Women must be financially independent to thrive


He who has the gold makes the rules.

–Anonymous (who was she?)

You cannot choose to be financially dependent on a man and also call yourself a feminist.

The past decade has been a hotbed of debating the merits of the stay-at-home mom, how to achieve work-life balance and create workplaces that embrace family. The most recent brouhaha was New York magazine's article The Retro Wife: Feminists who say they're having it all — by choosing to stay at home. Writes the author:

American women are better educated than they’ve ever been, better educated now than men, but they get distracted during their prime earning years by the urge to procreate. As they mature, they earn less than men and are granted fewer responsibilities at work. Fifty years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, women represent only a tiny fraction of corporate and government leaders, and they still earn only 77 cents on the male dollar.

I personally have experienced both sides of this equation: I've always identified as a feminist, and always been driven to succeed professionally. For the short time I was a married mom, I scaled back my work to very parttime and was with my daughter and caring for our home the rest of the time. I was stunned to find that I possess the stereotypical female urge to nurture the home and devote the best parts of myself to my family. I still cherish memories of my long — if exhausting — days spent with my newborn daughter, delighting even in changing poopy pants, babyfood making and cooking my husband dinner every night. But as I've written here, I am so grateful that I did not abandon my career completely. What this New York article does not explore, and the SAHM arguments rarely address, are the real and scary financial vulnerabilities involved with the decision to be a SAHM.

Feminism aims to empower women. Money is always power. That is why economic equality for the sexes has always been at the center of feminist initiatives. By definition, financial independence is at the core of feminism. When you chose to toss away your career, you put your whole family in financial jeopardy, and you rob yourself of your full potential by becoming dependent on a man. By choice. It is impossible to call yourself a feminist and consciously hand over your financial power to another person.

Each and every tenet of the feminist revolution can be boiled down to aim of  financial independence for women:

The vote: If women can't vote for laws that protect their financial interests, women remain chattel in marriage and society.

Equal access to education: We're not talking finishing school! Women haveSexist-ads-from-the-1950-s-feminism fought for Title 9 and access to all levels of primary and higher education so you can gain the skills necessary to have a career, earn money, support yourself and be empowered to make choices on your own behalf.

Equal pay for equal work: Duh.

Sexual assault and domestic violence legal reform: If you do not have your own money it is very hard to muster the confidence to report crime, finance the exit an abusive relationship, or be a plaintiff in a legal case.

Family law reform: No fault divorce set the ball rolling to ensure that the lesser-earning spouse (a.k.a. the wife) is financially protected, and children are financially provided for.

Abortion: Granting women power over their reproductive choices gives them financial power since they are not forced to provide for unwanted children.

Let's quickly address anomalous scenarios that would be immune from this rule: Women who live in oppressive communities (developing countries, mainly), medical conditions which render an adult woman dependent on male relatives, and of course gay women, to whom I say you cannot be dependent on a female partner and also be a feminist. (If you are a lesbian and not a feminist, please email me stat because I want to interview your freaky ass.)

1950s-housewifeEach day I try to give thanks for the feminists that came before me: Suffragists who understood that voting power equals financial power equals gender equality. Second-wave feminists in the 60s and 70s who paved the way for my assumption that a) I would go to college, and b) I could do any career I wanted and be expected to be paid as much as my male colleagues.

In this exercise I find myself being thankful for things in my life that I had no control over — mainly that a family tragedy and ensuing divorce forced me to return to fulltime work and be financially responsible for my family. It is only now in this role as financial provider and mother that I have found all the fruits of the activism and work of my feminist foremothers. It is only now that I am realizing my creative, professional and financial potential.  Looking back, I see how the fact that I earned less in my career created a subtle power shift in my relationship — my husband earned more, and so his career was a priority. With this, it meant that he should invest more time and financial resources in building that career. It also meant that our life plans — relocating, investments, home purchases — hinged on that career.

My earning power and career were secondary. By default, I became secondary in some regards.

My life today is an expression of the benefits of a formal education, equal access to professional opportunity and pay. My children and I are protected by divorce laws that made that transition of our lives easier, and I enjoy the safety and freedom to live as a sexual woman for whom the law affords me protections and choices.

It is only now that my am truly proud that my children can be raised by a person who is living the fullest, richest version of herself — which is exactly what feminism set out to help me do.

Are you following my 10-year marriage contract project? Ryan Seacrest, Woman’s Day, CafeMom and Huffington Post are all over it:

emma johnson family
Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list. Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Heather Cook (@msheathercook) on May 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I strongly disagree with the title of this article. Choosing to be financially dependent for a time, does not mean forever. Your statement “Feminism aims to empower women. Money is always power.” simply means it’s what you chooses to believe is power, and if you need something outside of yourself (like money) to validate your power, then that’s your choice.

