I asked my husband to take away my credit card

I've always believed in financial independence in marriage. But as my spending spun out of control, so did my life

Topics: Money, Marriage, Gender,

I asked my husband to take away my credit card (Credit: tankist276 via Shutterstock)

The other day I told my husband, “I want you to take my credit card,” and then grimaced with a sudden pang of self-awareness. He looked at me like I’d just sprouted a second head in the likeness of Phyllis Schlafly. There I was, an avowed feminist, suggesting that my husband should manage my finances for me.

Over the last year I had amassed a manageable and yet unreasonable amount of credit card debt. It was a result of retail therapy in the wake of my mom’s devastating death, absurd wedding indulgences and anticipation of freelance checks arriving any day now. This debt bought me a messy drawer of wedding makeup that I never wear, some shoes that proved too uncomfortable, necklaces I incorrectly deemed myself bold enough to wear, and three pairs of eyeglasses that pretty much look exactly the same. Oh, and a time machine straight to the ’50s, apparently.

This request for my husband to take my credit card went against everything I stood for. I had always admired my parents, who maintained separate bank accounts and a high degree of financial autonomy. In fact, my mom was the one who obsessively listened to Bob Brinker’s “Moneytalk” and made stock market investments. She wasn’t afraid of money; she trusted herself more than anyone else with it. I also grew up hearing cautionary tales from her about my grandmother who “made a deal with the devil” by handing over financial responsibility, both in earning and management, to my grandfather. It limited her choices, power and happiness. In that story was a warning about the perils of following traditional gender roles.

The kind of woman I wanted to be took financial responsibility for herself. I knew this. I had known it for as long as I could remember. But faced with my own financial irresponsibility, my thought was: Just give the credit card to your husband; he’s good with money. Just nine months into my young marriage I had easily shrugged off my aversion to anything even resembling stereotypical gender roles. Take my credit card! Save me from myself! Discipline me! I was asking for paternalism. I was giving in to the dangerous allure of surrendering responsibility.

The moment the words left my mouth, I knew. It was a slip of the tongue, a truth murmured in the middle of sleep. It seemed to threaten everything I believed in (men and women’s equality, for starters) and reinforce much that I didn’t believe in (unflattering stereotypes of women as impulsive, out-of-control, childish, bad with numbers and, of course, obsessed with shopping). This looked and felt like a feeble-minded woman’s bargain with a “Mad Men”-era patriarch. None of the other ways that we contradicted gender norms could erase this seemingly glaring contradiction between practice and belief.

Of course, the truth was that I wanted him to take it not because he was a man but because I didn’t trust myself anymore. I wanted someone – of any gender! — to deal with it for me, to act as enforcer. Someone to budget and dole out a weekly allowance. Someone to say no to even my most creative and impassioned spending justifications. I explained this to him in my defense — it just happened that he was a man and I was a woman! It just happened that he was good with money and I was bad with it! It only looked like sexism. I started to believe it, even. For a couple of days I considered actually doing it, giving him that over-swiped card and saying, “I’m only allowed in emergencies.”

But it’s also true that women, even today, are taught that money and math are not their domain. I’m not so sure that I can blame my spender ways on sexism or socialization, but it’s easy to recognize the ways women’s financial responsibility and confidence has been undermined. Take, just for one example, an article I stumbled across at Forbes, which reported on a recent survey of women by Prudential: “Women feel no more prepared to make wise financial decisions today than they did two years ago — or even a decade ago.”

What would handing over financial decision-making teach our daughter, if we have one some day? Maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, I grew up with the strongest female role model when it came to finance and personal responsibility, and yet here I am today paying off a debt and contemplating putting my husband in charge. Not even a good example growing up could save me from that — but it just might be what’s kept me from handing over that rectangular piece of plastic. It currently sits unused in the back of my wallet, and I have only myself to thank for that.

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...