This post is part of the #WomenRockMoney Movement, a group of female personal finance bloggers who have come together to inspire more women to own their finances. Thanks to Chelsea for putting together this collaboration and the amazing homepage for the movement!
As part of International Women’s Day, we’ve partnered with other personal finance bloggers under the hashtag #WomenRockMoney. Our task was to:
“Write your one most important piece of advice you wish all women know. This is your ‘shout from the mountaintops,’ inspirational speech for women. It can be something you wish you knew when you were younger, something you’ve learned from experience, or something you are still working on mastering today.”
This is an overwhelming question. We started this blog because we’re a bottomless pit of unsolicited opinions! How the hell are we supposed to boil it all down into one single piece of solicited advice?
But all right, all right. There is one piece of advice that ticks all of those boxes. It’s our shout-from-the-mountaintops, inspirational speech for women—and men! It’s something we wish we knew when we were younger. It’s something we’ve learned from experience. And it’s something we’re still working on mastering today.
Conveniently, this advice fits neatly into a single word:
The problem I don’t want
I did not create the problems that women face today. They existed for several millennia before I was born; I am confident that all of them will remain in place after my death. On the spectrum of suffering, I look to my left and right and see billions on either side. I’m tired of dealing with these problems. I don’t want them.
I wasn’t especially thinking about these facts on the day that I snapped. In fact, I wasn’t thinking about anything at all. I was just enjoying a general sense of contentedness and joy. It was a warm summer day and I was riding my bright yellow Vespa through the streets of the city where I lived. My career was taking off. I don’t think I was engaged yet, but I would be soon. I felt especially free and alive, like the whole world was mine.
I was idling at a red light, slapping my sandals against the pavement in tune with a song in my head.
That’s what a man on the sidewalk shouted at me. Beautiful legs.
Really, it’s funny that it was such an innocuous comment. If a friend had said it to me, I would’ve thanked them. If my boyfriend had said it to me, I would’ve fallen in his lap and kissed him. It was so mild compared to things I’d heard before. Like “Get raped, you ugly dyke cunt.” A high school classmate flung that one at me, after I told school administrators he’d followed me into a girl’s bathroom and tried to climb inside the stall with me.
Even milder, compared to things that had been done to me. Beautiful legs. Sisters, like many of you, I have been raped in my lifetime. If I could edit rape out of my life, and replace that lost time with a man on a loop shouting “beautiful legs, beautiful legs,” trust that I would.
But despite all of this, it was the beautiful legs line that did it. Without knowing it, I’d been walking alongside a precipice—and beautiful legs shoved me right off.
Let’s talk about my beautiful legs
“How dare you?!” I snarled at Beautiful Legs Man. He stopped mid-stride, and his eyes jumped up from my body to the face he couldn’t quite see behind my motorcycle helmet.
“Geez, calm down, learn to take a compliment,” he sputtered. I had drawn him up short. He sounded surprised, resentful, a bit embarrassed. That was a good start. But I wasn’t done.
I’m not even sure exactly what came out of my mouth next. It was a long red light, and Piggy will attest that I have amazing powers of vocal projection. All I remember is that I raved at him like an unchained Titan. I roared phrases like rape culture at him, and I didn’t care if my arguments made any sense. I wanted to give him the experience of a child touching a hot stove. I pressed him against the words beautiful legs until he sizzled.
The essence of my mad-gender-studies-professor-cum-harpy raving was basically this: why can’t I just move through the world without you putting me in my place? Why is it that every time I walk down the street, you feel that your primacy is threatened? Isn’t that why you constantly remind me that you want to violate my body? Don’t you understand that I am alive?
To those recoiling in horror, those whose first impulse is to demand, “So I guess I can’t compliment a woman anymore?” allow me to clarify. Beautiful legs was but the freshest snowflake in an avalanche. While on its own it seems harmless, taken together with every other indication that women’s bodies are up for public commentary and consumption, it contributes to that avalanche that just fucking buries women as they navigate the paths of life.
I know I ended it with a hearty “GET FUCKED” that was 120% more guttural and ferocious than anything I’d ever heard myself say aloud. I remember that part!
Why was that the moment I let my real feelings come out? It could be because I felt so powerful in the immediate moment before it happened. Everything felt so right in my life, like the square foot of world I occupied was finally mine. Then this random man tried to grab me with his words and force me down into the gutter by involving me with his pathetic boner.
My husband’s interpretation was more straightforward. “I remember that day,” he said, just now, when I told him what I was writing about. “I think you reacted the way you did because you were on a motorcycle, and he was just some asshole on the sidewalk. You had the ability to either run away from him or flick your wrist and run him over.”
Moving through the world
Within a few weeks of that incident, George Zimmerman had just been acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges against Trayvon Martin. Martin was a black teenager, shot by Zimmerman for walking through his own neighborhood.
I think I was reading a think piece written in response to the acquittal by a black journalist. I don’t remember exactly who it was or exactly what it said. But the essence of the essay was basically this: why can’t I just move through the world without you putting me in my place? Why is it that every time I walk down the street, you feel that your primacy is threatened? Isn’t that why you constantly remind me that you want to violate my body? Don’t you understand that I am alive?
It felt like someone had drawn a thick dotted line between two thoughts I’d never connected before. And those lines pinged off each other, spinning into new areas of my brain.