    When you say “My earning power and career were secondary. By default, I became secondary in some regards.” it is only that YOU are putting yourself secondary … I bet your kids didn’t see you as secondary at all. I wouldn’t see you as secondary.

    I LOVE my career, I do not love it for it’s earning power. In fact, it pays less than many other careers that would give me less ‘dependence’ on my husband.

    How can you tell me that I’m not a feminist simply because I choose to do what I love?

    I want my daughter to grow up knowing that she can choose to do what she loves and be happy … she may make less money but it’s not money that empowers us, it’s loving our life and choosing to maybe even make do with less while knowing that it’s not THINGS that empower us …

    Oh, I’m an EMT … Not that it matters, but I feel it’s a very worthy although underpaid job … and I will still do it as long as I can, regardless of the income. I won’t teach my kids to make as much money as they can … I will teach them to choose a career they love.

    My daughter, who knows what wave of feminist she will be, already wants to be a paleontologist … she’ll be a very empowered, starving student for a while ;)

    • frau_wyler on May 25, 2013 at 6:56 am

      I agree with Heather. There are plenty of women out there with high powered, high paying careers but they do not make any decisions in their homes and play a subservient role in their relationships. Are they feminists?

      There are women who have neglectful, irresponsible husbands and are forced to make all the decisions and pay all the bills yet still put up with their lazy infantile spouses. Are they feminists?

      Then there are stay at home moms and wives who control the family finances (though not being the earners) and help their husbands make decisions in the home. Are they not eligible to be called feminists simply because they do not have careers outside the home?

      • frau_wyler on May 25, 2013 at 6:58 am

        I believe feminism is about the power to choose what we want to do with our lives.

        • Emma on May 26, 2013 at 4:50 pm

          Again: You don’t HAVE choices if you don’t have money. Choose to give away your financial independence, choose to give up some choices. Period.

  2. Emma on May 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Heather – I appreciate the arguement that taking time off from career does not mean forever, but all research suggests that when women step completely off the career path, it is nearly impossible for them to recup earnings over a lifetime. Fact.

    No one says that money is the only source of power. Or that maximum earnings should be every person’s goal. But money affects every facet of our lives, and choosing to rid ourselves of independence is incongruous with feminism.

    The thing is this — the issues and choices are not black and white. You have a career, but maybe not one that supports your current lifestyle. If something should happen to your husband or marriage, you likely could support yourself and your kids – but at a lower standard of living.

    As for doing what you love and being happy, I wonder if you would feel so passionately about your career if it meant that you were constantly stressed about finances, or saw your children less because you had to work so many hours as an EMT to make ends meet. You are fortunate to have the luxury of choice here — choice that feminists worked hard to help you afford.

  3. Heather Cook (@msheathercook) on May 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Perhaps if I had chosen to be an EMT earlier in my life (prior to having kids) I would be earning more. BUT, having kids is what taught me about myself and what I value … and being in a marriage to someone who makes more money than me means that I have the ability to start a new career helping to save lives.

    I guarantee you that I am a stronger person, woman, feminist, mother, wife because of the job I have. I have put my hands on someone’s chest to do CPR and helped his heart restart. Of course sometimes it doesn’t help at all because there’s too much damage, but that’s another story for another day ..

    If I needed to be a single mom, I could do it. Being wealthier as a single mom (I’d have to choose a different job, being an EMT will not make me wealthy) might make things easier, but that doesn’t mean they would be better. I’d probably see myself as less of a feminist if I chose to be stuck in a miserable, but better paying, job just to make my life easier.

  4. Emma on May 20, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Heather – all good points and again, no one even hinted that maximum earnings should be anyone’s goal. I have written extensively on this blog about the importance of work-life balance, being personally, creatively fulfilled to be the best parent/spouse and woman. But financial independence, and peace of mind, are part of that.

  5. Sarah on May 20, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I have many friends who chose to be stay at home moms, relying on their husbands financially. When they divorced, they found jobs. They supported themselves and their families – not to the level prior to divorce, but they did it.

    Feminism is literally the social movement that seeks equal rights for women. If you support this, you’re a feminist. Feminism is not complete financial independence. That’s your interpretation, but certainly not a widely accepted interpretation. I personally completely reject the idea that feminism = money = power. Money = power > care/compassion/love/respect is a big reason why this world is so fucked up in my opinion.

    Simply because you are not at this exact moment in time taking advantage of the equal right to work and be financially independent does not mean you’re not a feminist. Many women do not have the skills, education, intelligence or support to become equal earning partners in their marriages – should they condemn their children to a lesser standard of living if they do find a high earning and supportive partner?

    I’m a supporter of gay rights and gay marriage – but by not having sex with women and marrying a man, am I invalidated as a gay rights supporter?

