Fiscal Fitness

At the March Valley Business Women’s luncheon, I heard Elsie Rose speak about the penalty for being born a woman. I did not take offense to her topic or her premise as I have preached that sermon many times myself. As a member of the American Association of University Women I was made amply aware of the statistics that Ms. Rose used as part of her presentation, and in fact, she used AAUW statistics in her presentation. The presumed penalty for being born a woman comes to $849,000 in simple math terms. To see a slide of this, see http://www.dailyfinance.com/photos/the-849-000-penalty-for-being-born-female/. Type “penalty for being born a woman” into Google and you’ll see many entries. This is not just an American issue. One of the articles you would read if you did a Google search is for Australia. Another is for The Netherlands. One website called being born a woman a “major financial mistake” as if this was a choice for most of us.

piggy bank

I “came up” when women were only 25% of the graduating class of my law school and it was difficult to get a job because I didn’t have a Y chromosome in a very competitive job market in the midst of the mid-1980s Texas oil bust (where I was living at the time).

I remember when a woman still needed her husband’s signature to get credit and when the wife was not even added to the utility bills. Female clients whose husbands died found they were not credit worthy simply because they had been married and none of the marital credit worthiness was attributed to the wives, only to the husbands. Imagine having to pay a deposit to the electric company when you had paid the family’s electric bill for the last 50 years! When I was getting divorced and was establishing my own auto insurance policy, I needed my soon to be ex’s permission to acquire certain auto insurance benefits with a well-known insurance company (that shall remain nameless) because we were still married and he had a policy with those same benefits. He had to agree to let me have those benefits too. I was lucky he agreed. I imagine not all exes are as amenable. By the way, that was only a dozen years ago.

Honestly, I have such fatigue realizing that the same fight I was arguing about in 1986, the year I graduated law school, is the same fight I’m arguing about today.

Authors and news people, Katy Kay and Claire Shipman claim that the key to fiscal fitness among women is being confident and asking for the job you want at the salary you want (The Confidence Code, Harper Business, 2014). I don’t know that it is that simple. If you are a Katy Kay (of the BBC) then maybe you can command enough clout to walk into a boss’s office and demand what you want (job, hours, salary). I am not so sure that a woman working at Handy Mart for minimum wage can do the same. I doubt that a teacher can do the same. I know that I wasn’t given that opportunity either. I still hear about this from other women I talk to as well. Frankly, I think that if we weren’t still hearing about it, we’d know that either we had succeeded at being in charge of our fiscal fitness and closing that $849,000 lifetime gap, or had totally given up.

I don’t see us giving up, at least in my lifetime. So what I really want to know from the Valley Business Women readers being directed to this blog entry, as well as any woman (or man) that reads my blog, is what do you think we have to do to close this almost $1 million gap? Are there skills we, as women, need beyond our education, our innate intelligence, and our willingness to work really hard? Or is it something else?

© Suzan D. Herskowitz

An Amazing Life

A number of years ago, there was a book out about all the things you had to do before you died. Among the items listed was running with the bulls in Pamplona. Shortly after the book came out, I was at a party and the conversation with a bunch of guys I knew turned on exactly that subject. Each one of them said that they needed to run with the bulls in Pamplona. They asked me if I was going to also.

When I said “hell no!,” I was asked why not?

Why not? Well, because I’m generally risk averse and the very idea of running away from an angry 1,500 pound beast didn’t, and still doesn’t, appeal to me in the least. But besides that, why do I have to do something just because a book said it was one of the things I needed to do in order to have a fulfilled life? Who determines what I need to do? A book? Some meme on Facebook? There is some societal idea that somehow unless you are a well-traveled (preferably on camel in the desert or maybe instead to Borneo), designer dressed, Zagat-rated restaurant fed, member of society, you have not lived and that by not living that life, you are less than.

I spent a good deal of my earlier years chasing what I thought I needed to do. The pressure to do what I should or need to do is still quite oppressive.

So when I read this quote by the author Anne Lamott, I thought “well said”.

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

I read the Lamott quote on Facebook and then took the time to read some of the replies, and when I got to this one I thought “Brava!!”

What this person wrote was “Or you had a nice, quiet life, not feeling like you had to explain yourself away with your memoir or seek out warm pools because you liked your bathtub just fine and felt ok just enjoying other peoples’ silliness and your creativity was included in letters written to friends and family. Oh, God: what if you just enjoy your simply amazing life without being judged that your life was not amazing enough.”

You see both thought patterns are correct.

Ultimately, what a person chooses to do, or not do, is enough. It has taken me a long time to realize that not everyone was going to enjoy reading what I like to read or enjoy the movies, music, or art I prefer. They were not going to like the food I enjoy. By the same token, what I enjoy reading or watching is mine, and that no, I am not going to eat snails, once was enough thank you very much. It’s not for someone else to sneer down his or her nose and question my choices either.

As long as we’re not hurting someone else, then we need to walk our own path. We may not like each other’s choices. I may prefer to have a picnic instead of bungee jumping off a bridge after a 10-mile hike, and that’s okay. You shouldn’t need to feel guilty for the path you choose. You certainly don’t have to read a book to tell you what you need to do before you die. Make your own list and be sure to review it periodically because your life path will twist and turn and it’s okay to change your mind.

cup of tea

What I think is that we are all different, like snowflakes. Run with the bulls if that makes you happy. I’ll think you’re nuts but that’s okay. I’ll be home reading a book and drinking a cup of tea and that’s okay too.

We all need to be our own snowflake wherever that leads us.

© Suzan D. Herskowitz