Book Review: Women Talk Money: Breaking the Taboo
Money is never far from my mind—I’m a Capricorn, after all. When I didn’t have it, I was constantly worrying about how to get it. Now that I have more of it, I am constantly wondering about how to keep more of it and whether I am being too indulgent. I’ve also come of age during one the worst economic downturns in modern history, the great recession. As a millennial, I have seen and experienced the financial havoc created by politicians. Money is a major issue for all of us.
My desire to become better at handling the money that comes my way, figuring out ways to make it work for me, and need to talk about it openly led me to the book “Women Talk Money: Breaking the Taboo” by Rebecca Walker. A collection of essays by different women examining their relationships with money, blots away the lingering financial taboos that modern-day women still struggle to surrender.
Capitalism—whether we want to participate in it or not—is always applying pressure to our lives. While I have no desire to become a capitalist, I like living comfortably and I want more people to be able to do so as well. As a womanist, I’m aware of the existence of things like the pay gap, pink tax, gentrification, red lining, living wages, debt, environmental racism, and how all those things are further exacerbated by race, class, and gender. But I still feel guilty because I’ve managed to circumnavigate some of the financial challenges snapping at the heels of my millennial counterparts.
I had preconceived notions about this book; I expected essays on over-explored concepts dominating conversations about women and money, like salary negotiation, home purchasing, retirement, etc. Instead, I was treated to in-depth self-reflections of women wrestling with their relationship with money and how societal structures impact it.
This is not easy work to do. Exposing unhealthy spending habits and dealing with the guilt and tension of having privilege among disadvantaged people are difficult issues to address. Also, the shame that shapes your beliefs about money, and whether a person like you deserves to have it, as well as the crapshoot that is the “presentation of respectability” is messy work. All are present within the pages of “Women Talk Money.”
Some essays work better than others. Jen/Elena Hoffer’s “Stay” is a heart-wrenching tale of what it means to mother, and the push and pull of reckoning with your privilege while working within a broken foster care system. “Calculating My Net Worth,” by Jamie Wong, explores the confusion and danger of creating your own brand of capitalism, hustle culture, and how it can impact your identity. And the great Tressie McMillan Cottom’s “The Price of Fabulousness” focuses on respectability and how Black women harness it with the hope that, just maybe, we can beat the challenges stacked against us. These are just a few essays of note.
Others, like Victoria Patterson’s “Americana: A Memoir of Money,” invoked complicated feelings for me about the writer’s experience coming from a white, wealthy, conservative family, and the ramifications of leaving it all behind for love—and subsequent struggle. She marries a half-Mexican artist from a middle-class family that “revere[s] art and culture, not financial success.” Subsequently her mother and father cut her off financially, despite seeing the family she creates struggle to make ends meet.
Rachel Cagle’s “Explain it to Me” essay, formatted as an interview, made for a tepid read, while The Frasier-Jones’ “We Already Paid” was a slog, for personal reasons. Structured as an email trail between the parents of a college-age child and multiple financial aid representatives, it depicts the back and forth of coaxing an entity to do its job. While the essay does a good job of displaying the tedious rigmarole of email battles it makes for a tiresome read.
All in all, “Women Talk Money: Breaking the Taboo” is a book worthy of your time and will certainly leave you thinking deeply about your own relationship with money. Mandy Len Catron makes the need for the book plain in her essay, “The Kind of Money That Can Change Your Life.”
“[…] The truth is that when writers don’t talk about money, and specifically how we got it, we obscure various paths to success and perpetuate the myths of hard work and meritocracy,” she writes. “We don’t help to alleviate inequality, we perpetuate it.”