In Get Rich with Other People (Part 1) I wrote about the first meet up of the Financial Independence London Facebook group that I went to.
Meeting people face to face is to real community what oxygen is to breathing. So I went to another of these meet-ups earlier this month which was fun.
It was also very well attended…in fact, there were too many people there for me to count how many people were there (I’d have quickly run out of fingers and toes). And too many people to be able to chat to everyone. But I made a point of going over to say hi and thank you to Chloë, who had arranged the event.
We got chatting and we hit it off. People usually connect when they have things in common. But Chloë is a left wing, lesbian vegan…me, not so much. So why might we have got on?
Well it turns out that my earlier articles about feminism resonated with Chloë. So that was a good start. Even better, Chloë has something called a “sense of humour”. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, a “sense of humour” allows you to enjoy the quirks of life and of people. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you are missing out on the best joke in the universe*.
I suggested Chloë write me a guest post on her take on financial independence, feminism and friends. We swapped email addresses. I drafted a quick test email on my phone and asked what her what to put in the title field so she’d remember it? Her answer was “Type faster, bitch”.
It was at that point I knew we were gonna get on. 🙂
Here’s Chloë’s guest post. Enjoy!
Satisfaction with the Sapphist Faction
March saw 2 historic gatherings in London: first, the giant women’s march to the UK Houses of Parliament, and second (and far more productive) a gathering of FIRE enthusiasts in a nice pub.
At the latter, I got speaking with The Escape Artist and discussed his previous writings on gender politics, which I feel make a far more useful contribution than the crowds that assembled earlier in the month.
I hope this post is useful in explaining why I was much happier to be in the smaller of the two gatherings, nothing to do with neither green nor purple being flattering colours. Shouldn’t a left wing, lesbian vegan have been holding a placard instead of a pint?
Well, as The Escape Artist has written, the upside of both Feminism and the Men’s Rights Movement is that they can highlight unfairness and shine a light on the crap in the roles we’ve been expected to play. That can mean having the confidence to follow your interests and not be walked all over. It can mean refusing to be a Walking Wallet and automatically pay for other people.
Catherine MacKinnon in 1980 wrote The Sexual Shakedown and gave a name to and a focus on sexual harassment in the workplace – this problem, if it was spoken of, was seen as part of ‘the deal’ if you worked. By fighting for legal changes, feminists made great achievements and helped to level the playing field in the workplace.
Fast forward a couple of decades and that same ideology is arguably having a deleterious effect on the workplace. MacKinnon, a feminist academic, developed her work as part of her theory that all male-female interactions are a violent power struggle… yikes!
So workplaces end up disciplining workers over genuine misunderstandings, spending thousands on avoiding offence and bringing a divisive lens into employee relations. In acknowledging the upsides of feminism, we should acknowledge the downsides: liberating narratives can also recast us in the role of victims. And once set, these narratives can be very hard to change as society adapts.
So, I find myself working in my tech career in a team with an equal gender balance, working under a female CEO who nevertheless reduced pension contributions. I look at the Women’s March outside parliament, notably not including the current female prime minister – it seems to me that she might have been a pretty relevant presence, non?
Well, not if you want to present women like me as oppressed. You’d also not want to invite any of the economists who have shown that the great gender wage gap is almost entirely down to individual choices, leaving a tiny amount that may or may not be discrimination – that would really make that narrative difficult to sustain.
Maybe I just have a data analyst’s bias, but it’s a discussion that I’m so tired of seeing when the evidence has been combed over so many times.
Three independent reviews were commissioned into alleged pay inequity at the BBC, as no-one wanted to accept each finding that individual choices were driving earning disparity, not discrimination. Since the marchers are happy to highlight the role of social messages, maybe they should consider the impact of pushing a victim narrative and warning women how horrible the tech industry is?
Meanwhile, inside a nice warm pub a mixed crowd was mingling and covering a multitude of topics – how long the Lifetime ISA would survive, saving strategies and the best horror films of the last 50 years. The choice of pub was approved which, as it was my choice, was good news – I wondered if I’d lose all credibility if I went for a standard £6 a pint place, instead of a much more characterful and frugal Sam Smiths venue. [TEA note: £3.20 a pint in Central London!!!]
When I asked about getting past the over-attentive phase of excessively monitoring investments, I didn’t get commiserations about how hard it must be for me because of X characteristic, I got good advice for me as an individual that didn’t assume anything. Some people in the pub had achieved FIRE already and were happy to hang out and share the knowledge with folk on their way – the aim was clear, the advice was solid and actionable and the spicy peanuts were refreshingly spicy.
Meanwhile, at the other meeting, the call for equality resounded, with no clarity or helpful advice. Does gender equality mean absolute equality? Is that equality of opportunity, which would mean providing more support to boys at all tiers of education? Is it equality of outcome, which would mean strict bureaucratic control of which careers you’re allowed to follow, alongside a removal of meritocracy?
Maybe a march isn’t the place for nuance on the issue of achieving equality, but all the slogans about the ‘wage gap’ were the nearest anyone got for talking about current ‘problems’ that I could see. And given the multiple reasons why the earnings gap exists, there were no workable solutions for that problem in sight at the march.
I see this as parallel to my experience. I am a woman in tech who is a FIRE enthusiast. I see my friends pay for huge holidays, weekly takeaways and £700 a year phones and then when they complain about being broke they point to the wage gap as a key issue for our times… in short, if you understand the problem, you can probably solve it. And often the issue is not a problem with society, it’s a problem with yourself.
Instead of the old rhetoric, I wish the marchers had carried placards advertising the best degrees for future earnings, or handed out leaflets on tax sheltering your savings. Maybe a dramatic reading of the brilliant Story of a Fuck Off Fund. I wish those megaphones had been used to broadcast the importance of the savings rate and fiscal responsibility.
My partner and I get homophobic abuse in the street on rare occasions and it’s unpleasant, but it doesn’t mean we live in fear. The fact that some people strongly dislike lesbians has nothing to do with the way we want to live our lives – and FIRE is a key part of our personal ‘empowerment’, if you want to call it that.
Being harassed by a stranger doesn’t mean we’re then incapable of monitoring our spending. The distribution of genders among FTSE 100 CEOs doesn’t stop me polishing my skills and looking for the next step up. The beach body ready adverts didn’t render me too traumatised to change my energy supplier and save £212 a year.
A far more compelling movement is one that actually focuses on helping people break barriers and build themselves up, rather than one that renders us all scared of the big bad world out there.
This is where FIRE comes in – the narrative is all about what you can do for yourself, and sure, some of us may well be in better positions due to family background or job history than others, but ultimately, there is almost always something you can do to improve your chances of financial independence. We cycle to work, keep grocery costs to under £100 a month between us, and indulge in frugal hobbies (foraged home-made wine, anyone?). The fact that we’re a pair of hippy dykes has nothing to do with the financial choices we make. Apart from adopting the cat; that one is entirely a dyke move.
My takeaway is that we should be suspicious of grand narratives and collectivising: statistics are controlled by people, not the other way round. So, I was much happier to be in a room with mixed company where we shared a perspective, focusing on the actions we were able to control and making progress, than in a misinformed march that shares a bathroom.
- Image credit: The Evening Standard
- *Joke credit: Ed Latimore