Saving up for the cost of womanhood












By Amy Gray

Last month’s article “The Cost of Womanhood” by Jane Gilmore resonated with our readers and spread like wildfire across social media.

It also prompted a lot of questions, like this letter we received from Zoe via our Facebook page.

Hi, I just read the article on your page about ‘john and mary’, that showed the economic circumstances of a man and a woman through their lives. I am a 17 year old completing yr 12 at the moment, and a proud feminist, yet one planning on going into the low-paying area of social work and who plans to have kids one day. That article/story has made me feel rather hopeless, what can I do to avoid that situation? Do I need to ensure that I can be completely financially independent for my whole life? Do I need to not have children? To go into a higher paying job? It’s easy to feel financially doomed as a millennial, and though i work two jobs and am better off than many of my peers, my future seems bleak in that department. Any advice?

This is something every feminist comes across in their struggle for equality – what can be done?

QVWC contributor and editor Amy Gray shared a lengthy reply to Zoe. We want to share this with you, a reminder that for every problem a feminist finds, there is often a solution.

Hi Zoe,

Thank you so much for your message. I’m glad the story moved you but am sorry you’re feeling bad about it.

You are not without hope and it sounds excellent you want to help others with social work. Things are hard as a millennial and even harder trying to pay off Uni but there is still a path.

At the heart of QVWC is the mission to help women empower themselves economically. Part of that means becoming financially literate (you can get training for that and we will have some events coming up if you’re in Melbourne) and learning how to budget and manage your finances through to saving, responsible consumption, taxes, investments, etc.

But the other part is realising how gender discrimination plays out financially. You’re on that path now thanks to Jane’s excellent article and once you know how discrimination works, it’s easier to resist or plan around.

Thinking about Mary, how would she have done it differently? Central to this would be Mary deciding her economic stability was one she should shore up independently or negotiate with John to maintain greater autonomy.

Perhaps she could have insisted John reduce his hours at work because child rearing should not be the sole job of women. It’s the same with house chores, still overwhelmingly done by women, even when men are at-home caregivers.

She could have insisted on going back to work full time to ensure her own career progression, or gone back part time and studied to give herself professional development, leading to promotions and higher pay (and thus superannuation). She could have developed her career into one that wasn’t subject to gendered economic penalty (i.e. admin is often considered a woman’s job and therefore not highly paid). She could have pushed for higher pay earlier on, something that statistically women find difficult, often due to cultural conditioning lest they be considered “bossy” or “demanding”.

She could have increased her superannuation contributions (there are ways to do this before tax – accountants and financial consultants can help) or even looked for work at places that offer salary packaging (often non-profits) or higher super contributions (universities are one place but there are others).

She could have saved a nest egg and invested it elsewhere. This is largely dependent on access to disposable income, which is an intersection of privilege that some don’t have, but still, every cent saved into a nest egg is a cent saved that can grab a scrap of interest.

Many women are also developing what is known as a “fuck off fund” where they save anywhere from $2,000 and up so they always have access to emergency funds so they don’t have to endure abuse at home or unhappy jobs.

Mary could have refused to quit her job and insisted that childcare was a joint expense between her and John (often it is assumed childcare is the mother’s expense). The unexpected loss from resigning to look after children full time is the loss of superannuation contributions and professional development that could lead to higher paying, secure and absorbing work.

If childcare is too high a cost for John’s taste, then how much will he pay her to stay at home? A wage Mary can use to invest in her superannuation or other investments or savings funds. It’s a radical idea but so is the idea a woman earning money is too great an expense to the family.

Home ownership is another thing – perhaps John and Mary could have held onto their flat and used it as collateral to move into a smaller second home, giving them an investment that would pay itself off before becoming an option for Mary’s accommodation when the divorce happened.

But central to all of this is Mary considering her needs as well as her family’s and deeming them equally important. Women often submit themselves as less important – therefore the unpaid work – than their husband, which comes at a financial cost.

This is then an area that can be open to abuse – financial abuse is part of the spectrum of relationship abuse. We’re sharing an article tomorrow with a link to resources that can help.

The main thing to realise is that you are important. Your past, your present and your future is just as important as a man’s. So, your choices are important, as is your comfort and economic safety.

Hopefully you’ve liked the QVWC page and have signed up for the newsletters. Keep on reading and get skilled up on how to look after yourself as you embark on your social work career and help look after others. But don’t be depressed about it all. You’ve got someone amazing in your corner: you.

Best of luck.

Amy Gray

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