    Your argument is ridiculous.

  6. Heather Cook (@msheathercook) on May 20, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    “I’m a supporter of gay rights and gay marriage – but by not having sex with women and marrying a man, am I invalidated as a gay rights supporter?”


    Emma it seems to me your version of feminism is much more narrow than mine.

    I can be grateful for the actions of previous feminists AND be a feminist, while still not doing exactly what YOU think is feminism.

    Of course being under financial pressure would make life more difficult. It would not, however, change my passion for providing excellent care for my patients. I am able to take fewer hours so I can work around my children’s schedule (for every moment I wish I worked more, there’s a moment I remember why I don’t) but this means I earn less… it has not one whit to do with whether or not I’m a feminist.

  7. Emma on May 20, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    No, the gay rights analogy does not hold here because you are not gay and you will never be gay. A better analogy would be someone who publicly works to empower battered women, then goes home to an abusive relationship. The personal is political. Our individual decisions affect the greater cause.

    Once again – I advocate for all women to strive for financial independence. No where do I suggest that equal earning in a marriage is always achievable or should even the goal. Of course one partner will always earn more than the other, and a family will likely live according to the net sum of both partner’s incomes, one of the many benefits of marriage. But when women do not have financial resources of their own — and that can include professional skills/earning power, her own money in the bank, etc. — it affects her decision making, self esteem and safety.

    There is a difference between saying that money should be the focus of everything and acknowledging that money has a powerful force in every aspect of our lives. Certainly love, care, compassion and respect are all critical, but poverty impedes our ability to focus on these objectives.

    Consider these posts:

    True story: How to squirrel away $5,000 to get out of a horrible marriage http://is.gd/5zTVh1

    Every woman needs $5,000 in her own account – even if it’s a secret http://is.gd/iW19gP

  8. Erica on May 20, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    I have semi-jokingly referred to myself as a feminist who lost her way. But, seriously, I chose to stop working because that was what made sense for my family at the time. I never, ever wanted my career to be the most important thing in my life, or to be how I defined myself. I still don’t. I had many reasons to leave the workplace (can’t really get into it all here though) and only one to stay, I guess… which would have been: I shouldn’t abandon my career completely JUST IN CASE we get divorced so I have something to fall back on. No one ever thinks they are going to get divorced! If they do, it’s probably only when they are days away from filing for it themselves! But, you’re right, hindsight is 20/20 and I think leaving the workplace probably set in motion the destruction of my marriage. BUT I think only because I was married to the completely wrong guy. A better man would have realized we were still equals and that my contributions were as valid as his. And, in fact, that he actually needs to contribute more support to the family than just a paycheck. Money does not equal love. The hilarious part is that me staying home with the kids is what he’d always wanted. I was never really sure until the time came. And then it turned out it was impossible for me to live up to his expectations of what that would look like. I think I was supposed to basically become his slave or something. And “I wasn’t grateful enough for the opportunity to stay home”. Live and learn, I guess. But now I am going back to grad school and I think I will actually end up on a better career track than what I left back in the day. Maybe because I am more motivated because I know it could just be me and only me now and I need to be able to support my family and live the way I want to live. And so I’ll be getting a pre-nup if I get married in the future and I’m back to my maiden name and won’t be changing it again. That feminist enough for you? :)

  9. Emma on May 20, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Erica – sure enough! The beauty of life today is that our paths are often winding, our definitions of ourselves not always clear. There is a lot of reports and I have heard anecdotally how marriages in which the woman works are happier. I have met (aka dated) many men who fell in love with professionally ambitious women, and then when she stayed home with the kids — often with his enthusiastic consent — things started to unravel. He misses the connection with what was his intellectual/professional peer and resents the pressure of being the sole breadwinner. She is frustrated/bored/lonely at home. Every one is resentful and feels unappreciated. But what women rarely speak of is the toll that financial dependence wreaks on both parties and the whole family.

  10. Sarah on May 20, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    You’re back pedalling now – “But when women do not have financial resources of their own — and that can include professional skills/earning power, her own money in the bank, etc. — it affects her decision making, self esteem and safety.”

    Everyone has “earning power” – as I said, my friends who divorced all needed to get jobs, and did.

    So what exactly is your point? That no person should ever rely on another person financially at any point in their life? Not while they’re in school to better themselves, raising children, volunteering/devoting their life to help the impoverished? These are all situations where strong, independent thinking women I know have leaned on their partners. And actually, vice versa too.

    • Morghan on May 21, 2013 at 10:20 am

      Sarah – your friends are extremely lucky. I have many clients that are not so lucky – particularly when they have spent 20 years at home and are in their 50s and faced with finding any sort of job at all.

