The last thing the Internet needs is one more article complaining about Donald Trump, so I'm not going to write that post. As a woman with a mission to empower other women financially, I want to talk about how The Donald has impacted the national discourse in a way that I hope will be positive in the long run. I believe his comments have opened a conversation that crosses gender lines about what is acceptable to say and do to people in general. This is not about being overly politically correct – it’s about being human.
Let me get this out of the way…the comments Trump made on the Access Hollywood bus were without question demeaning, disrespectful and unacceptable. I think FLOTUS summarized it perfectly last week when she said,
“…I have to tell you that I can't stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted.” - Michelle Obama
I concur. Hearing his words shocked me, and I’m not easily offended. They pissed me off. It made me want to cry. I felt the sting of those words personally. To paraphrase Robert DeNiro’s viral video, it made me want to punch him in the face.
Most people would never say or do the things Trump described, but harassment doesn’t need to be overtly physical to intimidate or demean. Until now, I don’t think that our society has been open about discussing where that line is drawn, even among women. Since the release of that tape I’ve had many conversations with friends, both male and female, about their experiences with harassment. I’ve learned things about friends I’ve known for decades that they had never mentioned. Either they had buried it deep in their memories or were too embarrassed to bring it up before, but now that the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, these stories are being discussed. I think this is progress. I’ve also remembered encounters that I hadn’t thought about in years.
I recall a time in my early 30s when I ended up in a walk-in coat closet with a client as he retrieved his bag and I picked up my umbrella. When I turned around he was blocking my access to the door. He proceeded to invite me to Miami for a weekend on his yacht, apparently unfazed by our 40-year age difference. He mentioned that he would love the opportunity to see me in a bikini. I felt utterly disrespected. I had just delivered a sophisticated presentation about his portfolio’s asset allocation and the impact on his future wealth. Our discussion hadn’t come close to bikinis and yachts. As a good corporate soldier, I laughed and thanked him for the offer. I begged off with the excuse that I had plans for the weekend. I really wanted to punch him in the face as well, but that wasn’t an option.
I remember a time when a colleague picked up a pen off of his desk and threw it on the ground in front of me as I walked by, then asked me if I’d pick it up for him. It was very Mad Men-esque before Mad Men even existed. He laughed and said, “I’m totally kidding.” Yeah, maybe not so much.
I remember being told by a colleague, intended as a compliment, that despite being blond and attractive I gained credibility as soon as I started speaking. Why would it be assumed that I was not intelligent in the first place?
I’ve had friends tell me of times when a high school teacher asked her out on a date (when she was still in high school). I had a male friend tell me about being subjected to constant conversations about the sexual prowess of his female colleagues’ partners while at work. I’ve heard of false rumors being spread about affairs between colleagues of both sexes because it “seemed” they were receiving preferential treatment by management. I’ve heard of a friend being encouraged by her boss to apologize to a male client who had been openly discussing her boobs the night before at dinner to make him feel less uncomfortable about the situation. For what exactly was she apologizing? Having breasts?
I could go on and on about other incidents experienced in social settings, but I’ll stick to the professional situations because they have a direct impact on personal finances.
The implicit message in these circumstances is that “I have power over you, your career, and your income.” The high school teacher could have impacted my friend’s grades, and thus her college and career choices. My client could have threatened to pull his money from the firm if I didn’t play along, which potentially put my job at risk. The women discussing their partners’ sexual performance could have decided to alienate and marginalize the lone man in their group. The common thread is that we all face a decision of whether to play along, or to say what’s on our minds and face the potential consequences. My guess is that most of us try to smooth out the rough edges. I’m sure Billy Bush would agree with this. (I was sympathetic to Billy Bush having to play along until he made the request for a hug, ugh).
Let’s pivot back to the upside of this situation. I’m glad that these discussions are taking place. I’m thrilled that we’re sharing stories and talking about what dis-empowers us. Knowledge is power. We don’t know what we don’t know.
My hope is that the media attention garnered by these words will continue to move this conversation forward. Only by sympathizing with one another’s experiences will we be able to humanize and respect each other in a way that will empower us all. Let’s not mistake being a kind and caring human being for being “too P.C.” I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Please leave any experiences you'd like to share in the comments.
