“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
On 28th January, 1813, Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice. More than 200 years later, her novel is still in circulation and is recommended reading for high-school and English-major university students.
Why is it that our post-modern society continues to be fascinated by a Victorian-era novel about women obsessed with finding a rich husband? Are we captivated by a love story between two young people? Or are we fixated on the fairy tale of marrying a rich man who can “save us”?
Love story aside, the clever and wise Jane Austen was tackling social and financial inequality; an inherent unfairness that caused middle and upper-middle-class women to be obsessed with “finding a rich husband”.
Property laws in 19th-century England unashamedly favoured men. A woman could not inherit her husband’s or father’s estate. Rather, it would pass on to the male next of kin. Women were at the mercy of male family members; hence Mrs Bennet’s obsession with finding single men “in possession of a good fortune” for her five daughters. What a cruel world it was for a woman.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?
We might still be infatuated with the fairy tale of love. We might still want to find our own modern version of Mr Darcy: a sensitive, new-age guy who understands and gives us what we need. But society has made significant progress over the past 200 hundred years.
Women can own and inherit property. We can start businesses. We can run corporations. We can make a decent, dignified living in all areas of industry. We can even become the Prime Minister or be ordained as a priestess. Is there any frontier we have not yet reached?
Yes, there is — and it’s closer to us than we think!
When couples see me for financial advice, each partner has their own version of financial reality. On average, the woman earns less than the man for similar employment. She also has 20% to 30% less super. This is due to a lower income and often having to interrupt her working life to care for children.
When I ask couples why they want to become financially independent, the man usually says it is to get out of the corporate machine and be “free”. Most of the women (mainly Gen X) say that they want to balance work and the home. Most of them — including women in senior corporate positions — wish to work part time.
This wish for part-time work is not about women wanting to “take it easy”. No, it’s a function of the inequality that working mothers face at home. They have given up hoping that their husbands will take a more active and equal role in the housework. Rather, they have settled for an arrangement where the man might take out the garbage, stack the dishes and occasionally mow the lawn. The bulk of the work is still done by the woman.
The burden of coming home at the end of an eight-hour workday only to cook, clean, do the washing and look after the children is enormous. Many women believe it’s the price they have to pay for pursuing their careers. They feel guilty about leaving their children in care so they can go to work, and atone this guilt by taking on the majority of the housework.
Meanwhile, the husband gets to enjoy the financial rewards of the extra — albeit lower — income earned by his wife, without having to work much more to get it. Odd jobs are a small price to pay to get an extra 81% of his salary.
Does this remind you of the heads of industry, who are happy for women to put in 100% effort while earning 81% of their male counterparts’ salaries?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Women’s liberation is still not a done deal. If it was, domestic disparity and the gender pay gap would no longer exist. The next step to true equality is for women to become empowered in their personal relationships.
I believe that what we think is a private matter — sharing the housework — is a public one. The men we deal with at work have wives, too. Persistent inequality at home means persistent inequality at work. We would not be having the same conversations about the gender pay gap in the workforce if we could deal with gender inequality at home.
Closing the gap is not just about money
This isn’t simply a financial transaction. For many women, their work is not only about the pay. They find fulfilment in making a difference, solving complex problems, and being productive and responsible members of society.
They also want to leave this world a better place for their children. They want to be good role models for their daughters and raise well-balanced, caring sons. But to do this, they need their male partners on board.
Continuing along the path of “women can do it all” is not the way to go. It’s silently killing us. Despite what we may think, it’s not keeping the peace at home or at work. Domestic disparity creates friction that saps a woman’s energy. It does nothing except keep us “in our place”. It victimises us and compromises what we believe to be true: that we are equal. It affects intimacy and personal relationships (“I am too tired tonight” impacts men too. They are missing out on intimacy. This is no win-win for anyone involved!). Is this what we want to teach our children?
Real, sustainable change can only be achieved by creating Winner Partnerships. Men and women must love, care and support each other to strive for equality in the private and public spheres. And it can be done. History tells us that injustice only lasts for so long. If we can reverse something so entrenched and discriminating as 19th-century property law, then we can close the gender gap at home and at work.
Financial independence can be achieved through equality. Remember, the true aim of financial independence is to ensure that we leave the world a more equal, just and prosperous place. Our girls and boys will thank us for it. They look to us to live their lives without fear; to live with purpose and meaning. They are waiting for us to lead them.
Susan Wahhab — CPA, SMSF Specialist, Entrepreneur, Working Mum, Small Business Supporter — is Australia’s leading Financial Strategist and Money Mentor. Susan is the founder and managing director of Accounting and Financial Services firm Winner Partnership Pty Ltd www.winnerpartnership.com
Susan is the author of the transformational and practical book Money Intelligence®. Susan is passionate about helping people achieve financial liberation. At the age of six, she witnessed how her money-savvy mum (whom she calls the money manager) joined forces with her dad (whom she refers to as the money maker) to save the family business from bankruptcy and become financially free. Susan truly believes that people can become financially liberated by developing a healthy relationship with money. Buy the book in either printed copy or ebook and learn more about being money intelligent www.moneyintelligence.com.au