Monday, March 21, 2011

Liz Perle/MONEY: A MEMOIR

This book was selected for me by my (new) book club. I would never have picked it up on my own, but am really glad I read it. It was a great discussion book, even with its flaws, and it's offered me a lot of fodder for other conversations since I read it.

Despite the title, this isn't exactly a memoir. It's a compilation of interviews, statistics, and anecdotes about women's various emotional responses to money (how they spend it, how they control it, why it makes them feel guilty, awkward, trapped, stifled, unhappy, uncomfortable, unworthy, and/or undervalued), knitted together with Perle's personal story of her own divorce and unexpected financial vulnerability.

From my perspective, this wasn't a perfect book. Sometimes, it feels like Perle forgets she is speaking from a place of incredible privilege, and that the majority of American women are dealing with a very different spectrum of choices and traps than the ones she's covering.

Also, much of the content was directed toward women of a certain mindset--one that I think is pretty common in America, but one I wasn't raised to subscribe to, so much of it wasn't resonant. The beginning chapters of the book had to do with women's emotional responses to being a complete dependent in a relationship, to women who were never taught to account for their own spending, and to women's emotional responses to spending.

I've always felt accountable and that I was entirely responsible for my own financial situation. I never imagined being financially dependent on anyone--haven't ever really imagined myself as a homemaker or in another financially dependent life role. I know it's a path many people choose (male and female!), and I respect their decisions, but those points didn't feel like they applied to me.

However, other parts were resonant, particularly the chapter that focused on career choices. Perle uses various anecdotal and statistical data to show that women are less able or willing to put a monetary value on themselves, to ask for as much money as men, to negotiate as hard for themselves in equal roles. However tough and confident I am--and I'm pretty proud of myself for being tough and confident--this definitely applies to me. Part of this is the way we're raised--in terms of what behavior is feminine, and what we learn to ask for, and how--but part of it also has to do with societal perceptions of women and how they should behave.

One point she makes is about mentorship--apparently, men are often franker with one another about, for example, salary. If Jim know Harry made $90k at his 5th anniversary, Jim will ask for $90k at his 5th anniversary. However, Mary doesn't want to be "awkward" with Nancy, so they don't talk about how each of them is making $45k--at the same job as Jim. Etc. When my book club talked about this, I noticed that even though everyone in the room claimed they wanted to overcome this wall of silence for the sake of helping us all, no one would actually go and mention their salary.

Another point that really resonated--I had seen this happen with one of my friends only days before I read the book--had to do with interviewing, and how women feel disloyal taking advantage of career opportunities, whereas men tend to be more open to change.

I think this is a great book for women to read and talk about. I don't think everyone will love it, and I think selective skimming may be in order depending on your own personal situation and interests, but I have many points I took from the book that have been useful for talking with friends, encouraging them at job interviews, speculating about and planning fiscal futures, etc.

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