Thursday, March 19, 2015

Money and the Elephant in the Room by Trista Hendren

MONEY IS USUALLY THE REALM OF MEN. Churches (also typically the realm of men) have no problem suggesting a 10% tithe, but women who put their heart and soul into feminist work are often 1) broke, and 2) afraid to ask for money.

I’ve also heard numerous women criticize other “successful” feminists for “making money off feminism.” This has to stop. Women in all professions, including those who work toward the liberation of women and girls, deserve to earn at least a living wage.

I spent 13 years in the mortgage industry scrutinizing the finances of all sorts of people so the topic of money does not scare me. Money comes and goes. I know that all too well personally. I’ve been fairly well off and I’ve been dead broke. I’ve yet to get rich off feminism. I don’t know anyone who has. Most of us volunteer our time (full-time, part-time, or all-the-time) to ensure the world changes for our daughters and granddaughters.

No movement can be successful without money. We live in a capitalist society.
Capitalism and interest are evil. My years in the mortgage industry and as a single mother cemented that for me. No one in their right mind who understood an amortization schedule would ever refinance their home again—let alone even think of using a credit card unless their life depended on it.

That said, we still have to gain a basic understanding of how money works so that we can use it to our advantage.

We will always be considered inferior to men if we don't bind together and re-discover our power. Since we are behind in nearly every way economically, we must carefully consider the money we do have. 

Marielena Zuniga wrote a brilliant paper that will stop anyone in their tracks who says feminism is not necessary. It’s entitled “Women and Poverty”. Here are some startling statistics:
  • “It is estimated that the gender wage gap costs the average full-time U.S. woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life.”
  • “The UN estimates that globally women’s unpaid care is worth up to $11 trillion dollars annually. A woman’s time spent as an unpaid caregiver restricts her ability to perform paid work or to migrate to higher paying jobs. Not having a paid job also makes her economically dependent on someone else.”
  • “The disparity in employment between single mothers and fathers, the gender wage gap that inevitably affects employed single mothers, and the fact that many single mothers do not receive child support contribute to the high rate of poverty amongst female-headed households. In 2010, 31.6% of American households headed by single women were poor. In Canada, 51.6% of single-mother families live below the poverty line.”
  • “More than 70% of all elderly persons living in poverty are women. The wage discrimination and care giving responsibilities inflicted upon women in their earlier years makes them more susceptible to poverty in their later years. This susceptibility is exaggerated in developing nations where women typically experience a lifetime of working in the informal economy or at home as an unpaid caregiver."
When I set out on my new path after my divorce, I had to cut back my expenses more than 80%. Everything that was not essential had to go: my car, my smart phone and my personal upkeep. The fact is, I could not afford to live my dream while primping the way I had for most of my life.
As Ruth Calder Murphy recently wrote, I let myself go.
"There’s a phrase—an insulting, snide, sneering sort of a phrase—that tends to be preceded by the word “She”:
“She’s let herself go.”
 “She’s let herself go” usually means that, as she’s aged (whoever “she” might be) or as time has gone by, or since the last time we saw her and assessed her appearance, she’s somehow become less attractive, less well-kempt, less physically acceptable, somehow, and that she really ought to have done more to fight the decline.”
In my case, the letting go was radical. I stopped shaving anything, quit dying and straightening the hair on my head, stopped wearing makeup most of the time and quit buying new clothes altogether. All those things are expensive—and are mostly “female” expenses that we are still expected to keep up despite the still-there and substantial gender pay gap that exists across the globe.

In my case, it was freeing. I never realized how much time, energy and money all this upkeep took. As Germaine Greer wrote, “…if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got? If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run?”
How true. I never would have finished one book. I would still be chained to my ideas of what I “needed to have” at the expense of working nonstop at a job that I hated in high-heeled shoes. I would be too drained to do anything creative or fulfilling.

As a mortgage broker I wore expensive suits to work paired with designer bags and shoes. I spent a great deal of time and money on my hair and makeup. I spent a lot of my financial gains on personal upkeep—I played the part and looked the part of a successful career woman. I made good money as a mortgage broker. But I also spent it and my divorce drained anything that was left in my 401k. 

These days, I wear comfortable hand-me-down jeans and sweaters from my best friend and rarely look in the mirror all day.

When we give up this idea of our primary importance being based on how we look, we stop buying into all the makeup, hair products, new clothes, etc that cost us thousands of dollars every year. We are talking about a $7-billion-dollar-a-year industry in the United States alone that profits off of women feeling bad about themselves.

I don't spend money on most of that any more. I spend any extra money I have on supporting women's projects, books and CD's—or reinvesting in my own projects.

It is critically important that we support each other spiritually, emotionally and economically. Just the simple task of buying a feminist book penned by a woman is an investment in yourself, your children and your grandchildren. It also supports a dream-project that empowers other women and enables the dreamer to continue her work.

It also gives women more ability to break apart from the systems that support the gender pay gap. When women open their own businesses, they have more flexibility and opportunities for growth and income. 

