Tue, Apr 21, 2009 - Page 9 News List

The dangers in thinking women can’t handle cash

Women who have a decent capacity to earn should use their financial power to change themselves and others for the better by spending and investing thoughtfully

By Ruth Sunderland  /  THE GUARDIAN

If City of London superwomen can’t land themselves equal pay packets in the UK, what hope is there for the rest of British women? It seems that these finance titans have not managed to gain parity with men in the UK’s financial hub.

Far from it: The country’s Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the pay gap between the genders in the British financial services sector is more than double that in the economy as a whole, with women earning 55 percent a year less than men. Even those at the very top are taking home a pay packet 45 percent shy of their male colleagues.

These are shocking figures, not only for the sheer size of the gulf, but also because we are talking about women who are themselves experts in finance. In some cases, they manage billions of pounds in assets and mastermind huge bids and deals, yet they still cannot command the same rewards as a man.

We don’t know why exactly this has happened, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Although women have entered the workplace in ever-increasing numbers, the years of economic boom did not eradicate prejudice or the pay gap, which remains at women earning about 83 pence for every male pound. And in the good years, the cause of equal pay and female financial independence looked as outmoded as 1980s shoulder pads; there seemed to be more than enough money to go around, so why worry about wage differentials?

We might have mocked those shoulder pads, but at least in the 1980s there were portrayals of women as powerful economic agents, smashing glass ceilings and making their own money. But the dominant images during the Labour boom under former prime minister Tony Blair and current Prime Minister Gordon Brown took a step back, portraying supposedly post-feminist womanhood as dependant, even infantile, consumers.

Think of the flawed female role models spawned during the years of excess: the Yummy Mummy, whose leisured lifestyle, Boden skirts and gym membership came courtesy of her wealthy husband, and her flashier sister, the Wag, habitually seen as an appendage of her sportsman partner, even if, like Victoria Beckham, she is a formidable moneymaker in her own right.

Cheryl Cole was driven to protest, saying: “I’ve got my own money, so if my husband’s card is declined I whip out mine.”

But then, like me, she is from the northeast of England, where women traditionally held the financial reins. I was brought up in such a money matriarchy, so when I arrived in London 20 years ago, I was alarmed to see men using their own checkbooks and cards and wondered what their wives were thinking of.

NOT TRUSTED

At home in Teesside, my dad and the fathers of my friends handed over their pay to their wives and were given pocket money. Men were not trusted to be responsible — never mind that most were too meek and henpecked to dare run amok.

If the representations of married women and money in the boom decade were dodgy, that of the singleton, in her fictional incarnations of Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw, was downright insulting. We were meant to think Bridget was adorable because of her ineptitude at her job and to see Carrie as merely ditsy when she spent so much on stilettos she couldn’t afford to keep a roof over her head. As Carrie observed, easy credit and a lust for fashion had subverted feminism to the point where empowerment was equated with a woman’s right to Jimmy Choos.

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