  11. Emma on May 20, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Sure, we all have earning power. Most people can get a job as a store clerk or cleaning homes. But if you are accustomed to an upper-middle-class lifestyle and have few marketable skills, you are more likely to stay in a relationship that is unhappy or even abusive, defer to the breadwinner in the family in financial matters and otherwise shortsell yourself in the event the marriage does end. Just ask any divorce lawyer or financial professional who works with divorcing women without careers — these women often feel they don’t deserve 50% of assets because they didn’t technically “earn” them, are quick to accept inadequate settlements and otherwise short sell themselves. How did this attitude play out during the marriage?

    Certainly life ebbs and flows and people go through periods of unemployment (by choice or circumstance), childbirth, illness, etc. A thought-out two-year hiatus from employment for grad school is a calculated investment for future security. A two-footed leap off the career path with a “I’ll figure it out later — but only if I need to!” attitude (as was the case with the primary example in the New York magazine article) is silly financial planning, and a conscious decision to place your — and your kids’ — well being solely in the hands of another.

  12. Erica on May 20, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    My ex wishes I was one of those women who didn’t think I deserved a fair settlement!

    .”..a conscious decision to place your — and your kids’ — well being solely in the hands of another.”

    but, see, you chose to marry them! You trusted them enough to have kids with them, etc., why would you not believe you could place your well being in their hands? I’m just saying that when you are in love and cannot even picture a future that doesn’t include your husband (your mind literally cannot even go there), you are not going to be thinking of this decision as “financial planning”. It’s a lifestyle decision for your family. For a family you think will always include your significant other.

  13. Emma on May 20, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Well, this is where we have to step back and reconsider the entire paradigm of marriage (Check out my post A 10-year contract will save marriage http://is.gd/q7IbBR ). We need to stop being so naive about the realities of marriage, the high rate of divorce, and the fact we must be more financially practical about our relationships and marriage. And do you think women had much say in the invention of the current marriage model? NOPE! This idea of the lifelong partnership with a soulmate who is expected to be our EVERYTHING was cooked up a couple hundred years ago — and we’ve since moved past its relevance.

    • Erica on May 20, 2013 at 11:16 pm

      totally agree! I even thought about something similar myself (although I think 10 years is too long! maybe 7-8). As long as we’re dreaming big dreams… I also think something needs to be done about the urge to procreate and the fact that biologically it’s better to do that in your 20’s but maybe better to get married in your 30’s. I swear having kids should be separate from marriage and you should just have a kid with your best opposite sex buddy from college or something and raise them together as friends. Either way, if women weren’t so worried about finding someone by age 30 to have kids with, I think we might make better choices. You’ve said yourself how much better dating is now that baby thing is taken out of the equation.

      But try telling this stuff to someone that hasn’t been divorced before. They literally burst out laughing. I know, I mentioned the marriage contract idea at a party recently… :) How do you sell this idea to all the naive optimistic people out there – like we were 10 years ago! Not to mention all the super-religious ones that can’t bear to think of marriage as a contract.

      In general, I think they at least need to make it more difficult to get married. Require pre-marital therapy on a state/federal level, not just as a religious requirement. And then maybe more therapy during pregnancy so people know what a stress it is to marriage. Basically, I want to pass on all my hard earned life lessons to the younger version of me. Who would then just ignore it and think it doesn’t apply to MY situation. Stupid young me.

      • Emma on May 22, 2013 at 10:00 am

        Erica, Thank you so much for this perspective! Could not agree more, and I plan to write a post on it soon. Stay tuned.
        >>Basically, I want to pass on all my hard earned life lessons to the younger version of me. So funny! Stupid youth.

    • Zabeth on May 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      Honestly, I think a lot of women are unrealistic about the potential pitfalls of being a SAHM/W and leaving the workforce. I see this in a lot in many unmarried women, like myself. It’s great if you can do it and your lifestyle affords it but it can also put you in a very precarious position. Tables can turn very quickly. No one goes into a marriage thinking they’ll one day get divorced; but, it can happen and it can be very ugly. I no longer think it’s wise for a woman to completely withdraw from the workforce to stay at home. Find a way to keep one foot in somehow- volunteer, start a small business, keep in contact with your former colleagues, get a masters degree or new credential. Just don’t leave completely.

      • Karen on June 6, 2013 at 7:25 am


        See my post below–getting credentialed worked against me. The courts decided that since I have a degree that I “should” be able to get a job. Except that now I am overqualified and underqualified at the same time, and can’t get a management or a secretary job. My friends who are SAHM’s are better off financially than I am: the Court recognizes their dilemma so takes care of them financially AND they can start from the bottom and work their way up.

        You should either NOT stop working when you get married OR you should be a real SAHM and fight for your rights during a divorce. A resourceful SAHM can pull herself together and people help because they feel sorry for her. An overqualified divorced woman gets no help or sympathy and it is harder to build a career post-divorce.

