Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Women and Financial Freedom

When Chandni tagged me for the IndusLadies International Women's Day Contest, I wondered whether I should write about "relationship issues", of which I have written in the past, or about "workplace inequality", which I haven't faced a great deal of but (of course!) have an opinion of. But when I looked at the list again just now, another topic leaped out at me: "financial freedom".

It won't be news to long-time readers that money is important to me. I remember reading some advice when I was a child, that a woman should always have some money of her own. I recognised the wisdom of that advice then, and it hit home as I grew up. When I wasn't happy living with my parents, living under their rules, it would strike me again and again that I couldn't really live my own life until I was financially independent. Once I made my own money, I could make my own rules. I could live where I wanted. Being financially independent would make me an actual adult.

And with all of my rules about relationships and life - rules about not being in any relationship (and I'm not just referring to romantic relationships here) where you aren't valued or respected, about being alone - and even desperately lonely - rather than in a bad relationship - all of these rules cannot be followed unless you have the financial freedom to follow them through. You can't walk out of the house - at least, it would be way more difficult to gather the courage to - if your parents or your partner is financially supporting you. If you are financially independent, the problem becomes much smaller: you might have to face some censure and loneliness and heartbreak - but you will live, and hopefully have a better life at the end of it.

And yet, this is a rule I have broken myself. Broken over the past year, when I quit a job that was draining me and stayed home for a few months for no other reason than that I wanted to. It is not something I regret or am ashamed of: on the other hand, I am proud that I could trust the Guy enough, our relationship enough, to take such a step; proud that our relationship has survived - and bloomed - through periodic outbreaks of insecurity wherein I questioned my worth when my time seemed to have no tangible value.

I do not mean to say that this is a step that was right for me and isn't for others. I did it for a while, for less than a year. But it is over now, and I go back to work next week. And I look forward to money in my bank account; I look forward to being able to buy a frivolity without feeling guilty; I look forward to being able to get into a fight with the Guy without feeling bitter and frustrated that I can't leave him because I don't have any money.

No, I don't want to leave him: not when I am sane. But I have my crazy moments when I'm afraid things between us have got worse and it would be better if we part, before I realise I am just tired or sleepy or something and he hasn't really done anything wrong. But even in those crazy moments, I would like to feel that the door is open, that I can leave if I want to, that I am here, in this relationship, in this house with him, because this is where I would rather be.

And this is in a relationship which I consider near-perfect, which seems to get better every year. Not all relationships are - I should know, this is by far the best I have ever had, and I'm not just including romantic relationships.

Financial freedom. The freedom to earn your money, to decide what to spend it on, to decide where to invest it. To buy property in your name, to sell it when you want to. To do all of this, like men do. How are we equal, if we do not have the same?*

I am posting this very late, so I can't fairly tag anyone else. The deadline is in an hour.
*By the same I do not mean the equal amount of money, but the equal amount of freedom.


Gayatri said...

- Beautifully written
- Yes it is so important to feel Financially secure
- I like the way you linked money needs to your life line
- A pat on ur back gal :)

Chicu said...

I agree..though what is important to me is not money to be financially independent, but money to Run Away. call it a better name if you want. An 'emergency fund' sounds much better than a 'run away fund'. but it means the same thing. enough money so that I dont need to stay in a job, a town, or a relationship for that matter, because i am afraid of starving in those few months before i find options..

Unmana said...

Gayatri: Thanks.

chicu: "Run away fund" sounds perfect, and exactly what I was trying to say: enough money to get you through the few months while you find your feet.

dipali said...

Totally with you on this, although I've not been an earning partner for most of my marriage. No regrets either. But I'm proud of my daughters' commitment to their careers, and the strength that their earning power gives them.

Unmana said...

dipali: Thank you. My mother too, while she never worked out of home, always stressed that financial independence is important for women, though not necessarily in those terms. My mother-in-law was actually the most disappointed when I quit my job last year. And the most thrilled when I announced I was going back to work.

Babita said...

i used to feel the same from my childhood.. a woman needs financial freedom.. yeah the feeling was always strong when i saw the husbands beating their wives and the same lady doing him all he wanted because she did not have money to go anywhere...

When i started earning 7 years back, through fellowships though, and was able to help my family at times; it was a great feeling..

The feeling still continues ..

Anonymous said...

I agree. This is one thing I say to my daughter... to not be a Cinderella waiting for her Prince Charming but to be kind of another Princess in total control of her own life.

Loved how you pointed out "I would like to feel that the door is open, that I can leave if I want to, that I am here, in this relationship, in this house with him, because this is where I would rather be. "

Every young girl should read and understand this.

Unmana said...

Babita: Yes, the pleasure of doing something for people one loves is probably one of the best pleasure one can have by earning an income.

indianhomemaker: Money plays such a significant role in relationships, doesn't it? Given that no two people in a relationship (any relationship: parent-child, partners, even friends) earn the same amount or have the same financial priorities... That's part of why financial independence is so important: that money should be as little a cause of tension as possible.

Unknown said...

Hi there,

I read quite a few posts on your blog before, but this is the first time I am leaving a comment. I loved the entire series on 'My relationship with money'. You echo my thoughts when you wrote about women and financial freedom!

Anonymous said...

Loved this post! Yay to financial freedom for women. I can totally get what you are saying.
I did not get this kind of advice when i was growing up, but thanks to God that i became financially independent just when i badly needed it.
Agree with IHM that every girl should be in total control of her life... hope i am able to convey this exact thing to my daughter.

Anonymous said...

Excellent thoughts Unmana! Financial independence is an absolute must. Even if in a satisfying and happy relationship, every person (boy, girl, no matter) should have a fund they can call their own. Me and my husband are very happy with each other, but we have three separate bank accounts, his, mine and 'our'. The 'our' account is used to all domestic expenses and for investments towards 'our' future. The 'his' and 'mine' accounts are our independent safety nets :)

Anonymous said...

So true! After you hit 18, the first thing a person (man or woman) needs to do is work towards being financially independent! No matter how rich you are!

You need that self-confidence in yourself, to prove that you can make it in the real world whenever necessary, even if it's not necessary.