonsense, since it comes with all the complications of surgery), it is now also WORTH MORE TO THE INSURANCE COMPANIES when women have them. These bastards. These sick fuckers.

Let’s not forget that pregnancy is hardly a “condition” like cancer—it’s the basic ability we have to continue the HUMAN FUCKING RACE. Most women have children. This bill tells women to suck it, for being women.

But Wait, There’s More

But we’re just getting started, aren’t we? Because also on this list of pre-existing conditions are RAPE and DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

This makes me so angry I can hardly type. Being abused is not a FUCKING CONDITION. It is not a lifestyle choice, like, say, smoking, that leaves you with terrible health outcomes. Making rape and domestic abuse preexisting conditions continues to victimize the victims of that violence, and will—quelle surprise—disproportionately harm women. What the changes mean, in practice, is that women will report rape and domestic violence less often, because they cannot afford the premiums for doing so. And the abusers, then, walk free.

Given that our current president joked about his abuse of women, WE SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISED BY THIS PROVISION. Our president is a chronic sexual assaulter, and now women may be compelled—LITERALLY—to pay for his abuse, or say nothing of it and save their hard-earned cash.

Know what’s not on the list? Prostate cancer. Erectile dysfunction. Color me shocked.

But hey, these guys seem really well-informed, so I guess we shouldn’t criticize.

Here are some sources:

http://nymag.com/thecut/2017/05/under-new-healthcare-bill-rape-is-a-pre-existing-condition.html?mid=twitter_nymag

https://twitter.com/lnlinder/status/855620193615323137/photo/1

http://www.cbpp.org/research/health/amendment-to-house-aca-repeal-bill-guts-protections-for-people-with-pre-existing

 

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This Isn’t My Idea of Religious Liberty

Free penguin!
Stock photos for “freedom” are hilarious.

Let’s talk about “religious liberty” orders.

I love the phrase “religious liberty.” It’s a great historical phrase. At one point, in a day when dissenting sects were anathema to the state religion, religious liberty was a rare thing. Hell, even in our current day, mosques are burned to the ground and those who worship in them likely hold their religious liberty tightly to their chests. But the phrase “religious liberty” has been used in the last several years as a mask for rigid homophobia in the name of sectarianism; it blatantly contradicts our constitution in multiple places and yet people trot it out as though it’s necessary for constitutional protection. The latest incarnation—an executive order anticipated tomorrow—is undoubtedly like state orders that have recently passed, designed to disproportionately impact gay citizens and which has implications for all of us.

Recent History

Religious liberty orders grew apace when gay marriage became legal. They work like this: if a person feels that serving someone or doing something is against their religious beliefs, they are spared from having to serve that person/do that thing. Most orders “liberated” homophobes from, for example, having to bake a wedding cake for gay clients if that homophobe felt their religion prohibited them from doing so. (A well-known case in Oregon, which didn’t have such a law and made a baker pay a fine, seems to have inspired many since 2015: (See this LA Times story)

This line of thinking, that those providing service should do so in line with their beliefs, is the same one that formed the basis of the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision of 2014, which impacted women. If you don’t recall, let me help: Hobby Lobby did not want to provide contraception coverage for women in their health care plans as per the ACA’s requirement. Their argument: Doing so was against the Hobby Lobby’s owners’ religious beliefs. Providing that coverage was, Judge Alito wrote, a “substantial burden” on the Hobby Lobbyers, who felt—contrary to most scientific belief—that contraception prevents a fertilized egg from implanting.

That’s right. They won this case based on NOT SCIENCE. Effectively, they did not want women to control their fertility if Hobby Lobby money was in any way involved, even if people paid in to their premiums (as the vast majority of us do). Such a situation makes a nice preamble to what’s coming. (Here, read about it in the NYT)

Frickin’ Scalia

Now in the past, even Justice Scalia—stalwart conservative—spoke against the potential overreach of religious freedom acts. In 1990 he noted that such acts, “would make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” But three years later, under the Clinton White House, congress passed a federal act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been refined and upheld a couple of times, and intends for a strict burden of scrutiny to apply to any claims. During the Hobby Lobby arguments, dear old Scalia insisted—in response to his peers’ questioning whether the women working at Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs were infringed by having to acquiesce to the owners’—that the 1993 act did not require the parties’ religious objections be balanced. And so, despite the not-science and the selectivity of Hobby Lobby’s lawyers (so people can still eat shellfish, right?), their objections held, and here we are.

This New Order is Awful

The executive order anticipated this Friday looks to be expansive and as an order, well, we’re stuck with it until a court overturns it. A draft leaked to The Nation suggests some serious discrimination will be the result: it “protects ‘religious freedom’ in every walk of life: ‘when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.’”

The Nation continues: “The draft order seeks to create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act.” And, for good measure, “protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that ‘believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.’”