  14. Elizabeth on May 20, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Why would you assume that any of the other women commenting her enjoy upper middle class lifestyles or even aspire to such? And while all of these legitimate feminists are out working from the time their kids are small (because according to your premise none of us are capable enough to get back in the workforce if we take some time off) who is looking after the kids? A childcare worker, who is not making an upper middle class salary, or a nanny. Are those women not allowed to call themselves feminists because they’ve chosen a job that doesn’t fit into your definition of where women need to be? To be a feminist we have to rely on other women who are “not living up to their earning potential?” Or is feminism only for (mainly) white women who have college degrees?

    Do you know who shouldn’t be able to call themselves a feminist? Someone who creates narrow definitions and tells other women what their lives need to look like in order to consider themselves happy or empowered.

  15. Emma on May 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    @ Elizabeth – Clarification, in my last comment I used the upper-middle class as an example of how a decision to not be financially independent often keeps women trapped (by their own hand) in situations they might otherwise not choose if they had their own financial means. Feeling financially comfortable can often mean being trapped — no matter what tax bracket a person is in.

    Fact: when women take time off from work, they usually do get back in at a later date, but rarely make up for time lost, and earn far less than if they had stayed in the workforce at least parttime continuously.

    Who said anything about the goal being to live up to one’s earning potential? Not me. I said that only by having financial independence can I live up to my full potential as a woman and mother.

    ONCE AGAIN!!! I do not advocate that maximum earnings should be the sole goal, or money overall be the primary focus in feminism or our individual lives (though if it is, knock yourself out). I am saying that money is a powerful force in finding individual happiness, and financial independence is critical to self-fulfillment as women. If we ignore that, readily hand over our financial independence to a romantic partner, we hand over our freedom and our choices.

  16. Heather Cook (@msheathercook) on May 20, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    I think you spend too much time making concrete statements about other women, without considering the myriad of ways to be a feminist.

    “You cannot choose to be financially dependent on a man and also call yourself a feminist.”

    ” It is impossible to call yourself a feminist and consciously hand over your financial power to another person.”

    The fact that you are defining feminism FOR ME, is not very feminist…

    I can partner with my husband, very successfully, to achieve OUR dreams. I can choose to support his dreams and he can choose to support my dreams. At no point is my freedom or my choice being hampered because I can ALWAYS, ALWAYS choose to leave at any time.

    The fact that I choose to stay and, for a time, be in a position of less income … has nothing to do with my individual happiness. I think you put too much stock in money …I put more stock in the fact that the only thing one truly has control over – EVER – in this life is her own attitude.

    Financial independence is NOT critical to my self-fulfillment as a woman, no matter how many times you say it is.

    The fact that I know I could choose financial independence if I needed or wanted to, but I CHOOSE NOT TO, is actually what allows me to be self-fulfilled where I am, as I am now.

    I’m with Elizabeth … it’s odd to have someone call themselves a feminist and then tell other women they are not allowed to call themselves feminists if they do not agree with your definition of it.

  17. Morghan on May 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

    So Heather – are you saying that to be a feminist a woman must support any and all decisions that other women make?

    When I distill this blog post this is what I understand it to say: You cannot stay at home with the kids (completely devoid of a financially paying job – whatever that might look like) and still call yourself a feminist.

    Perhaps that makes some of you uncomfortable – to say that feminists are not accepting of the choices that some women are making to stay at home and not “work”; after all, what could be better than having more choices available to women? Right? Isn’t that what feminism is, supporting all these choices?

    No. Actually, that isn’t feminism.

    fem·i·nism [fem-uh-niz-uhm]
    1.the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
    2.( sometimes initial capital letter ) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

    For all the reasons that feminists pushed us out of the 1950s kitchens and into the fight to be something more than housewives, you are not a feminist if you go back. Sorry.

    The real problem, in my opinion, is that we are facing a huge lie that we’ve bought into along the way. We now want to turn back — having showed “them” that we have brains and can build corporations — we want to turn back and stay home with the kids too, so that we can “have it all.” We have been told this our whole lives! We can have it all! But, the sad reality is that women cannot have it all. We must make choices. (We have those choices thanks to feminists who pushed us here, btw).

    Really, what we now need to face is this sharp edge, because we women biologically have children. And if we decide not to have them, that’s part of that sharp edge too. We perpetuate the idea that women can have it all. This makes all of us feel bad because we can’t have it all and we must cope with the choices we have to make.

    Even in a healthy marriage, Heather, you have told us you do not “have it all” (though it sounds like you have a good balance of what you want). To the women at home, you do not “have it all” either. And to me, sitting at my desk right now while my kids are in preschool, I don’t either.

