Whenever I am involved in a discussion about feminism and women’s rights, there is often a comment from the floor that more women in leadership positions would be good for everyone because women are more caring and kinder than men.
I am usually expected to wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment but I never do. In fact, this view of women makes me deeply uncomfortable. Firstly, I think it is sexist. Women do not have a monopoly over kindness or niceness, just as men do not have a monopoly over energy and assertiveness.
Secondly, it creates an impossible and unfair standard for women who do achieve positions of power. Not only do they have to fight longer and harder than men to get there in the first place (see Hillary Clinton), once there they face harsh judgment if they are not constantly nice. Woe betide them if they make any difficult or unpopular decisions.
WATCH: David Koch shares his tips for managing money. (Post continues…)
This double standard is tough on women seeking power but it is how this attitude negatively affects us common, garden-variety females that interests me the most. And – make no mistake – this deceptively flattering idea that we are naturally noble and self-sacrificing is crippling to us, particularly financially.
A common criticism of women is that we are not confident or assertive enough in the workplace, especially when it comes to seeking promotion or asking for a pay rise. This is often trotted out to excuse the stubborn 17% gender pay gap and lack of women in senior roles. However, while I don’t believe that women are intrinsically nicer than men, I don’t believe they are intrinsically whimpy either.
I think it is the centuries old expectation that women should put others first that makes asking for what we want particularly difficult. We are afraid that we won’t be liked if we ask for more and, generally, that fear is real. That’s why a successful woman is so often called a ball breaking bitch.
Trouble is, this self-sacrificing, taking-the-burnt-chop-with-a-smile way of living, while it may win us short-term approval, has terrible life long consequences. When they get old, too many women end up poor.
Think about it – if it is seen as intrinsically unfeminine and selfish for women to take control of their financial situation, if women are seen as nicer if they don’t worry their pretty little heads about nasty things like filthy lucre – then how can it end otherwise?
I have received devastating emails from older women who are bewildered by the appalling financial situation they have found themselves in. We also know our governments are very concerned about a generation of poor old women. The latest devastating statistic is that the fastest growing group among the homeless is women over 55. It seems if you put yourself last, so will everyone else.
These are the women who did what they were told, grew up, didn’t bother with serious qualifications, worked for a few years in a low-paid, low-skilled occupation, got married and had kids. They were told that they would live happily ever after and that a man was a financial plan and it has turned out to be rubbish.
According to new financial industry research, Australian women are still more likely than men to default to their partner to make their financial decisions. And only 20% of women have ever sought professional advice about money (source: Financial Planning Association (FPA) Dare to Dream Australian Research Report 2016).
We must get over the idea that looking after your own financial future is unfeminine. And being bored by this stuff is no excuse. There is nothing more boring than poverty. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a good relationship or not, you need to know what your financial situation is and get some good, professional advice on how to manage it properly.
I am the Financial Planning Association Ambassador for 2016 Financial Planning Week. I hope that I can use this week to encourage women in particular to take control of their future and not end up (nobly) living out of their car.
Overwhelmingly, women live longer than men, earn less, own less and have less super than men, and we also take less responsibility for our financial future than men. This has to change.
For more information about Financial Planning Week, click here.