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Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan


Money talks

  • A woman must have money and a room of her own if she wants to live a happy independent life.

There comes a point in every woman's life when she has to consider... financial stability. It's not a sexy subject to think about, certainly. Who wants to plan that far ahead in advance denying the whole seat-of-your-pants spontaneity that society encourages? No one discusses it in TV shows or films either: the heroines just go off on their big Europe trips or just buy themselves that fancy bag without having to think about it. Sure, watching things on screen means you have to suspend your disbelief a little, but it's very rare that the elephant in the room is discussed—that is, the state of your bank account and how you need to keep it healthy in order have that independent life.

I've been rewatching the TV show Gilmore Girls recently. You don't need to know much of the premise beyond this: Lorelei Gilmore, pregnant at 16, ditches her parents' WASP wealthy lifestyle to strike out on her own and raise her daughter in a small town called Stars Hollow. When the daughter—Rory—is old enough to want to go to a private (read: expensive) school, the rich grandparents chip in, and are involved in her life in monetary ways, thereafter. Her expensive college is paid for, and when she decides to get back together with her small-town boyfriend, they dangle hedge-fund children in front of her, young men who all have a trust fund waiting and who are, therefore, so much better for their granddaughter. Eventually, she even picks one of the rich boys that her mother so loathes, picks him, and is treated to meals in fancy restaurants, gifts of Birkin bags, trips to New York City in a helicopter. Money, the undertone says, is the padded confident background on which she stands, no one would expect her small-town best friend to make a similar match, and indeed, she doesn't—choosing for herself instead, a small-town boy to match. Meanwhile, Lorelei is in the process of opening her own inn, and finds herself so desperately out of funds she has to ask for a loan. But since she's rejected her parents' way of life, she asks a man who has in the past shown an interest in her. He gives her the money (on a promise she makes to pay it back) and very shortly after, they start dating. The “loan” is never referred to again.

Every artiste needs a nest from which to fly. I know very few full-time writers—if any at all—who manage to make a comfortable living entirely off their writing. There's always a protective net at the bottom, ready to catch you if you fall. In my case, my safety nets are several: I share a home with my partner, who gets paid a lot more than I do, an inheritance has allowed me to buy a flat, getting rid of rent forever.

As a recently published much-quoted article in Salon called Sponsored By My Husband: Why It's A Problem That Writers Never Talk About Where Their Money Comes From said: “All that disclosure is crass, I know. I’m sorry. Because in this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: Those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if “those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.” I mean, sure, I do freelance stuff that allows me to earn a modest sum of money—but if I had to live on that alone, you can bet my lifestyle would be much more frugal. You can also bet I'd spend all my time trying to figure out how to make more money than do the things I do: write novels.

All this thinking about money also got me thinking about older women. You know what I mean, the ones whose husbands have died, who've signed away their property rights to their kids and essentially live a life of genteel poverty in one room with their family (if they're lucky) or are abandoned to the streets once they've fulfilled their use (if they're unlucky.) So many women in India put all the money decisions firmly in the hands of the man of the house. If the man of the house dies, leaves or decides to be cruel, then they're completely helpless. I know of older women who have never learned to use debit cards, who can't even make a trip to the bank by themselves, who—to this day—need a weekly dole-out of pocket money from their husbands in order to run their households. The trick was to squirrel away some of that money for yourself, so you had a nice little nest-egg that your husband couldn't touch—but really, once you give up independence of your bank account, you give up a little of yourself. Have a joint account for joint purchases by all means, but you should always have money of your own, because money means freedom, and everyone needs an option.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own to write fiction,” said Virginia Woolf, and this I take and gently twist: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she wants to live a happy independent life.”

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