Our Money, Our Right to Decide

August 7, 2018

 A bargain bin find for ten dollars!


When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, I did a fundraiser to help cover my living expenses. Several months later, when I was working again, I blogged about a pair of shoes I'd bought, and was lambasted -- not by anyone who had donated, but by a squad of online anti-feminist harassers -- for spending what they thought was an extravagant amount on good-quality, long-lasting, work-appropriate shoes.


When it comes to clothing and money, femmes can't win.


Femmes -- indeed all women, and anyone of any gender presenting as female -- are pressured to be conventionally attractive. We are valued largely on how good we are as ornaments. Our appearance is considered public property: total strangers consider it their right to police our appearance and tell us if we're up to snuff.


And if we don't spend enough money on our clothes and appearance, you'd better believe we hear about it. We're seen as frumpy, out of date, not trying hard enough, giving up. Problems in our marriages or relationships are blamed on us and our appearance. We're told we don't care enough about the men in our lives (of course it's assumed that we have partners or want them, and that those partners are men). Even our problems at work are blamed on our looks. Our very femaleness is called into question. We're told to step up our game.


On the other hand:


If we spend too much on our clothes and appearance, we're seen as vain and shallow. We're scolded and shamed for being wasteful, having terrible priorities. And any concerns we might express over money will, at best, be seen as a sign that we're short-sighted and terrible at managing money. At worst, our money concerns will be seen as fraudulent.

When people are poor or have money problems, they can expect to have their spending strictly policed. When they spend on anything fun or pleasurable, anything but the most utilitarian expenses, it will be seen as proof that they're terrible at managing their money and need someone else to tell them how to do it -- or that their money concerns are fraudulent. Unless they wear the cheapest, dullest clothing, they'll be seen as liars, foolish spendthrifts, or both.


Of course, if they do wear cheap, dull clothing, they may have a hard time finding work or advancing in the workplace -- and they'll be blamed for that, too. "Dress for the job you want! Oh, you can't afford to? You can barely afford to dress for the job you have? Well, whose fault is that! Look at that bracelet! Did you need to buy that! Profligate! Spendthrift! Wastrel!"


And even people who aren't poor, people with disposable income that's theoretically theirs to spend as they like, will have their spending policed -- if those people are women, and the spending is on clothing, makeup, hair, jewelry, or anything having to do with appearance. Hillary Clinton is one of the most visible examples: during the 2016 presidential campaign, her clothing was vigorously and viciously policed in hundreds of ways, including ugly and wildly inaccurate speculation on how much she spent on it. Huge amounts of ink and pixels were spilled speculating about how much she spent on an Armani jacket, whether it was a gift or she bought it herself, what speech she was making when she wore it. Far less ink and pixels were spilled on how much her male opponents spent on their clothing -- or on the basic sexism underlying the question in the first place. But even women who aren't in the spotlight can expect to have fashion spending policed, in an unwinnable Catch-22.


It's funny. Clothing is art. It is, as Nigel said in The Devil Wears Prada, art that you live your life in. And people with money often spend it on art. If you don't blink an eye at people spending big money on a Picasso, it makes no sense to lambaste someone for spending money on clothing. Heck, if you don't blink an eye at people with money spending it on cars, furniture, travel, it makes no sense to lambaste someone for spending on style.


But of course, style is seen as a female pursuit. So spending money on it is seen as frivolous and wasteful --  even though we're pressured into doing it.


This is extra frustrating because many femmes are experts at putting together a stylish, expressive look on a very tight budget, with sales, thrift stores, outlet stores, clothing swaps, bargain bins, making and mending our own clothes, piecing together new looks out of old pieces, and more. Plenty of women are very good at putting together a stylish, even expensive-looking outfit on a shoestring budget. So slamming femmes for spending on appearance isn't just sexist. In many cases, it's just factually wrong.


 Fleuvogs - a splurge.


I titled this piece "Our Money, Our Right to Decide." There's a sense in which that's not true. I'm not a libertarian: I think that taxes and government are generally good ideas, and that govermnent is entitled to some of my money. And while it's a democracy and my vote gives me some say in how my taxes are spent, I recognize and accept that in a democratic republic, some of my tax money will be spent in ways I don't like.

But when it comes to the money that's left over, then it's our money, our right to decide. If we're paying our taxes and our bills, if we're feeding our kids and our pets, how we budget the rest is up to us. Whether our clothing budget is five dollars a year or five thousand, it's nobody's business but our own.



Bio:  Greta Christina is author of several books, including The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life; Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God; Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why; Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless; and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More. She blogs at Greta Christina's Blog, at The Orbit. She lives in San Francisco with her wife, Ingrid.


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