Sometimes I look at the people my age, who I went to high school and varsity with – and think – jeez did I even make the right career choice because where is my house, my benz and my husband who is some sort of finance guru??
I am a Black, Queer, feminist activist! By definition and pure feminist principle I probably shouldn’t have a benz and a husband whose job it is to uphold capitalism because #SmashThePatriarchy and #CapitalismMustFall
I look at the people I went to highschool and varsity with and marvel at their lives because we have made such different choices and are traversing such different paths. My favourite path to observe, from my age mates, is that of love and career. Now at first glance these appear to be different paths, but through my observations over the years, it’s become quite clear the influence of career and money on love [and thus marriage and babies].
Let me explain
I think in the past it was quite ‘normal’ to meet someone at a young age and ‘build’ with them – build wealth, build a home, build a family. It seemed quite common for a couple to ‘start off with nothing’ and ‘work their way up’ together. Of course together still meant occupying and fulfilling different gender roles – with the ‘man’ going out to earn the money and the ‘woman’ heading what would be considered the more domestic tasks and duties. The puzzle pieces of a binary system that fit together to ‘become something’. Needless to say it’s a bit different in many ways for my generation [the millennials] and the generation that has come after (Gen Z). For one, many of us do not subscribe to gender roles and the binary of gender. But what is also of interest to me, and different from previous generations, is the ways in which women – and I am speaking here about Black women in particular because this is the community that I am most in proximity to – have rejected the idea that they have to ‘build’ wealth with a man. Women of my generation [and beyond] are becoming quite vocal about needing a man to come [to the relationship] already ‘built’ and financially secure. And I don’t blame them, we have seen our mothers and grandmothers too often take on the domestic responsibilities in the home and the financial responsibilities of the home while their husbands command and demand respect and ‘final decision-maker’ status. In our society, we usually default decision-maker status [at home or in business] to the person who is paying, or makes the most money. But very often, in the home, if the man-of-the-house is not paying or making the most money it’s still expected that he will be the ‘boss’/the decision-maker. for the This dynamic between power and money in domestic settings makes we wonder:
- Why does the person responsible for bringing in money or the person who brings in the most money command most of the power, and
- Why is it that when it is the women in the family who bring in the money/the most money they are not willingly afforded this power?
It is obvious that money in family and relationships is an important issue and factor in the relationships people choose to be in. I guess this is not really a new or millennial phenomenon – from the Zulu empire to the plunder and pillage of the British, people have long placed the accumulation of resource and/or status and power at the centre of marriages and family building. But let’s put history aside for a minute? Why are we doing it?
The reasons can be quite obvious maybe.
We live in a capitalist world.
Two good incomes are better than one.
We want to give our children a better life than we had.
We don’t want to struggle financially. Etc. etc.
I wonder though if we really realize or consider what placing the accumulation of resources as an important criteria for romantic partnership has had on our psyche, on our societies and on these families we are building.
We can’t deny that we are in an era where social justice has a lot more prominence and airtime than in previous years. Not only are issues such as racism and gender-based violence more widely spoken about and with more nuance – systems of oppression such as patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy are directly being pointed to as systems that need to be dismantled if we hope to have a free and just society. We’ve come a very long way in being able to quite clearly name systems of oppression and the insidious ways they show up in day to day inter and intrapersonal interactions. As feminists have taught us, the personal is political – macro systems of oppression play themselves out in our everyday and intimate lives and we need to be acutely aware of this in our activism for freedoms and autonomies.
A nuanced understanding of this feminist politic can be seen in the calling out of ‘preferences’ in who is considered attractive or desireable. For decades people have ‘gotten away with’ crying ‘it’s just my preference’ when called out on why they only date light skinned/mixed race/white women, but recently feminist activists, particularly young feminists online have been able to quite clearly make the links between what we consider ‘preference’ and how white-supremacy, in particular, dictates which characteristics are considered desirable, ie. straighter hair, light skin, small waist etc.
So my question is…
How do we bring that same nuance into our understanding of the ways we categorize or choose romantic partners and, how these choices are influenced by systems of oppressions [and not just individual preferences]?
So how are we ‘marrying’ love [as a feeling defined by society as spontaneous and non-choice] with money [as defined by society as cold, hard and calculating]?
Are we consciously doing it?
Are we consciously aware of love as a concept, as an idea, and what definition of love we choose to embody?
Are we consciously aware of money as a concept, as an idea and what of it we choose to embody?
And then are we truly aware of how both these ideas interact in our lives? And are we aware of the effects of said interaction on us and the kinds of societies we live in and are wanting to build?
All about the Benjamins
In Finance, The History of Money, they ask ‘what is the thing that distinguishes the value of a banknote from any other paper?’ and the answer is ‘trust’. Money is intrinsically, and only, valuable because we trust and believe that it is. For a system that actively promotes distrust – think of the hoops that poor and working class people have to go through to secure loans, funding etc. – it’s wild to think capitalism’s survival relies solely on the fact that we trust and believe what it tells us.
And what are some of these things that capitalism will have us unquestionably believe?
- You need to work hard to get rich | hard work pays off, therefore
- Money is neutral – its up for grabs and available to anyone who works for it and is not tied to identity, geographic location etc
- The more you pay for something the better it is, therefore
- Value is based on price/how much money you invest/ don’t invest
- Money makes everything better
And I am sure we can think of many others. I want to say that all the things listed above are of course not true, they aren’t – but I will also concede that some of them are. They are true because the majority of the world acts as though they are and so the societies we create reflect these things.
Above I stated “the personal is political – macro systems of oppression play themselves out in our everyday and intimate lives”. And the same is true for capitalism – the values that capitalism upholds don’t just stay in business or money spaces, they seep into our everyday lives. We believe that money makes relationships better; we believe that people who don’t have money have not worked hard enough and people who don’t work hard cannot make good and reliable partners; we believe that the amount of money people spend on us is directly correlated to how much they value us; and we believe these ideas are neutral, are in no way prejudice and are just our ‘personal preferences’.
And these beliefs have made our relationships transactional – what can you give me? What can I get? And what do I have to trade to get it?
I should have put a disclaimer in the beginning of this inquiry to say that I do not have the answers to these existential questions. What I do know is that I don’t want my relationships to feel transactional. I don’t like capitalism and its values and I sure as fuck do not like them permiating into my relationships all willy nilly. And maybe that is a good enough beginning – to be aware. Maybe from a place of awareness we can build alternatives?
Good luck! Whichever values you choose to guide your relationships – I hope they are actively QUESTIONED, considered and chosen by Y O U