Money troubles

A new book explores the sticky place where women and money meet.


Rebecca Traister
March 6, 2006 8:10PM (UTC)

This book review in the Chicago Sun-Times caught my eye this morning. It's a look at Liz Perle's "Money: A Memoir," a book that has been getting a lot of attention for dealing with the knotty subject of women and finances.

It's such a rich topic: an area of growth and responsibility for women that has not been particularly well attended to. Of course there are lots of women who are financial powerhouses. (Speaking of which, check out yesterday's Times profile of financial coach Suze Orman, who calls everyone "girlfriend," does not always follow her own financial advice, feels bad for Martha Stewart, and tells the paper, "What allows me to be as cocky as I am is the money I have today.") But so many women I know, including those who are politically empowered, professionally successful and wholly independent from their families, maintain an extraordinarily fraught relationship with their own finances. Whether it's debt or trouble saving or hesitations about demanding raises, many women are not their own best financial advocates. The questions of why we are often overwhelmed by issues of money when we are so on top of so much else is compelling and, speaking personally, sort of disquieting.

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This is the basis for Perle's book, which has been getting mixed to good reviews. Today's Sun-Times piece caught my eye in particular because of what I thought was a very smart observation at the end. In references to the weaknesses (Perle's position is privileged -- not everyone spends her retirement money on face creams, some women are busy feeding their kids) and strengths (Perle's point that the lesson women are taught -- to "be nice" -- often short-circuits economic advancement) reviewer Mary Wisniewski writes: "The book's real problem is that everyone's emotional relationship with money is so personal, so fraught with family and individual history, that the right medium for talking about it is not a sociological treatise, but a novel. It's a job for Edith Wharton, or Anthony Trollope. That's why the memoir parts of this book, rather than the research parts, work best."

It's true. Every attempt at a sweeping proclamation about women and money will fail because there will always be different professional, emotional, familial and social circumstances in play. And so the medium for telling the stories of our relationships to money may necessarily be narrative and individual. After all, many of our most beloved love stories -- from "Pride and Prejudice" to "Gone With the Wind" -- are stories of women struggling not simply to find mates but to find funds.


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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