    In navigating these choices, it needs to be said, however, that the decision to take oneself completely out of the workforce is a dangerous one financially for women in light of the high divorce rates. Perhaps then, those of us who find ourselves wondering if we can still call ourselves feminists need to address the why: why do some women hate their job or career so much and prefer to stay at home? (For the life of me, I don’t know – I could never stay at home). And why can we not help girls realize early on how to find jobs and careers that they love enough to work to balance both sides of the choices they will make in the future about family?

  18. Erica on May 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I don’t actually see where staying at home with your children is at odds with that definition of feminism. I still had the same social, political, etc. rights as a man when I worked as when I stayed home. And just because I stayed home does not believe I don’t think I’m equal to a man. We have the choice to work and the choice to stay home. Isn’t that the purpose of feminism? To have a choice? Not to force everyone to work? Or decide who is doing it “right” and who is doing it “wrong”. We can’t control what other people do. Because of feminism, women are provided equal opportunities and what they chose to do with those opportunities is up to them.

    What do you “feminists” (since apparently I am not one) think about dads staying at home with the kids? According to this whole financial vulnerability angle you guys are spouting, NOBODY should stay home with the kids, right? And that should go for men and women, since we’re equal, right? But shouldn’t feminists be all about it because a traditional woman’s role is being filled by a man while the woman’s career is front and center?

    • Emma on May 22, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Erica – I really take offense to this whole: “Feminism is about embracing every woman’s right to choose what ever she wants to do with her life!” That is just nonsense. There has to be some lines drawn in the sand. You are not a feminist if you don’t support abortion and reproductive rights, for example.

      Example: A young woman has excellent grades and the financial means to go to college. She chooses not to, instead saying that her CHOICE is to remain uneducated, get married and have babies. She consciously chooses financial dependence, which means she therefore has far, far fewer choices in this world. Could she ever consider herself a feminist? What example is she setting for her kids? Her community?

      And sure, same rules apply to men who chose to be financially dependent on women. The numbers are growing, sure, but they are still a tiny minority.

      • Erica on May 25, 2013 at 8:14 pm

        well, because by supporting abortion and reproductive rights you are supporting the right for a woman to have a CHOICE. It doesn’t mean that we force a woman to abort the child if she is under 20 years old because by having it it will seriously impact her education and career prospects, right? We give her the choice to keep the baby or not. She may or may not choose to do what you would choose in the same situation.

        And yes, I do support that girls decision to get married and have babies. Is it the path I would choose for myself? No. But it is her life… feminism is about providing opportunities. What the woman does with those opportunities is up to her. You aren’t saying feminism means we control women’s paths in life, right? And no, that woman is probably not herself a feminist. But it was feminism that provided her the chance to go onto college if she wanted.

        Here’s the fact. Not everyone in this world is meant for college. Not everyone is driven to go to NYC and take over the world. There are many paths to take in life and just because someone does something different and values different things, it does not make their path inherently wrong. Also, why does this woman have more responsibility to go to college than the man who she is marrying who is probably also not going to college?

        • Ryuki on July 14, 2014 at 7:27 am

          One feminist book I think is is rellay important is The Whole Woman, by Germaine Greer. It’s probably guaranteed that you will disagree with a lot of it, as Greer is definitely unapologetic and strident in her approach. So in that sense, it’s a challenging book. But she writes with such clarity and has a real knack for cutting through the bullshit. I found what she has to say is rellay insightful if even if I don’t entirely agree.The other one I like is Wifework, by Susan Maushart. I thought this book was an amazing eye opener. And the nice thing about it is that Maushart uses humor even while tackling serious issues. If I was ever contemplating marriage, I would make my potential fiance read this book first.

  19. Jane on May 31, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    I linked here from another article by the same author, and I’m just in shock to see a woman spending her time criticizing other women and telling them what counts as ‘real’ feminism. It’s nonsense. I can’t even comprehend that a woman can tell another woman that she can’t be a feminist if she’s sharing in a family income (“being dependent on a man.”) I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t tell a man that if he stayed home to raise the kids while his partner earned the family income.

    If I’m a ‘real’ feminist I must support the right to abortion…ok…I do…but I strongly believe that that choice ends by 20 weeks, except in very rare cases. So does a ‘real’ feminist support abortion all the way to birth? Tell me what I must believe!

  20. Emma on May 31, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Call yourself whatever you want, Jane, but if your voting interferes with my reproductive rights — I have a right to take issue, and in this case, the issue is feminism. Likewise, your financial decisions interfere with the progress of women everywhere, I have a right to take issue with that, too.

