Why Economic Freedom is Key to Female Autonomy.
The 1960’s represented a time of cultural change for women in America. Women banded together and fought for their rights, demanding acknowledgment as individuals and not just as marital property. By doing so, women won the right to a workplace without discrimination, the right to have their income counted toward home loans, the right to reproductive freedom, and even the right to keep their own last names. Women moved steadily into the workforce and for the first time since the outbreak of WWII the economy, as well as the social landscape of America, rapidly changed.
As the women’s rights movement progresses through time, there are still serious factors that derail our progress and development as individuals. One of the most serious factors is economic dependence on the male gender. As a female growing up, my mother stressed to me over and over, “You will go to college, you will have a career, and you will always work. You will never depend economically on a man because you never know when he might leave.” As a result, I got a college degree, a master’s degree, and further post-graduate work, ultimately becoming the CEO/President of my own company. To this day, my mother never hesitates to tell me how proud she is of me, and that while telling me those things as a child, she honestly thought her words “went through one ear and out the other.” I have demonstrated to her through my life choices that they most certainly did not.
Despite my life choice of economic independence, I have family members and friends who have chosen otherwise. I have friends that are career stay-at-home mothers, friends that work as their significant other’s personal assistant, and a friend that chose to re-enter the workplace once her children were school aged. In all cases, these women gave up portions of their autonomy, because they did not control the checkbook, putting themselves in positions of being economically dependent on their husbands. Why is this dangerous? Many people argue it is not. These people may believe that women are meant to be dependent on men economically, or that taking care of the family and not working outside the home is the best option for women. They even point to the Holy Bible as vindication for this belief, referencing the book of Kings, and the ancient Phoenician Queen Jezebel. Anyone who has attended a fundamentalist Christian church is likely familiar with “the spirit of Jezebel,” that is, the “unholy spirit” that tempts women to wear makeup, have sexual freedom, and speak their minds to others, including their husbands. A beautiful, strong-willed woman, Jezebel did all of these things, and when her son died, she attempted to rule Judah on her own. In an act of independence, she confronted a rebellious commander, adorned in a fine wig and make-up, and this simple gesture resulted in her being thrown out a window and devoured by dogs. She didn’t even get a chance to plead her case or mourn the loss of her child before she was murdered for attempting to take control of her own life. Today, many fundamentalist Christians associate female independence as “the spirit of Jezebel,” and warn that this spirit is indicative of the downfall of our civilization. They argue that women and men are meant to work together but women are supposed to be submissive to males. They say that is the natural order and the way God intended.
Again, why is this belief dangerous? It is dangerous because, as my mother said to me, “You never know when the man might leave.” Just this week, a friend of mine lost her significant other in an automobile crash. Having put herself in a position of financial dependence, she now faces a very uncertain economic future. I personally know women who have suffered through a disastrous and abusive marriage, because they felt they could not economically survive without their husband. There are cases of healthy families with stay-at-home mothers, but an enlightened husband must be the breadwinner, and the wife must be willing to give up at least some, if not all, of her financial autonomy.
As a female business owner, I feel it is my duty to empower all of my employees. However, I especially feel an obligation to empower the women within my company. I am fortunate to have females in managerial positions who are transforming themselves, as well as our industry. By providing them careers, I am providing them with an outlet for their talents, as well as economic independence. As women, I feel strongly that we need to bind together, help one another, and support one another, especially in the workplace. Perhaps Jezebel, while demonized by many fundamentalist Christian churches, represents what we all should aspire to be-Queens in our own right, outspoken, and beautiful. Today, as a result of the feminist movement, we have a much better chance of achieving our goals, unlike the unfortunate Queen Jezebel, who met such a gruesome end.
In conclusion, the 1960’s represented a time of great economic and social change for women. While elements still exist in our society attempting to hold women back from economic independence, such as the notion of the “spirit of Jezebel,” we still have a much better chance of achieving economic freedom then our foremothers ever did. As women, economic independence is key to having autonomy over our own lives, wellbeing, and safety. Binding together as women is key to the success of our gender as a whole, and to our lives individually. Let’s allow Queen Jezebel to stand as a role model for what could not be in the Old Testament, but for what we can be today.