One of my very close friends said to me recently, “You talk about money a lot.” I think they meant it as a negative thing.
Well, yeah. I’m a financial journalist. I earn money, I spend money. I volunteer for charities that need to raise money. I have a tax bill to pay, and student debt. Money, the surplus of it with some people, and the lack of it with others, makes this terrible and beautiful world go round.
It’s kind of funny that we don’t talk about money, right? Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, the feminist ‘manifesto’ in 2013 which arguably kicked off neoliberal feminism, doesn’t mention her salary. Not once – and this is a book about gender equality at work, written by one of the highest paid and most successful women in the free world.
This kind of coy attitude filters right down to the likes of you and me. Like when your female friend gets a promotion and she is clearly excited about her raise but resorts to speaking in cryptic terms – ‘It’s a big leap’ – and winks at you. OK great, a leap compared to what? Or your mate says, ‘I’m staying in tonight because I’m broke’. How broke? And how can I help you through it? Surely we’d all understand our privilege and our struggles if we were more open about them?
Give me the Suffragette purple and green flag now, and let me wave it in your face. We must, we must, be more open about money. Not in a crass, neoliberal, white woman, Ted Talk, L’Oréal ‘You’re Worth It’ way – I mean in a more honest and straightforward way. Inequality is rampant in our society, and being open about money is a sure way of fighting it. The median salary gap in the UK is 9.6% in 2018, barely down from 9.7% the year before, and many, many companies have a much bigger gap than that. We have a long road ahead.
Did you know people are more likely to admit they’ve had an STI than talk about the amount in their bank account? This taboo about money means we are gladly pulling the wool over our own eyes. Without knowing more about money, how it works, what people earn and what things cost, how on earth can we know if we’re earning the same as the man next to us, or how can we save enough for our retirement to ensure we don’t end up living in a cardboard box?
That’s why I’m so glad to see a whole host of money books coming out from women like Laura Whateley, Alexandra Holder and Emilie Bellet, as well as Jessica Bennett’s fantastic Feminist Fight Club, to make us realise that there is no shame in being straight up about our pay packet. Money is deeply personal to all of us: it’s a way of fulfilling our dreams; it offers us freedom, equality, and stability. Money means you can go travelling, or for domestic violence victims it’s a means of escape. And that is OK to talk about.
We shouldn’t recoil at the likes of Alex Holder revealing the size of her book advance, or Rebel Wilson proudly announcing on the Graham Norton show that she was given a $40 million budget to produce her latest film. What we should be pissed off about is the richest man in the UK, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, moving Monaco to avoid tax – and that our government allows it. We should be annoyed that the so-called ‘WASPI women’ got screwed over in their pensions – it could be us next! And we should be furious that the CEO of Persimmon, Jeff Fairburn, castigated a BBC reporter for asking him about his £75 million bonus. That’s what happens when we don’t talk about money. Secrecy, inequality, tax evasion and avoidance: in other words, continuing the status quo.
We need to talk about all aspects of money, not just our pay. We should be open about whether we are in debt, or how we split finances with our partners, and how money affects our relationships and our mental health. The lack of transparency, for example, affects my work as a freelance writer. I have to negotiate a lot. But us freelancers, and probably everyone else, are all scrabbling around in the dark, hoping we score the perfect sweet spot between taking the piss and underselling ourselves. It’s a really tricky line to cross when there is no one to ask.
I’m not going to stop talking about money. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. However, money is not my MO. I do enjoy talking about other topics: feminism, history, politics, cats, reality television, chocolate, true crime. Let’s chat about those things too.