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Why Men Can’t Handle Money (Part 2)

Right before I clicked the red “Publish” button on the Brainstorm website before posting the previous piece, I Googled the phrase “why men can’t handle money” to see what other articles would come up under that heading. I’m wary of throwing a piece of writing into the virtual pot that looks exactly like 17,478 other pieces floating around, and so I like to check. I figured there would be a lot of material on the subject, given the current sense of not-so-free-floating-panic, and so I was prepared to change my heading before clicking that familiar button.

Imagine my surprise and childish sense of secret-heart delight when the search itself seemed to prove my point even as it appeared to anticipate the arguments that others would make against it.

Some of the top references that came up were these:

AskMen.com – Can Women Handle Money?
Let’s face it: chicks can’t handle money
Help! My wife can’t handle money –
Why can’t money and women get along?

Hmmm.

Let’s recap: I entered the phrase “why MEN can’t handle money” and was sent instantly to sites dealing with how WOMEN can’t handle money?

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny (as Larry The Cable Guy has taught us all to say). And some people thought my rant was sexist? Was exaggerated? Was unfair to men?

HA!

See, that’s the great thing about checking in with reality: Reality proves that, however much you might think you’re exaggerating, you probably aren’t even getting close to what’s actually going on — and that’s why life is great.

Life isn’t easy, but it is great because it is more ridiculous than we dare imagine.

OK, back to the topic of why, since — as we’ve established — men can’t handle money, they’ve traditionally been the ones to be given the responsibility, privilege, burden, and fun of playing with (and for) dollars.

In fact, I have a bunch of books in my basement (refer to my piece on the sorting system for library if you want a sense of how I regard these works) about women and money management, most of which were published in the early to mid 1990s.

These books pretty much have one message: by investing more heavily and trading more often, a woman will stumble on her long-buried self-confidence. As a result, she will find herself suddenly and profoundly elated by a sense of her own strength.

She will become the huntress, the goddess Diana, bow and arrow transformed into portfolio and checkbook. She will also experience, through her monetary success, more of a change than she experienced with her loss of virginity, childbirth, or menopause.

Fear and self-doubt will disappear. In their place will grow a sense of savoir-faire and the ability to confront challenges head-on. No longer will she be eclipsed by the shadow of patriarchal oppression but will rise, formidable and triumphant, to accept every challenge.

Excellent advice overall — certainly we should throw off whatever fetters of tyranny bind us. But whether this can be accomplished by imitating male patterns of handling money is iffy at best. The argument behind most of these “how-to” books plays off the idea that women should change their behavior through glamorous and adventurous risk-taking.

Change can be good — but there are all too many pitfalls: Consider the principle that dictates that the other line will always appear to move faster than the one you’re on. If you switch lines however, you suddenly realize that the person directly in front of you is paying his bills by using coins from an obscure foreign country. Wrong change.

We’ve all been hearing — out of Davos, but also in local coffee shops — about the possibility that men are often drawn to investing because of the way “winning” relates to their conceptions of conquest and status. Apparently it helps their self-esteem.

And — ooops! — wrecks the world economy.

We still (as a culture, if not individually) consider the financial realm a masculine realm and so suggest that women learn to do what has always been done — i.e.: follow the masculine curve of risk-taking and adventurous behavior when investing in the market. Perhaps, as UC Davis researchers hinted, it is the paradigm itself that should be questioned — the comparison of women’s preferences to men’s preferences, with male preferences acting as the assumed universal. Flip things around and consider this: If men, historically and traditionally, had been more cautious than women in their investment strategies, would we always have been suggesting that women invest less heavily in order to repeat the masculine pattern of achievement?

The prevailing orthodoxy insists that to be a savvy investor, a woman must possess a set of defining attributes identical to the ones owned by her male counterpart. The commodification of success assumes that she, too, will be zealous, driven and dominant — an alpha female among alpha females. While nerves of spiked platinum, an air of suffocating smugness, and a whiff of arrogance are still considered (unaccountably) bonuses for men, it is the rare woman who wants to be labeled the Female Gordon Gekko.

Perhaps it is true that men see money as a way of keeping score; they want to hit a home run and watch the ball go out of the park. Perhaps women see investment earnings as less of a sport and more as, well, money — as a way of keeping solvent and secure. They want to earn as much as they can and buy a home as far away from the ballpark as possible.

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