Friday, January 22, 2010

You just can't spare your dime, honey by Susan Ager, Detroit Free Press

Susan Ager is a writer and author who used to pen for the Free Press. She has since left the paper but when she was writing for the Free Press hers was the column I would go to first. I liked her writing style, her way of making her point. (You can find her published work, At Heart, here on Amazon.)

As I was shuffling through a desk drawer looking for a nice envelope in which to insert my resume, I decided to go through an old leather wallet that I used a while ago. Inside this wallet I found a column of Susan's that I felt strongly about, strong enough to cut it out and save it for my daughters.

I'd like to share it here with you. Granted, we now have cell phones and the dime reference doesn't quite flow into today's world with the same recognition, but the meaning of that dime is still relevant.

First let me tell you why I think the subject of this column resonates so strongly with me. I was raised by an alcoholic father. Whereas he was a good financial provider (never missed a day of work until he fractured his neck when I was about 15), he was verbally abusive while he was drinking. Among other insults, he was of the opinion that girls didn't need to go on to college because they were just going to go off and get married anyway.

I was admittedly the black sheep of my family. A strong sense of justice developed in me at a very early age (which I think played a significant role in me being atheist) which caused me the reputation of being stubborn. I remember going to Eisenhower High in the summer before 10th grade to register for classes. At that time the process took place in the gym. Each class offering had a table set up and after you figured out your schedule you would go to the proper table and obtain a computer card (just the beginning of the computer age!) for that particular class. When you had all your computer cards, you turned them in and you were done. I remember wanting to take wood shop so I approached the table to get the wood shop computer card and was told that I couldn't take wood shop until all the boys had signed up for their classes and if there were any spaces left I could then take the class. Can you imagine??!! I knew it wasn't right.

Here is the column in it's entirety. Thank you to Susan Ager for the permission to republish it here in my blog.

You just can't spare your dime, honey

I used to think I could spend my life most honorably if I worked for Planned Parenthood, teaching young women how to use contraceptives to control their destinies.
Now I fear that a bigger lesson, one we've talked about since the '70s, still isn't sinking in: you gotta be able to take care of yourself. Or you risk becoming a prisoner.
In a good world, no woman would stay in a bad situation because she's desperate for someone else's money.
Older women know the value of financial independence. But as a nation we still delude the young. All around us live women weary, bruised and trapped, because someone they counted on turned on them, or left, or died, and they can't make a living wage on their own.

What's Tina got to do with it?

The other day I saw the Tina Turner movie, "What's Love Got to Do With It." Tina's husband beat and insulted her for years, denying her access to the bushels of money they made together. Finally she broke free and is now a rich Hollywood heroine, a role model.
And able to say, as she told an interviewer: "I'm not asking any man for money and I never will again."
What powerful words. I thought about battered women and women in dead-end jobs with degrading bosses and women who drive themselves crazy hounding, chasing, cursing, and suing men for child-support money. And I thought: "Oh, that those women could sing and strut like Tina. Or do something the world would pay them well for. So they could be free."
Tina's words aren't about men. They're about women, and the too many women who still grow up believing there'll always be someone to lean on.
First, parents provide. Then, a prince rides up with a promise. In exchange for love and money, a woman provides children, dinner, clean folded laundry and emotional support. Oh, and these days she works outside her home, too, but often for a flimsy paycheck, no security and no future.
A neat contract, everybody happy. But we all know what can go wrong.

Ten cents worth of advice

When I was a teenager, my mother handed me a dime before every date and said, "Call if you need help." That dime was my way out. I knew if he got drunk or rude, I always had my dime. It gave me confidence.
Our daughters need skills that serve as that dime did. Hard-world skills that will earn them more money than a Dairy Queen server makes.
Yet the messages the media aim at girls - especially those of whom we expect the least -are intended mostly to help them win men: how to dress, flirt, and freshen their lipstick. Useless when the rent is due, the fridge is empty and the kid needs shoes.
We must talk with girls about money more than marriage. We must promote independence more than romance. Maybe we should publish a glossy, pretty magazine called "Modern Careers" that can compete with "Modern Bride."
And when we get wind of a girl who wants to quit school to marry or have a child, we can't smile as if we're happy for her. We have to tell the truth: "You can't afford this choice. Because you can't take care of yourself, or your child. You can't dare remain so vulnerable.
"You don't think so now, but someday you may want to escape. And so far, you have no dime."