  21. Jane on May 31, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Sure. You can take issue with anything you want and you can insist that your definition of feminism is correct. It’s your blog. Just trying to establish the boundaries–how long, exactly, does a woman have the right to choose an abortion? Are there any limits? Personally, I strongly agree that a woman has a right to choose, but she also has the responsibility to make that decision early. She doesn’t get to make it when circumstances change or denial is no longer possible at 7 months, unless there’s a medical issue for mother or child.

    But as to the main thrust of your post–I agree with Heather et al. Feminism does NOT mean not being able to make a family decision that one partner should stay home for the children, if that’s what you both agree is necessary and best for YOUR family. Strong women are able to make thoughtful, considered decisions. I guess my definition of feminism is strength.

    I’m sorry that you got divorced and experienced tragedy, and I’m glad that you were able to be financially independent, but it shouldn’t make you negative on mutual support.

  22. Karen on June 6, 2013 at 7:17 am

    When I was growing up, I dreamed of working, not of being a SAHM–never dreamed I would not work outside the home like my mother and grandmother. Wasn’t even sure I wanted kids. Then I married someone whose job and our travels made it so that I could not hold down a career of my own. So I worked in “his” business, which was related to my work experience, unpaid. And simultaneously got a PhD that would be good for “our” life. It was a fun life, except that I was an unpaid worker at home AND in the business world. “All for our family”, right? Except that when we divorced, he thought it was OK to take most of “our” money and business, leave me with the kids, and use the next years to chip away at what money and unstable job prospects I had left. Because I used my PhD to further “our” business, not an academic career, I can’t use the PhD to get a job. It is a burden for me in the working world because what male mid-manager is going to hire a middle-aged woman with a PhD as an entry level employee? The courts do not consider this AT ALL when awarding alimony or child support. So, here I am, someone who never intended to stay home with kids, in a worse career position than my mother AND her mother. And with 100% care of the children so I cannot advance my career properly until they are older.

    I worked hard to build a “career” but traditional avenues are closed off to me now. I have to start my own business now, and for the rest of my life.

    I’m even worse off than my girlfriends who aspired to be SAHM and got little education and had no career: the courts awarded them permanent financial support because they had stayed home. That IS/WAS their job. Whereas I–who wanted a “career” and went about it in a nontraditional way–have been penalized for working, even though “work” hasn’t led to financial stability.

    This is not an issue of “feminism” to me, but one of survival. I thought I was building a career and that my situation was ideal because it allowed me to do that simultaneously with raising children. Our “liberal” divorce court in Illinois actually worked against me: it assumed that because I “look” like I had a career during marriage that I that I didn’t need financial support like a SAHM. Reality was that my “career” worked against me. I was “working” but couldn’t build a career network like a real working person.

    As a result, I have a PhD and work experience but I am in the same position as my high-school educated mother-in-law who was widowed at age 38: no money, single mom, starting an unfamiliar business from nowhere. I AM a feminist, I kept up a “career”, but in my world the SAHM’s who get divorced have a lot more financial independence than I do. They are still living in our old, affluent neighborhood in their houses while my kids and I now rent an apartment in the “other” town. All because I chose NOT to stay home with the kids during marriage.

    I vote for work outside the home and I’m telling my daughters never to be without an income. The kids will be fine.

    • Emma on June 6, 2013 at 11:33 am

      Karen – I really appreciate you sharing your story. I am going to ask WSM’s in-house counsel to chime in, but it sounds to me like you got screwed in your divorce. Why didn’t your attorney fight for a share of the business equity? Like a 50% share?

      I very much love the message you are teaching your daughters. Brava.

  23. Dianne Juhl on August 24, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Emma —

    I agree with you. The Suffragists’ advocacy was aimed to get women equal access to six domains: the vote, education, jobs, money, safety, choices. You are correct to call out the theme of money in particular as it is deep and pervasive in our lives. In our material world, money is inextricably to five other domains.

    You are also correct to call out idea of money and power, which together with the ideas freedom, desire, work, possession, and status, are huge ideas that rule human life and are enacted, almost always, in and around money.

    I wanted to extend your focus on the use of the word “thrive” in the title with “financial independence”. My experiences of working with women and their personal relationships with money mirrors the research results on flourishing and thriving. Both experience and research suggest that women of independent mind and means use words like confident, content, happy, and joyful to describe a sense of internal ease they feel in relationship with money. These women possess a ‘knowing’ that they have sufficient funds, more than enough money, to do what they want to do. Such individuals enjoy each day and get more out life. They look for opportunities to boost the well-being of their family, friends, colleagues, and others in their local communities. Most notably, these women enjoy a lack of money worries.

    I believe the Suffragists would be proud knowing that their advocacy has put more cash in hands of women, reduced women’s money troubles, and is now catalyzing some contemporary women to use their available bandwidth to gain clarity about the root cause of money worries and take control of their money, rather than be controlled by the negative money talk in their heads or the diatribes of others.

