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Perpetrating the myth of the weak woman

I could start with another New Year, New You personal finance post, but I won’t.
That is well-trodden territory; if you’re honest with yourself, you will know the answers.
If not, very quickly, here’s a reminder to:

  • Pay off any credit card debt you have in full or as fast as possible.
  • Review your finances in line with your goals.
  • Trim the fat from your budget.
  • And get serious about doing things better and smarter.

That’s about it, in a nutshell.
Instead, indulge me in a rant about the finance industry and others who are currently inadvertently perpetuating the myth about the weak, stupid little woman.
If I have to read another column written by a white middle age man, dispensing cliches from his mother or grannie, about coupon clipping, baking their own bread, and ‘you can do it girlie’ fist-pumping propaganda, I’ll puke.
I get there are good intentions behind all this, about wanting better outcomes for women, but I can’t help but be cynical about the current approach.
It’s all well and good to preach money 101 basics to gals, ostensibly because you want them to achieve higher savings, but the narrative at the moment seems built on the assumption that women don’t know there are financial inequities that could impair their financial wellbeing and don’t know how to fix it. Extra cynically, those players piling into this female empowerment space are seeking to win over and build their female client base.
There is a zinger of a speech that actress Reese Witherspoon, an accomplished actor and producer, gives at an award ceremony that takes aim at the same issue. In it, she describes how far too many Hollywood movies feature a scared and helpless female who turns to the firm and stable male and cries, “What do we do now?!” 
Ask any woman whose been lost with her partner in a foreign country, dealt with an errant child, had a broken-down car, or dealt with virtually any crisis, and you’ll know that the Hollywood myth is bullshit.
These pathetic stereotypes about women do not match today’s reality. They probably never did, but women have not had the same chance to record their history or stories as men.
In my world, most of the women I know are financial powerhouses. Whether single or partnered, they are the money managers in the household, and I’m not talking about paying the bills and buying food. I’m talking about investments across all asset classes.
Much of the talk around women and money currently centres around women not having as much as men in their KiwiSaver accounts. The inference is that women don’t know this; they don’t understand why they should care and don’t know how to fix it. It is also commonly assumed they lack the confidence to deal with money beyond managing household accounts.
I have no doubt some women may fit this profile, but if I’m honest, I know more males than females who fall into that category and rely on their female counterparts to play the CFO in the family.
Both of my grandmothers controlled the family finances AND the investments. My late mother,  who managed her own finances as a single working mother, was far savvier about investments than any fund manager or financial advisor I know, warning me about unjustified investment fees back in the ’80s when I was in high school. She retired more than just well.
Still, there was this assumption by those who met my mother for the first time that she must have inherited her wealth or received some cash windfall in a divorce, or was supported by a partner.
I’m not sure my mom would describe herself as a feminist, but by most traditional definitions, she was. Financially independent, self-directed, wise and career driven, she had total confidence and control of her finances. That was my role model growing up,  so maybe that has shaped my thinking and behaviour around money. My mom didn’t buy Barbie Dolls or bake cookies for my sister and me when we were kids. She worked in a male-dominated industry with a title she held until she retired as a “Landman.” She negotiated land deals for a living and was very good at helping buyers and sellers reach their targets.
I never met another woman who did what my mother did for a living (or matched her capabilities in so many areas). Still, I have known numerous professional women like her.
My tribe may be unique in that sense but what steams my bean about the current narrative is that instead of looking through the lens of women who are not languishing in debt and spending all their disposable income on hair, nails and high heels, we talk about women as though they are helpless financial illiterates.
Just because women’s savings in KiwiSaver are lower, we should not infer incompetence or ignorance with money. In most cases, the disparity is directly attributable to lower pay or likely workplace absences for the purposes of rearing children. The financially savvy female will know they should contribute at least $1,043 a year (even if they have left the workforce) to receive the $521 in free Government support. They will also be acutely aware of their savings shortfall while not working full-time.
The difficulty for most women, at least those working women who decide to have children, will be balancing a career and motherhood and trying to excel at both. This, in my experience, is not the same burden (yes, there will be exceptions) as men who have the luxury of pursuing (unbridled by guilt) their careers. At the same time, the working mother typically organises play dates, sports, after-school programmes and tutoring, birthday parties and gift buying whilst remembering to do the shopping, keep the house in some semblance of order and do a good nay great job at work too. That is the challenging piece for intelligent women, not any deficiency in their intelligence or ability when investing their money.
It is time to spin a new narrative around women and money, address the pay inequities that are the real barriers to equality in financial well-being and make it easier for women to balance work and raising a family (i.e. subsidised child care) so they can get on with building wealth on par with their male equivalents.
And please, let’s bury the helpless female myth once and for all.  Women know what to do. Let’s create an equal playing field to allow them to do so.