Be Brave. Lose the Beige is not only the name of this blog, it’s also the name of a movement we are hoping to create among women’s groups. My friend and colleague in this effort, Jackie, and I facilitated a workshop at the annual UCC (United Church of Christ) women’s conference a few weekends ago. We conducted an intergenerational session entitled, “The Power of the Purse, during which attendees participated in a journaling exercise. The exercise focused upon an artistic rendering of a red and white polka dotted bandana purse with Rosie the Riveter’s “We Can Do It!” affirmation in the background. The principle sentiment behind this clay sculpture is Women’s Empowerment, financial and otherwise.
Women were provided with a journal prompt that said, ”
“Financial empowerment impacts the way we view ourselves and even how others view us. This is not just an issue about working women versus non-working women. There are many income producing women who have little control over their pocketbooks; there are women not in the employment sector who exercise considerable control over family resources. What about you? Do you feel you have power over your purse?”
Many of the participants in our session belong to the generation Time Magazine, in a 1951 cover story, labeled, “The Silent Generation “. They were born between1925-1945. This was a generation that did not issue manifestos, participate in protests or demonstrations, or carry placards and posters. One of the characteristics of this age category has been their silence. While the wonderful qualities of this generation are numerous, a dominant characteristic historically has been their reluctance to stand up to “authority”. For many of the women in this group that authority figure often took the form of their husbands.
The resounding refrain among these silent generation women was how little control they exercised over their household purse strings. Some of it was by choice, as was the case for a lady from Barbados. Following her move to the United States, she ceded many of the financial responsibilities to her husband. This posed somewhat of a problem upon his death when she was left with little to no experience in balancing a checkbook or paying taxes. That “choice” did not belong to a second woman, whose controlling husband allowed her no input into their family’s financial matters. She has found it strangely liberating since his recent death to have control over her own money. She has taken to bestowing gifts upon herself (something her husband rarely did) saying, “thank you for my sweet present, Jack”.
Another woman, happily ensconced in a 25 year second marriage, discussed the ego depletion of her first. Her first husband not only allowed for little to no monetary input, he did not permit her to even have a driver’s license.
The candor of these brave women was astounding. They were willing, even eager, to share their stories as a way to urge their daughters and the daughters of other women, to exercise control over their own purses, and thus, their own lives.