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."


Becky said...

Thanks for posting this column. It was very refreshing to read. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin during the 70s (I went to grade school and high school with Richard!) in a very liberal environment. Both my parents were academics, and it was absolutely expected that I would have an interesting, fulfilling career. I planned to move to New York to work as an editor in book publishing. I remember when I told my mother that I needed to work on my typing speed so I could become an assistant first, she literally threw the pot she was holding across the room. "You will NOT be a secretary," she yelled. Yes, she could be a little over the top.

But now I live in the suburbs of New Jersey, and I don't recognize a lot of the women. Nobody seems to want to talk about anything except their children. Is it our conservative times? Why do so few women have a passion of their own, outside of their children?

Karen Ethier said...

Thanks for the comment, Becky. Yes, it's very important to stress the fulfillment we get in pursuing personal passions. There is no substitute. It is what makes us feel vital.

Gwenevere said...

My husband is the deputy prosecutor responsible for trying domestic violence cases. At least once a week he comes home frustrated because he lost another case because the victim either lies on the stand to protect her batterer or won't testify at all.

Why does this happen? Is it because women are weak or compassionate? I tell to try my husband that I think that many women have this flaw...even me, I don't care if the toys are picked up around the house every night but because I know he does, I make sure it gets done. Does that make me weak? Some will say yes, but I didn't get married or have kids to have my way all the time. I did it because I love someone. I'm lucky I had the good sense to find someone who wouldn't take advantage of my desire to please others.

And to it really a problem that some women have no passions outside their children? Just because you cannot fathom happiness in such a state doesn't mean it is impossible for others.

LustingWanderluster said...

Gwenevere, thank you for the thoughtful comment.
Having compassion is not a flaw and I don't think it is related to why women want to protect their abusers. I think it is much deeper than that. Women who are in abusive relationships have no self-esteem. Putting up with abuse because of low self-esteem is different than a person showing compassion for their abusers.
The whole point of Ms. Ager's article is to stress the importance of raising our daughters so that they have a high self-esteem and know that they can walk away from questionable circumstances and undesirable people.
As far as Becky's comment about life outside children, this is an area where each one of us decides for ourselves and we each have the right to feel good about our decision. But, as a mother of 3 daughters, I will say that I agree with the meaning of her statement that for a mother to have a passion of her own, whether it be baking, pottery, books, sailing, or whatever, sets a great example for her children - not just daughters, but sons as well. The more we show them that we are individuals with our own personal interests and not only 'wife,' and 'mother,' (notice I did not say 'just') the more we teach our children what self-respect looks like. And that is the best example and role model we can set.