The other day I got a postcard. It was from a chapter of a Jewish women’s organization I fleetingly belonged to, located in another time zone. The postcard was unusual in that it was requesting donations of clothes, rather than the usual appeal for cash. But the fact that it showed up in my mailbox was not.
This organization, whose philosophy and goals I entirely agree with, has been regularly asking me for money for about six years. The fact that I have never made a donation, except for when I initially joined, does not deter them. Nor does the fact that I have moved about five times since then. More consistently than reminder cards from the dentist or perky updates from my Alma Mater, these donation-seeking letters have followed me everywhere.
And every time I get one of them, or one of the letters or emails from all the other Jewish organizations whose missions I also thoroughly want to succeed but cannot afford to subsidize, I remember that as long as I have no money to give, most Jewish non-profits will find me perfectly useless.
Perhaps it serves me right for signing up for all of those email lists, or for buying a few trees, or for joining that organization years ago. I don’t usually join things. But at the time I’d just moved to a new city where I didn’t know a soul, so I decided I’d do it the acceptable way for once. I’d volunteer my time for a cause I believed in, and I’d try to make friends.
So I sent the organization $50, I think — more than I could spare, but I figured it was a worthwhile investment. The organization turned out to offer neither volunteering nor friend-making opportunities. All the members clearly knew each other already, and the events, many held in private homes, were organized in groups. You didn’t go stuff envelopes and get to know strangers; you reserved a table (with all your friends) at a benefit dinner. I never went to any of them.
The debate over birth control has made many of us think about how much money we as women spend on our reproductive health care — between birth control pill co-pays, visits to the gynecologist, cancer screenings, and all the necessary pre-natal care. Because of issues attendant with our fertility and reproduction, insurance companies have regularly charged women more — a practice that’s supposed to end under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (but won’t, if it gets repealed).
Bryce Covert has been blogging about women and economics over at the Nation, and she breaks down the numbers here:
She writes: “A new report out this week from the National Women’s Law Center found that insurance companies have been charging women $1 billion more than men for the same coverage. In fact, in the states that haven’t banned the practice of jacking up prices for women — known as gender rating — women were charged more for 92 percent of the best-selling health plans. The difference can’t be explained by a higher cost of maternity care:…Why might insurers decide women are more expensive? Because they tend to use more services — like going to the doctor more often for regular check ups.”
It never ceases to surprise me when I meet other women, most of them women who have or have had professional careers, who let their husbands take care of every detail of their family’s financial life.
I guess feeling compelled to have control (and share decision-making with my husband) over my and my family’s financial life is rooted in my mother’s experience. When she and my father split up after more than 20 years of marriage, I saw that she had to unlearn a lifetime of messages about what it meant to be a woman in order to feel empowered to take care of herself, financially speaking.
It turns out that that model of what it means to be a “wife” hasn’t changed, or perhaps hasn’t changed enough. Because when they leave college and set out on their own, young Jewish women are often not able to manage their own financial lives, according to Deborah Rosenbloom, director of programs at Jewish Women International.
I have a particularly vivid memories of visiting New York City as a small child. We’d take a bus, my mother and grandmother and I, early in the morning, from Western Massachusetts, where we lived. We took this trip every year from third grade until high school, planning our consumer attacks on Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s to buy school clothes. We’d eat dinner in the basement of Macy’s, where it was dim, bustling and smelled like coffee. Then we’d pile our shopping bags onto the bus for a long, cramped ride home.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I learned that some people thought that all Jews were rich. In my world, they weren’t. Growing up, it had been painfully obvious to me that some Jewish communities had money, and my mother wanted to associate with people in those communities. If we didn’t actually have money, we at least had to appear to have it.
American Jews have built identity around the idea of making it, to the degree, I believe, that we push those who have not achieved academically and financially, to the margins. But money remains a source of deep shame for me, my lack of it growing up, a still-fresh wound. Because of this, I keep it close.