Why is personal finance a feminist issue? I’ve read a bunch of finance 101 type books aimed at women, but the ‘The Feminist Financial Handbook’ by Brynne Conroy was the first of them that answered this question by walking the reader through a diverse array of rarely-heard perspectives on the issue.
Topics like the gender pay gap and the difficulties of re-entering the workforce after maternity leave or being a stay-at-home mom were already known to me, but I still learned a thing or two. For example, I know that 12 weeks of maternity leave is so often lambasted in public debate for being insufficient, but 44% of American women aren’t eligible for ANY maternity leave at all (due to their employer or employment type). That means almost half the country gets 0 days of paid maternity leave!
Other topics like government disability support came as a rude awakening. I was shocked to learn that disabled people are often forced into a vicious cycle of poverty because the government could take away benefits if they start saving too much money.
The book goes into great detail to describe existing solutions and programs that are in place to help people below the poverty line to be able to provide for themselves and their families. It outlines the steps to get an education with financial assistance and childcare on campus and other actions to break free from the cycle of poverty.
The book also does a great job of adequately addressing the many psychological barriers to approaching personal finance when you’re fighting all these other battles. You might be very familiar with the concept of budgeting, but the author recognizes the reality that budgets can go out the window when you’re dealing with the emotional baggage of a mental health issue (and she explains the impact of different types of mental-health issues that most commonly impact women as well). Accordingly, she suggests adding in a monthly buffer to your budget and considering convenience-based expenditures that may free up one’s emotional bandwidth.
The book analyses the impact of the decisions women have to make based on societal norms and the long-term impact this has on their personal finances. For example – While the number of traditionally-structured families (2 parent families) has decreased over the last couple of generations, the number of single-mother families has drastically increased. This leads to women, who disproportionately bear the burden of childcare, having to make career-limiting choices.
It’s not all gloom and doom though. The author ends every chapter on a positive note with a call to action and provides many inspiring stories of women who’ve overcome hardships.
And through it all runs the theme of intersectional feminism, a term that I was introduced to for the first time and one that I had already known intuitively. Intersectionality takes into account that a person can be advantaged in some ways, but disadvantaged in others. Alternatively, a person could be disadvantaged along multiple dimensions and this may mean that the existing blanket solutions aimed at people who share one of these disadvantages may not apply (sufficiently) to them.
The book does a good job of illuminating the problem space while providing tactical advice on how to find solutions in simple and un-intimidating language. It’s not comprehensive though; while it goes into great detail to educate readers on how to navigate numerous barely-talked-about and widely-prevalent issues faced by women and the LGBTQ community, it only skims the surface of some of the more universal personal finance topics. There was some advice I found really useful like the kind of information available in credit reports, but a lot less about investing and banking. Overall, I think it contains some gems of personal finance advice that could be a wonderful addition to your educational repertoire.
Mallika Sen is an engineer in the Bay area. She loves to read, watch Netflix and plan things – but not simultaneously. She has a lot of “micro-hobbies”, which is a term she’s made up to describe her habit of intensely researching or practicing a new topic or activity for a few months or more at a time before moving on to the next. She believes this adds perspective and excitement to life and would love to share what she learns along the way here at LiveYourDream.org.