    We @TFFOM believe that the next frontier of financial independence resides with women who will dare to pay attention to the pattern of thinking (ideology) and to the scheme of values (culture) as they are played out in our own individual, private existences. I am banking on this because, the fact is, women and men’s perceptions of financial security have a more positive influence — more than double — on women overall well-being than income alone.

    I have selected an image depicting the Suffragists on Wall Street in 1911, eight years before the 19th amendment was officially ratified, that I think could launch a thousand women to demolish and clear limiting beliefs around money. You can find it on our fb page and twitter feed and, soon, my pinterest page. I take inspiration from looking at the faces, postures, gestures of those women surrounded by a sea of men in suits. I trust you will too :-)

    Abundant regards,

    ~ Dianne Juhl, CEO & Founder, The Feminine Face of Money

    • Emma on August 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

      Hi Dianne! Thanks for these thoughts, and the awesome pic. It is interesting how so many formal roadblocks – law, education and business discrimination, even sweeping public attitudes — have lifted, yet women still have the old hangups! I would love to find a way to work together to help women move forward in their financial and WHOLE lives.


  24. Insidious_Sid on May 12, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Well, as a man I think we should also encourage men to be financially independent from women. I am now, and would never have it any other way again.

  25. Ksin on November 2, 2015 at 8:45 am

    I strongly disagree with you on this. Feminism is about choice. If a woman who stayed home with her children believed she should never work and that all women should stay home with their children then I would say she isn’t a feminist. But choosing to stay home with your children does not mean you are not a feminist and do not fight for gender equality. I am a stay at home mom right now. I found out I was pregnant my senior year of college. I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and had my son a few months later. I decided I wanted to stay home with my son until he goes to preschool or kindergarten because I wanted to breastfeed and because I wanted to be with him and raise him myself. I didn’t and don’t want to send him to daycare. No one forced me to do this and I know I have other options, this is just what I want to do right now. I don’t think there is anything wrong with choosing to work as a mother just like I don’t think there is anything wrong if say a man decides to be a stay at home dad. I think women and men should have a choice in how their life turns out and what they do with it. I think telling women that they cannot be feminists or fight for gender equality if they stay home with their children is actually very anti-feminist. Besides, clearly you only think this because staying home with the children and being a homemaker is the “traditional” role for women and something all women had no choice but to do once upon a time. I know a lot of women who have no choice but to work because their partners do not make enough money to support the household and they wish they could stay home with their children. I understand that there could be a risk for a woman who chooses to stay home if her partner was to leave her though.

  26. Angela on January 17, 2016 at 11:07 am

    A woman’s responsibility in today’s America is to build her own, direct access to resources, including financial resources, and a network of support beyond a male partner (e.g., sole sourcing). It is risk management so that she is not wholly dependent on a single resource. It is not about choice. it is about responsibility.

    • Emma on January 19, 2016 at 4:07 pm


  27. AW on May 16, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Well strong independent women are a real turn off for many of us Good men which they’re really to BLAME why many of us men are still SINGLE today since they now have their CAREERS that made them so very high maintenance, independent, selfish, spoiled, greedy, picky, and so very money hungry too which certainly it. They will Never Ever go with a man that makes much LESS money than they do since they always will want the BEST and will Never settle for LESS. Quite a Change in the women of today compared to the GOOD old fashioned women of years ago which MOST of the women back then were Never like that at all.

    • Emma on May 16, 2016 at 3:57 pm

      Such sweeping generalizations … I’ve dated lots of good guys and I don’t think they would say I’m selfish, spoiled or the other insults you lay out

  28. Confused Male on March 15, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    I’m in a now 4-year relationship with a woman who identifies herself strongly as an intersectional feminist but who chooses to sleep in every day, spend her hours on Facebook and lunching with friends and only contributes minimally to our household financially. While it’s true that she does the laundry, shopping and some of the cooking, I’ve often said that I did those things for myself before our relationship and that I’m happy to do them again if that’s the obstacle to her career growth (but we all know it’s not).

    I found this article while looking to see if I’m alone in my situation, because I’m confused how a woman can fight the patriarchy while relying on the same for food and shelter. I can’t think of a more vulnerable position of weakness to put yourself in, and yet my wife (and seemingly lots of other women) are making that choice daily.

    I’m truly baffled and I’m not sure how to continue with my wife. I entered the relationship looking for an equal partner and have found myself with something more like a rebellious teenage daughter, who both resents her dependence on me and yet does nothing to change it. The dynamic isn’t healthy for either of us and yet I’m not sure what changes I can make. For me the answer seems to be that she needs to choose to become financially independent and that’s not a choice I can make for her.

    I realize this is a very old post, but thank you for writing it, and thank you in advance for any advice or support you can offer.

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