AAAAGGGHHHHHHHHHAHHHHHHAAAAAAGGGGHHH

The Nation does a solid breakdown of the implications. What this order will do is dramatically expand the ability of individuals, companies, and corporations to refuse to serve (however that applies) ANYONE they feel violates their religious beliefs in some way. That discrimination—despite the blatant violation of our anti-discrimination laws, many embedded in the Constitution—is now sanctioned! Sanctioned! By the highest office in the land. This makes many people second-class citizens and encourages treating them accordingly. Gay people, women, transgender people, all second-class.

It’s giving Mike Pence a break, too—he ended up having to heavily revise Indiana’s order because it was tanking their economy. North Carolina will be so excited to start bathroom policing again, without the NCAA breathing down its neck. This law is designed to boost assholes like Pence. You know, the guy who calls his wife “mother” and won’t have dinner alone with women not his wife.

Keeping Pence in mind, how close could such orders come to “Handmaid’s Tale”-level stuff? Not the full dystopia, of course, but the system that made the dystopia possible. If a bank adheres to biblical prescription that woman is of man and thus subordinate to him, can they prohibit her access to her financial accounts? If I work at CVS and believe premarital sex is wrong, can I refuse to sell contraceptive to women, and leave men in control of their fertility? Can I refuse to sell a house to gay people, forcing them into neighborhoods and situations they may not want? (those neighborhoods would be fly, but that’s besides the point). In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” shit went down because people felt it was temporary, it would pass.

Will 45’s various hookups come under these laws? Can a driver refuse to drive him around because his beliefs that people shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage prohibit him from driving our esteemed president? That would be the only silver lining to this shitstorm.

Especially since, if we impeach him, we get Father in his place. And a Pence presidency scares me in entirely different ways from the one we currently have.

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Ten Things that Feminism Isn’t, Part 1

ten things feminism isn't

  1. Man-Hating.

We’ve all heard this one about feminism. It’s got roots going way back, beyond 1970s women’s lib and into 19th century feminist movements. It’s usually the first shout of the anti-feminists. And it’s fully irrational. Feminists seek an end to sexism (this is the classic definition by bell hooks). If people assume sexism is inherently “men,” well, that’s on them. The only tiny grain of truth embedded in this stereotype is that over time there have been feminists who sought separation, or who argued that one could not be a feminist if one still dated men, etc., but those feminists have historically been a teeny tiny percentage of feminists. They just get all the lion’s share of assumptions. We might wonder why that is.

 

  1. Exclusively about lesbianism.

See point one. Feminism argues that women have a right to their own sexualities and their bodies. Sexuality is a spectrum. All sexual orientations are welcome under the feminist tent.

 

  1. Destructive of the social order.

HAHHAAHAH. Ok, but seriously. This was the argument of women like Phyllis Schlafly, men like Pat Roberts, and others. They insisted that the changes wrought by 1970s feminists, including but not limited to increasing numbers of women in the workforce, led to an epidemic of delinquent kids (since they had to let themselves in their houses after school and were less supervised). PLEASE.

 

  1. Hateful of women who don’t share the ideology.

This line of thinking assumes there is only one definition of feminism, when that’s not inherently true. Not all women identify as feminists, and some women do actively fight against feminist principles. Those women are not hated. Feminism still represents them—we believe all women deserve, for example, bodily autonomy and freedom from harassment. Tami Lahren is a good example for this: conservative firebrand, she spoke openly for years of her dismissal of feminism and feminists, only to find herself fired for saying she believed in access to abortion. As much as I disagree, vehemently, with 99% of what Lahren says, she didn’t deserve to be fired for that particular conversation. The flaming racism, that should have done it.

 

  1. It’s only for white people.

We’ll spend a lot of time down the road getting into intersectionality: the idea that we bring different parts of our identities to what we do, and that, in order to be truly representative or inclusive, we must consider all of those parts. One of 1970s women’s lib failures was in having, as a public banner, concerns that were largely only white, middle-class women’s concerns. Pay parity with men, for example, was a tremendous issue for those women. However, for women on color in the movement, only when all POC were paid more would parity with men be a key issue—parity with whites overrode it. Recognizing that different women have different needs and incorporating those needs into feminist thinking and policy points is a key part of feminist action.

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Pitting Women Against Each Other

anti-feminism
photo credit charmaineyoest.com

In the last several years we’ve talked about a “War on Women,” and were told—repeatedly, endlessly, largely by men but also some women—that such a thing did not exist. And then we saw Hillary Clinton’s campaign (for all its foibles) eviscerated by the press, who refused to condemn the lies of the now-president while running huge headlines about Clinton’s email. And lo, we were then told not to worry so much, because you know, 45 wasn’t really a Republican. He totally believed at one point in abortion rights. Don’t mind his near-fundamentalist vice president. There is no war on women. Then yesterday, he appointed Charmaine Yoest to run the Health and Human Services (HHS) department.

This is some peak wiliness in the War on Women, which clearly still exists.

