31 August 2010

Personal currency

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.


  1. Fab post, Diane. So thought-provoking!

    As soon as I got to your second to last line, "Fairy tale endings usually only occur in fairy tales" , I immediately thought of the line in the first movie "Sex and the City" when Carrie is reading a fairy tale story to Charlotte's little girl, and says to her, "You do realize that fairy tales don't always come true." Just then, Charlotte walks in from a doctors' visit and informs Carrie that after all these years of not being able to get pregnant, she finally was! And then Carrie says, "Well, I guess in some families, fairy tales do come true."

    I have to no idea what I just told you that because like you, I don't put much faith in the dream of a knight in shining armor either - HA!

    I think the bottom line as far as women making enough income that meets their family living expenses, is because women don't get paid as much as men. And I think that sucks. But also, I think more and more women are starting their own businesses (on their own) and doing it that way. Even without formal education and professional experience. The thing I LOVE about women, is that they seen to know how to take what appears to be nothing and make it into SOMETHING.

    So happy to hear about your friends answered prayer!


  2. That is wonderful for your friend. I know women who gave up college or careers to put husband through school or to raise children and have been left high and dry for a "trophy" wife, and are left with nothing so to speak...no money or skills, and sometimes the bitterness has been so bad that they didn't fight for anything. fortunately one of them did find a knight in shinig armor, but the others struggle. Seems so sad and unfair. Why can't life be simple?

  3. Interesting commentary from the point of view of a woman. My life experience has taught me to be wary of the Blanche Dubois' of this world. They are out there in droves, and as they age, they can get pretty desperate. Desperate people can do desperate things when the expectations they have held all throughout their lives fade from their grasp. I don't believe that income is the answer to security. I beleive a re-evaluation of what constitues security and happiness is in order. It is something that comes from within....it isn't bestowed upon us by others.