We will never solve the feminisation of power until we solve the masculinity of wealth.”
– Gloria Steinem
Imagine if women collectively had more money. What might change? What are some of the changes you’d expect to see if we achieved economic gender equality tomorrow? What might your daily life look like? What thoughts and emotions come up as you imagine this?
Regardless of what you think about money and the economic system we live in, they are part of our reality. Women are held back when it comes to wealth and – as Steinem pointed out – we cannot achieve gender equality until this issue is addressed. The topic of women and money is huge. It touches on labor policies, healthcare, body autonomy, leadership, education, media, culture and more. Financial feminism is one of the lenses that has helped me deepen my knowledge, shape my perspective and refine my activism.
Financial feminism is a wave of pop feminism that emerged as a reaction to a previous wave called “girlboss feminism.” Girlboss feminism was born in 2014 when Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso coined the term. The girlboss ideal is an empowered woman who ‘has it all’ and does anything a man can do. The message was that women could – and should – become business leaders. Girlboss “SheEO” icons included Kim Kardashian and Sheryl Sandberg. This represented a massive cultural shift considering that it was only about 40 years prior that an American woman was allowed to get a credit card in her name or get a mortgage without a male cosigner.
The shallowness of girlboss feminism began to show in the 2020s when women realized that pink-washed companies perpetuated the same inequalities as others. The fervor of girlboss feminism had grown into “pink capitalism” where companies appropriated feminism for marketing. Companies promoted themselves as being pro-women even though their policies and work environments were just as hostile to women as before. We also saw how girlboss feminism ignored intersectionality. Kim Kardashian alienated women by unfamously saying: ‘It seems like nobody wants to work these days’ and calling herself self-made. She not only ignored her own privilege, but also the inequality and unfairness of the systems we live in and on which the ultra-rich capitalizes.
The flaws of the girlboss era taught us that individual women working harder is not enough to improve the lives of all women. The coinciding pandemic widened the financial gap between genders and created even more skepticism in the girlboss ideal. So where does that leave us now?
Financial feminism grew from the ashes of girlboss feminism. There are several definitions of financial feminism and the explanation offered by BravelyGo is my favorite one so far. It describes financial feminism as a part of the feminist movement that advocates for financial equality across genders through systemic change. It recognizes that there are many ways to fight the patriarchy and that changing our financial systems is one of them. Unlike girlboss feminism, the goal of financial feminism isn’t necessarily about making women richer, it’s about changing our financial systems to make them more equitable for all genders. This short video describes the history of financial feminism and some of the challenges that it faces.
There are many ways that women are held back financially. Jessica Robinson describes some of them in her book “Financial Feminism – A Woman’s Guide to Investing for a Sustainable Future.” Alongside the gender pay gap, Robinson identifies the gender work achievement gap, gender debt gap, gender investing gap, gender funding gap, gender pricing gap (the “pink tax”,) unpaid labor gap, and gender pension gap as some of the barriers to gender financial equality. The UN has identified other factors such as access to social protection, digital education, violence and harassment and access to financial institutions. Discrimination based on race, age, ability, class and sexuality and degree of bodily autonomy also influences economic well being. Women face limiting stigmas and stereotypes around money. There is a taboo around discussing money which keeps women ignorant. The media often portrays women as being spenders over earners and being bad with money. The hypocritical behavior of girlboss icons like Kim Kardashian has hurt the image of female business leaders.
This is serious. Women are statistically more at risk of poverty than men and poor women and girls are more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. The UN recognizes that the economic empowerment of women is central to realizing gender equality and is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. No country has achieved economic gender equality. Only time will tell how the current cost of living crisis, our progression into late stage capitalism and the climate crisis will impact the economic wellbeing of women around the world in the long term.
There are many ways one can do financial feminism activism. My own practices are local. I learn and apply capitalist (e.g. personal finance) and anti-capitalist (e.g. community care) approaches to wellbeing. I try to challenge the taboo around talking about money. (My friends and I are much more likely to talk about our sex lives than our finances.) I’ve given talks about finance to women. My friends share a WhatsApp chat that is dedicated to financial questions. I earn, buy, invest, donate and vote in ways that hopefully improve the wellbeing of non-men.
What are your own practices? What challenges you, and what instead empowers your financial feminism? What new practices might you want to try?
Here are some resources that have inspired me.