Sometimes my mind takes me to an unusual place. It all started out so simply. A Saturday night dinner with two lovely friends at my favorite bistro. One friend, a widow, lost her job in a layoff about a year ago, but has found enough work to keep paying the bills. We genuinely care about her and are sensitive to her situation. But it seems that her worries are practically over. Out of the blue, an offer appeared to purchase an asset that she has held for many years. It was the answer to a prayer.
While this transaction does not propel her into the jet-set uber-wealthy stratosphere, it does ease her budget constraints and make for a comfortable retirement. At 75, she certainly deserves a few days off now and then.
This conversation initiated a web of thoughts related to women. And money. While there are many women who are employed or run their own businesses and earn an income that meets their family living expenses, there are many who do not.
My grandmother had a job outside of the home to contribute to the home economy. She earned a low wage, but it helped. My great-grandmother sold eggs, butter, strawberries and other products from her garden to help make ends meet. Her mother, a widow, took in boarders to pay the bills.
Many generations of women have worked, traded a currency available to them, to pay for the necessities of life.
My mind wandered back to a favorite book of fiction, social commentary actually, by Edith Wharton. Lily Bart was the heroine. A young woman from a family of social distinction, but without the independent means to sustain her livelihood. The currency available to her was her youth, beauty and cleverness. However, trading this currency to a possible husband that she did not love did not seem like an attractive trade to her. Unfortunately, she did not have the means or the strength to hold out for love.
A similar, familiar tale is woven into Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche DuBois, the heroine, capitalizes on the currency available to her in order to obtain security and stability: charm and beauty. She attempts to fabricate youth into the equation to close the deal, a deal in which she is willing to forgo love. But unfortunately…well, everyone knows the ending.
In my own circle of family, friends and acquaintances, I know of several females who are in a situation similar to Lily and Blanche. The currency available to them does not include the education and professional experience needed to drive an income sufficient to pay for the lifestyles with which they are familiar.
I don’t know if my outlook is pessimistic or realistic, but I don’t put much faith in the dream of a knight in shining armor. Fairy tale endings usually only occur in fairy tales.
Except, of course, for the good fortune of my friend.