The Secret Currency: Managing money need not be a man’s job only

If we control her access to the money, we control her. So whether she’s the wife of a music baron or an MBA executive or a clerk, the rationale remains the same

Written by Zainab Sulaiman | Updated: October 15, 2017 1:54 pm
diwali, diwali 2017, diwali business, diwali Chanda Kochhar, Arundhati Bhattacharya, housewife, housewife finances, working women, working women finances, housewife discrimination, business news Housewives must scrimp and save the last few pennies of their monthly “budget” in order to build up a nest egg of their own. (Thinkstock)

A leading jewellery brand interviewed a colleague of mine the other day about a specific line of jewellery aimed at working women that was doing disastrously; sales were falling in spite of huge hoardings endorsed by even huger celebs, all looking the epitome of chic corporate womanhood: “Why were these working women not buying their range of sleek affordable baubles?” they asked. It was beyond comprehension.

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“Because there’s no such thing as a ‘non-working’ woman!’”she replied. “Are you telling me women who stay at home aren’t working?” While we had a good laugh at her story, the reality is that brands like these target women who earn a living, and hence, supposedly, control their money. But is this true?

Housewives must scrimp and save the last few pennies of their monthly “budget” in order to build up a nest egg of their own. Enough reports of women pulling out stashes of notes hidden at the back of cupboards or in kitchen jars did the rounds immediately post demonetisation; what need does a woman have for saving, is the underlying assumption that drives such behaviour. After all, don’t they have husbands, fathers, sons to take care of them? On the flipside, we all know women who believe that marriage will rescue them financially.

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Even though some of India’s leading bankers — Chanda Kochhar, Arundhati Bhattacharya — are women, working women fare no better. The expectation is for them to work both at home and at the office while contributing to the household expenses like the good-little-modern woman so celebrated in today’s media. The husband will manage the money, open those FDs, pay the EMI, plan the investments — it’s a man’s job, right? Any money spent on her is skimmed off the top, to oil the wheels and keep things rolling along smoothly. Other families who think they do not need the woman’s income, like their bahus to toe the line: stop all this working nonsense, the in-laws complain, after the first year or so of marriage, the old refrain of “We have more than enough for you” drumming away in the background.

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And all of this for one simple reason: control. If we control her access to the money, we control her. So whether she’s the wife of a music baron or an MBA executive or a clerk, the rationale remains the same. Education, status, even money itself, does not impact this fundamental reality: Do not let her control the money.

We women get this; at some level, we know we are being used, talked down to, discriminated against. The pay disparity at work, the what-do-you-do-all-day for those who devote their lives to ensure their homes run smoothly. Yet, we brush it aside with a multitude of excuses and justifications: “They only mean well, we can depend on them, they know better” — the list goes on. And, in the meantime, we shop a little, scrimp some more, stash away that little extra. Until the divorce or death or insolvency happens, and then it’s too late.

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A friend in her sixties told me that her mother’s only advice to her as a young girl (which makes the conversation almost 50 years old) was to, “Always continue to work. Earn your own money and be dependent on no one.” But that’s not always possible. We all have our own circumstances, challenges that life throws at us, unique situations that sometimes demand that we cannot earn a living, at least for a while. What we could all do, instead, is to develop a “never be at the mercy of anyone” mindset that encourages us to ask for our fair share: we don’t need no handouts. We need what is ours.

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Now this militant sounding philosophy doesn’t need to be conveyed militant style. After all, we are dealing with people who love us and want to protect us — most times at least. So, we need to sit them down and explain to them why we need to control our own destinies. Because without the women in their lives, there is no home, no family, no us. (Of course, I would also suggest therapy or, at least, self-help books that urge you to “start saying ‘no’” before you embark on this adventure.) But once you get started, there’s no way back. Sure, life has a plan for you, but there’s no reason why you should not have an active role in the making of that plan.

Happy Diwali! And may the force be with you.

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Zainab Sulaiman is an author and special educator in Bangalore

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