Gender Bender

It has been quite some time since I’ve written about gender in a socioeconomic way. Perhaps, it was a natural ‘distancing’ that occurred after I finished my MA thesis and did not immediately jump into another higher education program? Or rather, it was the disgust in being labeled a ‘feminist’ in a vulgar regard, much the same as I would be labeled a tramp or a whore? Anyways, I wanted to share some things that I find to be incredibly interesting regarding gendered economic thought and its place in our culture and society today. Don’t worry I’m not gonna start burning my bra, I’m looking to set fire to the whole damn system.

Gender and economics are something every single woman (AT THE VERY LEAST) should be thinking about, talking about, and getting f&*king PISSED about. Things are dire. In fact, I went my whole higher education without ever hearing the words ‘gender economics’ until I worked on my thesis. WHAT THE F*&k?! The social expectations and economic limitations of being female are absurd. We still live in a world where we are told we MUST look, dress, and appear a specific way in order to be successful, loved, or deemed ‘good.’ There are still some horrifically unequal gendered statistics in our ‘country of equals’ such as pay between genders, active roles in our legislature and congress (<20% are women!), and in economic activity. You can access quite a bit of data and statistics through the United Nations here to look at more gender-biased statistics in our entire world. Further, according to The Economist’s ‘Women’s Economic Opportunity’, the United States is the 15th most ‘opportunistic’ economy for women. Are we not a world leader? Yet economic opportunity for women is less than most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand in terms of labor involvement, access to finance and education, and legal status. (Oh that’s right there are still parts of the world where women are not even considered legal citizens!) I love this article from the Huffington Post about how US Women can even be considered second-class citizens – especially the preface of “Uh-oh. I’m a woman. With feelings. Am I going to get too emotional? Will there be tears? How is it possible that I can have intelligent, clear, informed thoughts with all of these emotions flowing through me?”

Next, about the expectations of gender on both male and females in our economy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that youth culture and adults are fed all sorts of information regarding physical standards and therefore influence beauty consumption. I stumbled upon a documentary during my thesis research that inspired me to make a difference and be a difference in this. Miss Representation is an eye-opening look at media/advertising and its effect on culture and economics. Honestly, it’s baffling that we are influenced so much by companies and their products – literally most of these companies do not even care about the consumer or want to add value to their lives – it’s purely for profit. I would highly recommend checking this documentary out on Netflix instant video right now too.

The creator of this ‘movement’ via Miss Representation is Jennifer Newsom and she branched out to include changing views and expectations on many gender based instances. You can see her current project Curating Change here. It is worth a look as it deals with many of the changing gender roles our culture sees today – from “Mr. Moms to the faces of masculinity”.

Honestly, gender is a taboo topic in our culture. While it can be said that sexual-orientation gender advocates are seeing progress, the overall goal of gender equality is failing. In fact, it is a joke. It’s sad to me that our culture degrades anyone who does not fit into the ‘typical’ model that has been stereotyped and forced on so many individuals. Further, to even question the system young/old men and women are laughed at. I am a feminist. I can proudly say that and in doing so does come the negative backlash from BOTH women and men alike. I personally demonstrate my hatred for gendered stereotypes, by not only crafting and baking (traditionally female hobbies), but pursuing my advanced education in Economics and working in Economics academically. Believe me, I have never been ‘among equals’ as the boys love to say in my professional and academic career – and you know what they are right – I AM above the standards and I am motivated and enraged enough to start making some social and cultural changes. Not just in my consumption, but in my way of life. (Hell I already am a ‘sober outcast’ I might as well make that outlier status mean something powerful.) People, especially women, should be livid about what is expected of us. Burning bras might be laughable now, but I can understand how tempting it would be to lash out at a majority society that just laughs off any sort of change to status quo.

There is a popular saying floating around and one that saw each time I visited my advisor’s office while working on my graduate degree, that says “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” I couldn’t agree more. Without diverging too far from the subject of gendered economics, this is a statement that rings true in our entire culture. From the production processes of all of our consumer goods, to our basic thoughts as a consumer driven society – things are really ‘messed up.’ I’ll candidly state that I fear for our economic system, our morality or lack thereof as a people, and the overall health of our planet. I am educated enough on our current economic system to objectively, mathematically, and appropriately find the flaws and the dependencies it is effing based on. I fear so much sometimes, that it keeps me awake – pondering where we are heading. I sometimes wish I was naive about economics, finance, and the general health of our entire monetary system. Would I do things differently if I didn’t have my bug-out bag prepped and didn’t spend a good 5 hours each week worrying where I would go if something happened to a city in which I am virtually alone? It’s intense to think of the ‘what-ifs’ and to begin to prepare establishes some kind of relief, but in so far as just facilitating more anxiety and more situations to ‘be prepared for.’ (Coming soon boys and girls, GFK’s how to prep for the apocalypse every Friday! am I joking? Maybe. I’m not sure.) I digress, when are people including myself going to start being the change and the difference? When will we all realize that we are ones in control? Literally, we are the power.

We are the power.

GFK

Nickel and Diming me… Come on!

It’s been so long since my last blog.  I’ll do a quick re-cap of the past 7 (eep!) months.  Graduate school (boo), Thanksgiving (yay!), move to Chicago (super woohoo!), unemployment (meh), job search (whaaat???), new job (yay!), and finished thesis (super yay!).  