That said, I’d also like to look at how our giving to patriarchal religions drains time, money and resources from us as well. 

When going through my divorce, I started taking my children back to the progressive church that my grandparents attended for more than 30 years. Initially, it was because my grandmother needed a ride to church every Sunday. It was important to her and I enjoyed spending this time with her near the end of her life. We made a day out of it, going for a long lunch together after the service and then helping wherever she most needed it. I made many friends there in the process, and we kept attending even after my grandmother passed in hopes of providing a strong community for my children to grow up in.

However, I fell into a trap of giving more of myself there than I could really afford to. My energy was already at one of its lowest points as a single mom to two young children and my finances were limited at best. I felt pressure to give money I didn’t have. And I felt enormous constraints on my time as I became drafted to the Christian Education Committee, and then Moderator-Elect and the “Straw Boss” of a successful Strawberry Blues Festival.
While I was happy to do this work at that time, looking back it was enormously foolish of me and I resent these demands of my time. My unpaid labor could have been used to get a full-time job that would better support me and my kids. I was not in the position to be a full-time volunteer. It seems to me that the role of a church should be to support single mothers, not drain them further.

Later, when the male pastor would go on to verbally abuse several female members of that church—the same man who collected a hefty salary while many of us women slaved away for free as volunteers—few people batted an eye. I lost my respect for the entire organization and some of the people inside the church as well. This soon came to include the regional and national headquarters of that same church. No one in a position of power backed the abused women; and as a woman who had given so much of myself to this church, it stung.

Monica Sjoo & Barbara Mor posed a searing question near the end of The Great Cosmic Mother:
"The burning question remains: Why do women continue to give our gifts—of spiritual devotion, of impassioned energy, of mental brightness, of profound social concern—to male-dominated and male-defined religious institutions which are based, structurally and ideologically, on a searing contempt and hatred for women? Why do women continue to give our physical endurance and biological endowment to patriarchal churches which exist, ontologically and practically, by attempting to dominate and control human female reproduction like a bunch of cattle breeders controlling the fertility of their cattle? What would happen, today, if all the millions of religiously active women on earth just walked out of their patriarchal churches, just left them flat?”
That’s exactly what I did! I sent a resignation letter in to the entire church board and left. I began to devote my time and energy to my projects. I am proud of the results.

When you look at the financials of quite a few of the world’s largest religions, they are in stark contrast to how most of the world lives. Almost half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. 70% of those people are women. It’s extraordinarily difficult to reconcile that with the stockpile of goods that many patriarchal religions are sitting on.
Recently Kristopher Morrison wrote in the National Post:
"It is impossible to calculate the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. In truth, the church itself likely could not answer that question, even if it wished to. Its investments and spending are kept secret. Its real estate and art have not been properly evaluated, since the church would never sell them. There is no doubt, however, that between the church’s priceless art, land, gold and investments across the globe, it is one of the wealthiest institutions on Earth.”
A recent pew poll showed that almost two-thirds of the American public (64%) donated some money to a church, synagogue or other place of worship. And where is that money going? According to a study from the Evangelical Christian Credit Union, most of it goes to personnel, buildings and administration expenses, while only 1% goes to local and national benevolence programs.
I spent a year looking at the budget of the progressive church I attended, and I’d say this was accurate there too. Progressive churches don’t seem to fare as well economically, but the pastor’s salary package was what I would consider generous.

This paper is by no means meant to be extensive, but if you look at the Muslim faith, you see similar red flags. Imams usually maintain their own job outside the mosque for their income, but the mosque itself is still a large expense. (I’ll stick to the religions I have practiced personally in my critique, but I would guess there are similar trends in all patriarchal religions.) It appears that the conservative Wahhabi sect spends an enormous amount of money on promoting their particular brand of Islam.
"As to how much money Saudi officials have spent since the early 1970s to promote Wahhabism worldwide, David D. Aufhauser, a former Treasury Department general counsel, told a Senate committee in June 2004 that estimates went "north of $75 billion." The money financed the construction of thousands of mosques, schools and Islamic centers, the employment of at least 9,000 proselytizers, and the printing of millions of books of religious instruction. Sheik estimated the Islamic affairs ministry's budget at $530 million annually and said it goes almost entirely to pay the salaries of the more than 50,000 people on the ministry payroll, Ottaway reported. That figure does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars in personal contributions made by King Fahd and other senior Saudi princes to the cause of propagating Islam at home and abroad, according to a Saudi analyst who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The real total spent annually spreading Islam is between $2 billion and $2.5 billion.”
I’d be curious to know exactly where this money comes from, but it goes against what I have always believed to be the purpose of Zakat in Islam. From what I understood, this form of tithing was only to go to help the poor and those in need. I’ve always appreciated what I considered to be the transparency of where your donations go within the Muslim faith. However, it’s hard to reconcile these figures (even if they are not Zakat – which I don’t believe they are) with my knowledge of how many women and children in the here and now live in absolute poverty.

