It’s hard to find the words.
Over the weekend, it struck me that, when we came together some years ago to start working on the Ellevest concept and mission — “to get more money in the hands of women” — it all felt pretty optimistic. We would build on the strides to equality that women had made by helping them build wealth.
Now it feels deadly serious.
Money — and money inequities — are inextricable from the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade.
In fact, we wrote an entire article on all the economic ways restrictions on reproductive rights affect people, companies, and our broader economy. Like how denying people abortion access can keep them in poverty. Or that lifting state-level abortion restrictions could mean a 9.1% increase in private-sector earnings nationwide. Or that reproductive health restrictions cost state and local economies an estimated $105 billion a year.
But this research is not new, and clearly it hasn’t been enough to make a difference. Perhaps because the negative economic impact is shouldered by the people affected by the ruling (particularly those who are economically disadvantaged), and less so by the people making the ruling.
The thing is, wealth is a key contributor to political outcomes, and women have less of it.
A clear path forward is for us to vote for / donate to / buy from people who represent us, are representative of us, and represent our interests.
The state of play right now, which I keep circling back to, is something a friend of mine said when we talked about the fact that women direct 85% of consumer household spending: “We give men our money and then beg them to give it back to us [by promoting us, or funding our businesses, or contributing to our non-profits]. Which they often don’t.”
We could extend this to: “We vote men into office and then beg them to protect our human rights. Which they haven’t.”
As we all excavate history to find the places where society collectively stumbled, we’re led to recognize that, as acknowledged by Gloria Steinem, feminism has focused on equal pay, but not as much on equal wealth: “I think money in the form of a salaried job, ‘a room of one's own,’ and independence has been superemphasized by the women’s movement. The accumulation of wealth has been less emphasized, perhaps because a lot of feminists came out of the left, as I and others did.” (Italics added by me.)
She even acknowledged that gender norms have been employed as a powerful weapon against women in this fight: “… because one of the ways that women are kept poor is to tell them that money and power are unfeminine.”
It’s perhaps not coincidental that, as the gender wealth gap has been widening, this has given women and other people who can give birth less of a financial cushion from which to make political contributions. Note that:
Gender norms around money mean that women tend to do the household budgeting and spending (thus directing that 85% of consumer spending), but don’t drive the bigger money decisions to the same degree.
Women contribute ~$1 for every $2 in political donations that men make in state legislative campaigns.
Women politicians raise less money — because of that donation gap, but also because gender norms around money hurt their ability to fundraise: “Simply put, parts of American society are still uneasy with a female candidate soliciting money for a campaign.”
Black, Latina, Indigenous, Middle Eastern and North African, and Asian and Pacific Islander women candidates receive half as much in donations as white women, even from women funders.
At the same time, of course, gobs of money have been contributed to political candidates who are anti-reproductive rights, with an estimated $1.1 billion spent to overturn Roe v. Wade. This includes money from some corporations (and leaders of those corporations) that are household names.
The bottom line, then, is that we spent our money with these businesses, and they turned around and spent that money to restrict our human rights.
And is it a coincidence that the vast majority of these companies have cis male CEOs?
I don’t think so.
(And is it a coincidence that I am no longer an AT&T customer, based on this list? No. No, it is not.)
So what do we do now?
Don’t get me wrong: I know that voting … again … and supporting key candidates will be important for this year’s midterm elections, especially in states where reproductive rights are restricted. But at this point, it’s obvious that voting is like playing defense. In order to make progress, we must — and can — do more.
We must wield, direct, and grow our collective financial power. This is one way to carry on the fight long after the news cycle ends — which, truth be told, is when the real fight begins.
Here are just a few ideas, to start:
We should donate what we can (money, time, energy) to organizations doing the hard work, led by people who have been doing that work this whole time. This includes both 501(c)(3) orgs and mutual aid efforts. It includes abortion funds. It includes local clinics. And it includes challenging ourselves, if we are in a position of privilege, to resist the urge to simply check “donate” off our to-do lists and tell ourselves we did our part.
To whatever extent we can, we should no longer spend our money with companies that don’t align with our values. (All together, it seems like we could bankrupt them pretty quickly.)
We should instead spend our money at companies run by underrepresented or economically disadvantaged business owners. (Imagine that world; the ripple effect would be tremendous.) Ellevest has several community-built directories; we can focus our shopping in states affected by this ruling.
We should use one of our strengths: that women and other people who can give birth make up more than half the workforce. Let’s engage with employers to provide people with benefits that support people seeking abortion access where our government has fallen short. Ellevest does; expect more on this (and how you can advocate to your own employer) soon.
Work to build your own wealth. And encourage your friends to do the same. Whether with Ellevest or not. The important thing is that you do it.
More to come. But it’s clear we need a different approach, and that approach will, almost certainly to some extent, involve tapping into the power of money.
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