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Now that I’ve filled you in we can get down to business. Recently, I decided to get in control – well perhaps control is too strong a word…. I suppose I’ll use the word “informed” about my personal finances.  Obviously, being unemployed on a strict budget was difficult and required really understanding where each penny went.  It’s easy to remember the big stuff – like the energy bill or the new mattress I had to buy when I moved.  It’s not always so easy to see the $2 soda I “had to have” from Walgreens, or the Amazon Instant episode of Downton Abbey Season 3 I “need to see or I’d die” and I’ve found those little purchases are the ones that eat away at my savings, my budget, and my ‘control.’  

My obsession with over-spending while unemployed really began when I read this book:

The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less

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I’ve tried budgeting ‘old school’ with a generic list of expenses and a calculator, I’ve used excel personal budget spreadsheets, apps, finance journals, etc. and nothing seems to be ‘up-to-date’ or a true reflection of my finances.  I decided to have a lassiez-faire approach to my calculated budget and instead follow some of the author’s advice.  I really connected with  Jeff Yeager’s message – live comfortably within your means.  Find a point of comfort and settle in there.  Don’t grow with your income so that everything coming in is going right back out.  This might sound like ‘common sense’ to most, but one look at the amount of people who are in debt and struggling or are ‘house-poor’ and I know it’s advice that is not really getting through to folks.  This book also suggests dollar store visits – I had no idea how much I loved the dollar store.  Literally anything like emory boards, scissors, kitchen utensils, greeting cards, wrapping paper etc. is there for $1 compared to up to ten-times the price at WalMart or even Target for the same quality.  It offers advice about pantry budgeting and free services like the public library, parks, and (gasp) walking around your neighborhood!  I’d recommend it – I don’t agree with everything and I’m sure you won’t either, but it has some great ‘tune-up’ tips and advice to shave some spending dollars off your budget.

But after another month or two, I still need to get in front of the penny to penny spending.  I realized the more I have to manually enter, the less I’m going to remember and then finally a short while later I will abandon the finance task all together.  Then I stumbled upon Mint.com.  (BACKSTORY: I was incredibly late doing my taxes this year and unfortunately was left with only one option on April 15th – TurboTax (I know right there contradicts my whole rant on finance control).  After I finished and submitted my taxes it recommended I budget how to spend my refund with Mint.com.  (Well jokes on your TurboTax because I didn’t have a refund after I paid your “free” filing fees! Oh wait… never mind.))

I thought ‘what the hell’ I’ll give this a gander and synced my multiple banking accounts with Mint.com (don’t worry I checked it wasn’t a scam or fraudulent site!).  I instantly was very happy to have everything synced on the main dashboard, yet at the same moment I was sick to see how my spending looked.  Here I was thinking I was budgeting ‘pretty-well’ and sticking to a ‘conservative’ budget.  Literally within seconds it had sifted through ALL my transactions for the past few months and told me exactly where all the money I saved had gone.  Well I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I remember each transaction (that’s good I guess), but seeing it all right there made me realize that I was not as ‘informed’ as I thought.  

Now don’t misunderstand, have no credit card debt, I’m not past due on anything, I have a good credit score and finally I have a consistent income – so things aren’t bad – not even close to it.  But it is the small differences that make huge results so I needed help.

First thing Mint.com taught me: ATMs are for suckers.  Literally imagine it just sucking money out of your pockets each time you use one.  The fees! Come on! If it’s not my institution’s ATM (in network) I pay the ATM $2-3 then my bank gets mad that I cheated on them because I needed money and they charge me $2-3 also! What?! (It’s a genius business model I’m just mad I fund the revenues for it.)  Think about it – if you pretend ATMs do not exist you will not lose money.  For one you and I will not pay fees and two, it takes away the impulse cash spending ATMs condone.  If you or I have to get the cash from a teller then it makes it ‘real’ and accounted for.  I will most certainly think twice about what I’m spending when I have to go through the middleman of a teller to fund it.  That also sets a ‘cash-budget’ once that money is gone – it’s gone.  Remember ATMs don’t exist so you and I can’t go back for more immediately. 

The second thing Mint.com taught me:  make your money work for you.  Find a CD or an IRA that is operating at higher returns – it might seem crazy to switch for small increases, but do the math – in 20, 30, 40 years those ‘minuscule’ increases are thousands and thousands of dollars in differences.  

The third Mint.com wisdom: Honesty.  It’s easy to pretend you’re ‘perfect’ that you’re doing all you can and that you don’t make mistakes financially, but that’s not true.  Mint.com showed me the common and repetitive errors I was making that really do add up.  It’s hard to admit I was being annihilated with ATM fees because I’m a smart girl and I ‘should know better,’ but I was. 

There are always little tune-ups or tips that can make a difference in a budget.  The key is to be honest about your money.  It’s hard, sometimes embarrassing, and always sad to see how we spend our money – but it gives a great sense of power to our egos to know that we are aware of it.  I’d encourage you to take a tour of Mint.com maybe read a few ‘alternative’ books on money management (not Suze Orman!).  Remember, even if you think you’re in total control there’s always some area no matter how large or small that you could re-tool.

I promise I won’t be so absent from this anymore – goodness!

Oh and I decided not to spend money on my url domain name this year so I’m back to being http://www.tattoosandtarts.worpress.com 

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