Yoest doesn’t believe in scientific research. She does believe, however, for reasons unexplained, that IUDs cause deaths. She refers to pro-choice people as the “Abortion Lobby.” She suggests the relationship between birth control availability and abortion is a false one, promoted as a media narrative but a “red herring” the “abortion lobby” uses somehow for nefarious reasons. Oh, and she says abortion causes breast cancer, but has no evidence.

Let’s parse out how all of this stuff works.

First, 45 can claim he is not anti-woman or participating in any kind of war on women because he named a woman to the post. They’ll chuckle at us for even asking. It’s a political tool but a point that many no doubt actually believe: that simply having women present is synonymous with working on behalf of women. While the two can indeed correlate, they do not always, and the correlation is more often than not a political ploy. You see, when we resist—when we call out the appointment of someone like Yoest—politicians can then tut-tut at us for failing to support our fellow women in office. Wily.

The role of the Health and Human Services Department is like an enormous version of the health department where you live, with far more clout. Its job is to maintain and promote the health of its citizens—all of its citizens. It’s also responsible for some service provision, as per the title. The National Institute for Health, a major player in science research, is part of the HHS.

When someone like Yoest—who questions scientific findings based on no rebutting science but on, evidently, her desires—runs the NIH, we have a problem, generally speaking.

Furthermore, her job is to assist all citizens.

Reproductive health care and easy access to contraception is a major part of women’s lives so that they might control their own fertility. Only by controlling one’s own fertility does a woman truly control her life’s potential paths. Charmaine Yoest does not believe in ready access to contraception, and her statements about the IUD suggest a deliberate scare tactic to keep women from long-form contraception. Yoest, it seems, is pro-pregnancy, but not pro-women.

When the government puts women like Yoest in charge of the HHS, it’s a form of gaslighting the rest of us, women who call out the government for its patriarchal chauvinism. Such a move implies (wait for it—it’s coming. No doubt it’s in article comments already) that when we critique her appointment, we are fighting against ourselves. The War on Women hits a new low with such moves, as we fear for both our bodily autonomy and control while also running the risk of descending into infighting over Yoest’s appointment. We will not be cowed.

J.

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“Retail Therapy”

Even though Hulu frontloaded 3 episodes of Handmaid’s Tale, I’m going to put off chatting about them to get started on another, recurring segment: Finance Fridays! Let’s talk about money.

By way of introduction to this segment, let’s talk about “retail therapy.”

Y’all know what that is, and I suspect most of you have done it at one point or another. Akin to “eating your feelings” (my preferred default for days when I’m frustrated—hello, m&ms), “retail therapy” is when we take to the mall to deal with our anger, frustration, a long week, a bad meeting, a rough paper, you name it. We buy ourselves a few things to ease that pain, and then many of us feel a different pain when the credit card bill comes in. Sound familiar?

“Retail therapy” is a phrase I’ve primarily heard women use, and this makes sense: we live in a culture in which women do a great deal of the shopping and have for decades. We also live in a culture in which we celebrate shopping as a women’s activity. Dealing with our feelings by spending money is, by logical extension, a feminized activity. Shopping aimlessly is a routine choice for women’s outings together–it’s also a cultural norm. As an aside, when I took students to a new state—a new city—for a conference recently, the first night they wanted to go to the mall. They were both broke. This shit is pervasive.

shopping lady, money
I mean, just look at this ridiculous stock photo.

Longer-term Repercussions

The consequence of this feminization of shopping—combined with other issues, like the pay gap, the generally lower pay in feminized industries in which women predominantly work, and women’s periodic departure from the work force in order to give birth, all despite their higher numbers in colleges and universities—is that women carry far more consumer debt than men. US News reported in 2015 that,

“63 percent of women ages 18 to 24 carried some credit card debt, but only 36 percent of men in that age category had any debt. Similarly, 66 percent of women ages 55 to 64 carried credit card debt, but only 33 percent of men in that age bracket had credit card debt.” (Abby Hayes, 6.25.15, http://bit.ly/1JoZLok)

Consumer debt is arguably far worse than other kinds, as the interest rates are much higher, meaning that what you owe increases dramatically over time. Needing to pay that debt off, particularly when combined with other bills such as student loans and the like, yields another troublesome picture. According to a 2014 Forbes article,

“A new LearnVest.com survey found that an American woman’s retirement nest egg totals approximately $150,000, on average, while a man’s comes in at roughly $235,000. That’s a 57% difference!” (Jane Bianchi, 2.12.14, http://bit.ly/2qen0k7)

All of this is gendered; make no mistake. We’ll come back to these various categories in the weeks to come, but for now, try to keep yourself out of the shops this weekend. The weather in much of the country is gorgeous this time of year, so get outside with your friends rather than head to the mall. I’ll leave the m&ms alone, too.

Next week, we’ll discuss budgeting: knowing where your cash is going so as to better give it direction.

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