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Busting the myth of the frivolous woman
“Our society’s messaging to women about money is inherently sexist and patriarchal,” says Christina Hobbs, Co-Founder and CEO of Verve Super, Australia’s first super fund dedicated to building the wealth and financial power of women.
Verve launched under a year ago and now counts 1400 members amongst its ranks, managing close to $50 million in funds.
It’s quite a bold statement, but Hobbs and her co-founders Zoe Lamont and Alex Andrews have the evidence to back it up. And it was this realisation that brought them together, inspiring them to launch Verve with the goal of “changing the language we use to speak about women and money.”
“Many of us watched Carrie Bradshaw, and her Sex in the City friends, portrayed as the epitome of empowered women”, says Hobbs. “Yet Carrie — a woman successful in almost every way — was terrible with money; constantly overspending on shoes and proud of it.”
According to Hobbs, while our image of an empowered woman has changed considerably since then, our messages around women and money have not.
The victim blaming trope of women as frivolous spenders
A recent US study, featured in the New York Times, looked at the language targeted at women around money, finding that women’s publications focus on shopping and tend to perpetuate the myth that women are somehow bad with money and, therefore, to blame for the fact that they tend to have less of it.
The study found that of the messages aimed at women, 65 percent of financial articles categorised women as excessive spenders. Of the messages aimed at men, 70 percent emphasised making money to build power and accumulate assets. Whereas women are more likely to be targeted by coupons and shopping rewards programs, men were more likely to be offered sophisticated messages around investing to build wealth.
Hobbs says these messages impact women in two problematic ways. “Firstly, women are missing out on a lot of the sophisticated financial information that men receive. And on top of this, the constant association between women, money and shopping perpetuates the myth that the serious financial topics of investing and building wealth are not for us.”
The second issue according to Hobbs, is that most of the messages that women receive about money, ignore the serious structural economic inequalities and hurdles that women face when building wealth.
“Many women have internalised a message that they’re not good at managing money, that often when they’re struggling it’s their fault,” says Zoe Lamont, Verve Co-Founder and Head Financial Coach.
Prior to co-founding Verve, Lamont was the founder and CEO of the not for profit organisation 10,000girls and over the past decade has provided financial coaching to over 10,000 women and is accustomed to speaking to women in financial distress.
“When I speak to women who are concerned about their finances, and peel back the layers, I commonly find that they have actually managed their money really well while negotiating challenges like pay inequality; significant periods of time out of the workforce to care for children; divorce; and even women who have fled abusive relationships. Women are rarely recognised for any of this,” adds Lamont.
Hobbs echoes that opinion as she recently found herself on a panel where a well-respected figure in financial services kicked off proceedings by asking, “Why are women so much worse than men at managing money?” “There is no evidence to support that,” says Hobbs.
“When women are fed messages that they need to manage their money better, without any mention of structural inequalities we face, then it perpetuates the perception that women have caused this situation – it’s totally victim blaming, and that’s a huge concern when women in Australia are retiring with 37% less super than men because of an unfair retirement system,” says Hobbs.
Towards a more constructive financial language
While all this has inevitably done damage, according to the Verve team, women are increasingly seeking to build financial knowledge and the desire for financial independence amongst women is strong. “In a patriarchal, capitalist society women are aware that money equals power, and that women are increasingly wanting more of both,” Hobbs says.
The Verve team believes that effectively communicating about ‘women and money’, requires speaking to the significant financial power that women already have, while also acknowledging the structural changes needed to better level the playing field.
“It’s about having conversations about money that are tailored for women, while at the same time making it clear that individual women should not, and cannot, solve the problem alone,”says Lamont.
That insight will no doubt resonate with supporters of the #fixstructuresnotwomen or #stopfixingwomen hashtags. Both of these posit that so-called “DIY” (do it yourself) messages aimed at working women to project more confidence, or some other mythical quality, as a means to effectively tackle workplace inequality, whilst completely ignoring structural barriers, don’t work.
Ultimately Verve isn’t just trying to change the conversation around women building wealth, but also to demonstrate the power of that wealth if it is invested collectively.
Women in Australia already own over $1 trillion in superannuation. It’s an extraordinary amount of money, but according to Hobbs that money only equates to power if women use it.
“At the moment, the superannuation wealth of Australian women is being invested in industries like coal, gambling, tobacco, and companies known to commit human and labour rights abuses against women. If less than 20 percent of this was invested in renewable energy it would be enough to transition our economy to 100 percent renewable energy– something the majority of Australian women want.”
According to Hobbs the message of investing collectively “to build a better world for women, our community and our planet,” is engaging women and their members.
At a time when women are lining the streets to protest in numbers we have not seen since the height of the second wave of feminism, collectively changing the conversation around money is certainly one way for women to come together for their own — and the greater — good.
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