Monday, December 21, 2015

Finances, Sexism, and Blame

This started out as simple amazement at one person's comments online, but turned into a realization about sexism (and probably a lot of other -isms).

I'm not the type of person who thinks everyone is sexist. I make some comments in jest about "the good old boys' club" or how boys in general do play differently than girls. I think the people who blast Barbie's and "girl" Lego's have too much time on their hands. But I would also shy away from always dressing a little girl in skirts and dresses and treating her differently than my boys. I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, and it didn't hurt me any.

I tend not to think that sexism is a big problem in our society today. We have women at least trying to run for president (some of them do scare me to death, although slightly less scary than Donald Trump). We have women who've graduated from Army Ranger school and women who are construction foremen. I'm not naive enough to think that these women don't face enormous obstacles ahead of them in their chosen careers, but I did think that at least the average woman wouldn't be facing sexism on a daily basis.

So, when I read an article about the difference in retirement savings (and pay) between men and women, I dismissed a lot of it. Women in the same job position with the same experience, generally do make the same pay, so this 78 cents on the dollar thing is a little misguided. There are multiple reasons for this pay difference. For one, a higher percentage of women leave the workforce at some point in time, whether it's to care for their children or their parents. Since many jobs pay based on experience, this does hurt women's pay even in the same job position. My brother is in med school and noticed that people were saying that medical residents even had a pay differential between men and women - but guess what, the pay is set in advance for those positions. Which means the only way for them to have a pay difference is experience. Men tend to take the longer residencies, or multiple residencies, meaning that they are "more experienced" even as medical residents (a fourth year resident is paid more than a first year resident).

In addition, women tend to choose lower paying positions. For instance, I had a great paying job when I graduated college, but then I went into teaching, then I left that job due to stress and took a low-paying consultative sales role, then I took another low-paying non-profit job, then I fulfilled my dream of becoming a stay at home mom (with a few part-time jobs to keep my sanity).

So, let's ignore the pay differential for now, because that wasn't what I was upset at primarily in the article. This article was on a personal finance blog and was designed to get people to save more money, so they have a bit of a bias. However, one of the comments on the article was blatantly sexist. This gentleman was trying to say that the reason women have less money is not that they are staying home with kids or working at lower paying jobs, but that they are spendthrifts! Now, I could just dismiss that, but then he tripped over his own tongue a few sentences later. He started by bashing women for spending $1500 on handbags, but THEN he went on to claim that second homes at the lake were only necessary because women didn't want to go to the lake with nothing to do while their men fished on the boat. OK, so boat's are suddenly less expensive than handbags AND women are to blame for the fact that men like to fish all weekend?

Obviously, I didn't respond to that comment, because it was simply too ridiculous to respond to. It definitely put me in mind of my earlier blog post about blame. This gentleman (I use the term very loosely) was too upset about his finances to even realize that he was blaming the woman in this couple for something that she wasn't even doing. I mean, I have no idea how you get from being mad about your wife spending too much on a handbag to blaming her for a $200,000 second home on the lake because YOU like to fish?

So, shaking my head, I left that article. But then I thought some more about blame. Some of the racist white people I know blame affirmative action for their lack of promotion in their field. It can't be their poor performance, or even bad management, it must be someone else's fault. Someone that we already had a bad experience with in the past, so we blame all of them for the actions of a few. Some of the racist black people that I know blame situations in the news for their own hatred and bigotry. There are also racist white officers who blame this hatred by another group of people towards them for their inability to solve major crime issues (rather than their own attitudes or an inefficient government system that has proven unable to enact real change in the war against crime and poverty).

Now, not all black people are racists, not all white people are racists. Not all men are sexist, and not all women want to stay at home with their kids. My caution is that we should not blame any group of people that is racist, sexist, or even a spendthrift. What I want is for all of us to take a step back when we're about to play the blame game. Is this something that is really someone else's fault, or does some of the blame lay within you?

When you're upset with a customer because they are taking too long, is it really the customer's fault or has your attitude affected the transaction? When you are upset at your spouse for not doing a chore when you really wanted it done, shouldn't you be looking at yourself first, since you could have just as easily done it yourself? When you are angry at your neighbors for their hatred and bigotry, have you tried to understand their attitude before calling them dirty names behind their back? When you are mad at a driver who cut you off on the road, have you considered whether your speed was part of the equation? When you're mad that you didn't get as much back on your taxes this year, have you considered whether an increase in pay (woohoo!) or your own miscalculations led to the difference? When you're mad about someone receiving government benefits, have you considered what you would do in the same situation?

If you truly want to improve your finances (or your life), you first have to stop placing the blame on other people. If your housing situation is bad, move across the country to an area with more affordable housing. If your job situation is bad, improve your attitude, work ethic, and education and find a better position. If your family situation is bad, fix your attitude first. In all situations, remove the plank in your own eye before you try to remove the speck in your brother's eye. You may find that there was nothing in his eye at all, once your own blame is removed from the situation.
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