The story of a mother of two, managing divorce while protecting her children...
Several weeks ago I posted the story of my divorce and how it impacted me financially and emotionally. The positive feedback was overwhelming and I thank everyone who reached out to express their appreciation for sharing my story. This inspired me to learn more about what other women have gone through in the hopes of spreading more knowledge, and today I’m beginning a series of posts about women’s experiences navigating the financial and emotional ups and downs of divorce.
I posted in several of my Facebook groups asking for women who would be willing to share their stories and I was astounded at the number of friends and relatives of friends who are willing to tell me about their journeys. What I’ve learned is that financial miscalculations during a breakup have implications that extend indefinitely. The common threads I’ve heard are feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, scared and intimidated. This is not about bashing men – the responsibility lies on both sides of the gender divide. Men tend to fight for what they believe is best for them, but women tend to give in financially to get out of the relationship with as little conflict as possible. This is not a judgement of either sex, solely an empirical observation. The lesson I’ve learned, however, is that if women want to protect their financial futures they need to be willing to stand up for themselves. “I just wanted it to be over” is the sentiment in the heat of the moment, but “wow, I regret walking away from what I should have gotten” is the message that resonates for years later.
This story is from a mother of two who has been married three times. I’m changing names to protect the innocent, so I’ll call her Patricia. Patricia got married when she was 19 after a long-distance romance and quickly had two babies. Once they were married he started drinking more and staying out until the early morning. He was rough with her when he was drunk, criticizing mundane details like how she made his sandwiches. Patricia never thought of it as physical abuse at the time, but looking back that’s exactly what it was. She left once but went back to him – this was a long time ago and divorce still wasn’t that common in her small town so the decision wasn’t clear cut.
The final straw came when concern for her 18 month and 3 ½ year old children took center stage. She didn’t want the abuse to extend to them, so she left with $45 in her pocket and had to rely on her parents as a stay at home mom. A friend helped her move the baby’s crib, but she walked away from everything else. The divorce was contentious. They fought about every detail down to who would keep the laundry basket.
She hired attorneys but didn’t feel like they fought for her, constantly questioning what she needed. Obtaining a steady income from her ex was complicated by the fact that he didn’t work consistently. Patricia agreed to terms that were not beneficial given her custodial burden. She agreed that she would claim the kids on her income tax returns only every other year even though her ex only paid support for 3 months out of the year. She ended up bearing the bulk of the financial burden for the children.
Patricia’s most recent marriage lasted 14 years. She knew he was cheating, but had failed at marriage before and didn’t want to chalk this one up in the loss column as well. She was determined to make it work and turned a blind eye to what she didn’t want to see. He grew more controlling of Patricia over time despite his own affairs. She couldn’t receive phone calls after 9:30pm or else he became suspicious, projecting his own deceitful behavior onto her. He steered her into self-serving investment decisions regarding her job’s retirement plan. He assured her, trust me, we’ll live off of my retirement income.
The Timing Will Never Be "Right"
She had reached a point of no return and knew she had to leave, but the timing was never right. It was always close to a holiday or a birthday. She second guessed whether she wanted to be alone as she got older. She started seeing an attorney before she definitively decided to leave, and this time she did think about putting money away. On every trip to the grocery store she cashed a few extra dollars to accumulate some money, but despite her small nest egg, she still didn’t know where she’d go the night she left.
Finally, she pulled the plug and filed for divorce. This one began no more smoothly than the last. She rang up $7,000 in fees to her attorney without him gaining any temporary support for her. Once she got to court to fight for support, however, she could no longer afford her attorney. Patricia even lost some of her assets in the final settlement. Despite her ex’s assurance that they’d live off of his retirement income, he ended up with half of her retirement fund when they split. She now receives some monthly income from his retirement as well, and to protect herself in case of his death, she is the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. She has to trust that he will continue paying the premiums every year, and annually has to chase him down to make sure he’s doing so.
Patricia always wanted to be fair, but in hindsight she doesn’t believe this approach served her well. Guilt and uncertainty led her to concede terms that have had long-lasting consequences. She believes that many women never recover financially from a divorce so it’s important to plan ahead. These are her main points of advice for women going through similar situations: