In the 1970s I was recently out of college, married, and ready for a credit card of my own. I was a graduate student, was working, and had no children. However, as a woman, no bank would give me a credit card without a husband’s signature — even if I was a famous (but unmarried) tennis star like the three-time Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King who faced the same obstacle. So what did women without husbands do? They had to handle all their finances with cash and checks, I suppose. Today this sounds crazy but back then, it was the norm. Pretty barbaric if you ask me.
This ingrained system of putting barriers in front of women to limit their capabilties is the focus of my new book, "Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business," which tells the stories of 11 very accomplished women who achieved great things in spite of the obstacles put in their paths, most often by male-controlled hierarchies. Get your copy here.
Another odd fact from the 1970s: Even though 43% of the labor force was made up of women, it took an act of Congress to pass the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that finally allowed women to get loans, credit cards and even home mortgages without a man co-signing on their loan. The result? By 1980, single women were buying one-third of all condominiums and one-tenth of all homes in this country. But why, one has to ask, were men so hell-bent on controlling women by controlling their money?
The myth developed over hundreds of years in many different cultures was that women were unable to manage money.
Even though women have always been quite capable of earning a living, men in the form of fathers, husbands or financial institutions have doled out weekly allowances for women’s household needs to "protect" them from the dangers of easy credit. (What did these men actually believe women would do with available credit, run to Vegas?) Sadly, for centuries women have been considered vulnerable when it comes to managing their own finances and in this respect have been treated more like property than free members of society.
The question until the late 20th century was: were women in fact incapable of managing money, even if they were capable of earning it?
Or was this myth simply a way for men and society to control women?
To find an answer, Tahira Hira, Iowa State University professor of consumer economics, and Cäzilia Loibl, an assistant professor at the Department of Consumer Sciences at Ohio State University, studied 911 randomly selected US households with annual household incomes of $75,000 or higher. Their report, "Gender Differences in Investment Behavior," published in 2006, suggested that there were differences, albeit small, between men and women when it comes to money but those differences seemed to mainly reflect their different roles in the labor market, their salaries and what they did in their homes.
More significantly, the researchers found that men and women saved and invested every month at almost the same levels but there was a different level in confidence surrounding the handling of money, with only about 50% of the women describing themselves as confident or knowledgeable about investing. However, once educated about finances, women do as well as or even better than men. So why the illusion that women could not manage their money and had to have men control it for them? (Check out my recent podcast interview on this very topic with Lisa Linfield here.)
For me, Helaine Olen in her book "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry," puts her finger on it: “I think that myth persists because women themselves believe it. It’s the old joke: Men think they’re the expert if they just say something about something. Women have a Ph.D. in a topic and they’re still concerned they don’t really know enough.”
What this means is that women will not truly break free of the outdated, punitive myths of the past until they themselves refuse to believe them. It is time to smash those myths and leap over those barriers! Let's do it together. We must.
Important ways you can smash myths and bring about a new future for women TODAY:
- Join our Facebook group, Rethink with Andi Simon, and meet other women who are also rethinking their life’s journey. Once a month we have a Roundtable where we exchange ideas and learn from each other
- If you haven't already, read my book "Rethink"
- Check out my blogs about women breaking barriers and leaping over obstacles
- Listen to my podcasts and podcast videos
- Visit my website www.andisimon.com
- Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we're here for you.
From Observation to Innovation,
Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | Author | CEO Simon Associates Management Consultants