I was fucking frustrated with men. I wanted them to work against their cultural conditioning. Collectively, they are the source of women’s problems, so why can’t they individually take ownership of the role they play as oppressors? But I was utterly unwilling to work against my own cultural conditioning. I was still completely fine with leaving “black problems” in the “black community.” I was willing to ask for other people to help me, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to help them.
I am a part of this problem.
I am somebody else’s sidewalk asshole.
“Piggy, I’m going to do a short article this time.” Add this to my long list of lies, and pictures of also-lies! (Piggy Edit: Every time she says this I get ready to sip some smug-ass tea and set aside a full hour to edit the article in question.)
All of this brings me to my one-word piece of advice for women and men on International Women’s Day.
During a time when the world feels so polarized, the middle and the sidelines both become tempting. Can’t we just stop fighting? Can’t we just listen to each other? The answer to the latter is “yes, absolutely.” The answer to the former is “absolutely not.”
I wish I could take my younger self by the shoulders and shake her. I want to tell her that if she wants anything done, she must start doing for others.
If you want men to believe women when they come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault, you have to believe people of color when they come forward with stories of brutality and profiling. Just as individual men don’t feel responsible for the collective misdeeds of their gender, individual white people don’t feel responsible for the collective misdeeds of white people. Follow that thought to its conclusion. Oppressed people, by definition, lack the power needed stop their own oppression. So no, it ain’t your fault—but yes, you must make it your problem. Stop contributing to a culture where people’s lives are open for debate.
If you want your bodily autonomy and lived experiences respected, respect the bodily autonomy and lived experiences of trans people, queer people, asexual people, and polyamorous people. You don’t have to get it. Just close your mouth, nod your head, and defend their dignity as ferociously as you would your own.
If you went to a Women’s March, but you haven’t been to a rally supporting immigrants, or Black Lives Matter, or teachers’ unions, take a good look in the mirror. You are someone who shows up for herself. Do you only take issue with the status quo when it’s inconveniencing you personally?
If you pride yourself on being the cool girl who can handle unwanted attention, and doesn’t mind ribald comments and jokes, congratulations on your enabling. The cost of your coolness is paid by others.
If you want sexist jokes and crude observations around the workplace to stop, but you still lol when your coworker makes fun of the Indian IT guy’s name, you are a hypocrite. I know, I know. “Ashish” kinda sounds like “hashish.” How original are you? I bet he’s never heard that one before.
If you do more household chores than your partner because “you’re just better at it,” know that you have done him no favors. Learned domestic helplessness is a facet of toxic masculinity. A man who believes women have special, superior laundry abilities likely also believes that they are superior note-takers in meetings. He is also a man who feels undeserved shame and self-hatred when he loses his job or his erection.
If you want successful people to mentor you, but you don’t make time to mentor anyone yourself, what are you waiting for? You don’t have to be old, rich, powerful, or all-knowing to be in a position to take someone under your wing.
If you pride yourself on being “above politics,” go ahead and replace that pride with shame. Children are being murdered in their schools. Tell me again how the word “feminist” is too strong for you.
Do I sound angry?
I’m angry at myself.
I’m angry that it took so many years of my life to get to the point where I was comfortable with being an angry woman.
I’m angry that I squandered so many opportunities to set a a good example, or be a Sara Crewe-level hero to someone who needed one. My entire life’s work might have been different.
Here at Bitches Get Riches, we are sometimes lucky enough to get feedback from readers we helped. Someone will send us an email or a private message that says, “You inspired me to ask for a raise, and I got it.” Nothing could’ve prepared us for how good and how right that feels.
I don’t always enjoy the work that goes into activism. I probably spend at least twenty hours a week on BGR-related tasks. The research that goes into our posts is full of frustrations and bummers. I’m pretty sure I would be happier, richer, and better-rested if I spent that time playing Stardew Valley.
But when I know that the result of that work is a happier, easier, more stable, more dignified life for our readers, I get a thrill far beyond happiness. It fills me with a sense of purpose and belonging. Like I own so much more than just the square foot of world I occupy.
This is the fruit of radicalization. You cannot reject the status quo if you’re unwilling to actually put in the work of dismantling it yourself. The work fucking sucks. It’s as glamorous as cleaning raw sewage off a marble floor. But it also fills you with the most elusive and uplifting feelings the world has to offer.
And that’s what I wish all women—and men—knew: the overwhelming joy of being radical.
I resemble that remark
Male readers of Bitches Get Riches: I love you with six extra pepper-grinds of ardency. Only the non-defensive, the powerful, the positive, the empathetic, and the proactive are here with us. Y’all are seriously the fucking greatest. Know that you are not only welcome here, but beloved and essential.
I’m going to throw a special resource at you: check out MARC (Men Advocating Real Change). It’s a safe and supportive space for men who recognize their privilege, and want to use it to participate in creative thoughtful, meaningful changes in this often unfair world.
They have a fantastic list of practical things men can do, and some of them are really easy, such as using your flex benefits at work. Something this simple (and beneficial to you) can ripple out into the broader culture and help destigmatize and dismantle some of the systemic roadblocks that others face. It’s also a great way to network with like-minded men, and help you start difficult conversations in the workplace.
And for the ladies, you have your work cut out for you too. If we have failed to thoroughly inspire you, clock the other amazing #WomenRockMoney entries. I’m astounded by the wealth of knowledge and richness of wisdom available to all of us. And tell us what you’ve found in the comments below.