We have nowhere near that budget to promote feminism—which is a doctrine that could uplift billions of people. I think that women are much better off lifting themselves and their children up than continuing to support patriarchal religions financially. 
“In today’s world, thousands of children starve to death every day; millions more suffer the kind of malnutrition that permanently damages the brain and the body. The priests of the world’s major patriarchal religions—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism—do not consider this situation particularly “moral,” but they do not consider it abnormal either. “The poor are always with us, “life is hell,” etc.—the situation just seems to illustrate these priesthoods’ biophobic case. In their ontological world-hatred and doctrinal nihilism, the “holy men” try to persuade us, and no doubt themselves, that suffering is the eternal and definitive human condition—and the daily starvation of children is just one more sad but inescapable example of our “mortal condition,” of “fleshly sin and corruption,” of samsara (the sorrow and impurity of the world), of “life on the wheel” of Buddhistic illusion. Male priesthoods of patriarchal religions—all of whom life in the maximum comfort and even luxury their cultures can afford—have been rationalizing the suffering of others for so long, throughout four thousand years of unctuous droning, no doubt they’ve come to believe their own words—for want of hearing anything else.” – Monica Sjoo & Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother
No woman was more aware of these facts than Barbara Mor, who was homeless herself at times. 
My point is that I believe women need to radically reconsider every single dollar they spend. My hope is that feminists will begin to really think about money; as strange or foreign as it may feel to us.
If we want our message to really spread and take root, we don’t have another option.

Last fall, it seemed likely that one of the few remaining feminist bookstores in the U.S. was going to have to close its doors. Several hours before their Kickstarter campaign was due to wrap up, I lamented about it on my Facebook wall. I was told by numerous people that I should, basically, just wish it weren’t so.

The fact is that woman-owned businesses, writers and artists need money to survive. No amount of wishing is going to change our fate as women. We have to wake up and take action before our women-sacred spaces and businesses are gone. We have to reallocate the often limited funds we have as women if we truly want to see changes in women’s lives globally. We have to take action before we lose more of our Goddess-given rights. As Roseanne Barr said, “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.”

Our systematic economic oppression underlies all other oppressions. We must begin to take an honest closer look at how religion and money work together to oppress women. Sister Joan Chittister wrote:
“Women have been locked out of full humanity and full participation in religious institutions and society at large. This marginalization of women masquerades as ‘protecting’ them and even ‘exalting’ them. Instead, these attitudes serve to deny the human race the fullness of female gifts and a female perspective on life. As a result, women make up two-thirds of the hungry of this world. And women are two-thirds of the illiterate of this world. And women are two-thirds of the poorest of the poor, because they lack access to the resources and recognition men take for granted. That’s not an accident. That is a policy—one supported by religious institutions that call such discrimination 'women’s place' and 'God’s will.'"
Our homes mirror the patriarchal reality we learn in our churches, mosques, temples and synagogues. Therefore, it is no surprise that when women are able to leave destructive relationships with abusive men, they are punished financially, and there are few laws to protect them. We need to find a way to ensure that ALL women and children receive the child support payments they are entitled to.
"Migrant Worker" by Dorothea Lange
We have to find a way to make our cultures acknowledge, value and reward care-giving. Riane Eisler has spent years of her life work studying just how to do this. If you only take one thing from this essay, read The Real Wealth of Nations.

We must demand that there is no more wage gap. According to A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink: Facts and Figures, “Closing the wage gap between men and women would cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families and would add nearly half a trillion dollars to the national economy.

We must ensure that no woman, anywhere in the world, enters her crone years in poverty. These are the years where we should be reaping her years of knowledge and wisdom. The crone should be relaxing and reflecting on her glorious life—not slaving away at McDonalds worrying about how she is going to pay the rent!

We cannot accomplish any of these goals if we do not understand how money functions—and most importantly, if we don’t work together. Our individualistic lives are killing us. We need to fight back—hard.
We can’t change everything today, but we can find creative solutions to make our individual and collective lives easier. We can live communally, share resources and refuse to spend one-penny on anything that does not empower us as females. 

Until we have economic equality, I urge you to consider how you spend your money. If you go out to eat, go to a woman-owned restaurant. If you buy a book or a CD or a piece of art, make sure it’s been created by a woman. Every-single-place we spend our money has the potential to change our world.

No one sums this up better than Arundhati Roy:
"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness—and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we're being brainwashed to believe."
We can refuse to participate in our own economic subordination. If we work collectively, we can also reallocate the money that runs the world in a way that works for everyone.

By Trista Hendren, a selection from the Girl God Anthology -  Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak.


  1. A tremendously succinct vision of how oppression has manifest itself in our lives in the very fabric of our beliefs and loyalties.
    I have had a womyn pastor for over twenty years and now face the prospect of a man leading this congregation. I don't know that I want to even if I can. This article clarified the struggle.

  2. WhooooHooooo BRAVA Trista! So glad to know you and be part of that anthology! Powerful piece indeed! Karen Tate