When women invest, the welfare state can back off?
Investment advice aimed at women and feminist financial talk have become a pervasive phenomenon in self-help books and on social media, Academy Research Fellow Armi Mustosmäki writes.
Text armi mustosmäki image claudia cieplinska english translation Marko saajanaho
Journalists and social media influences produce multi-channel content such as podcasts, online courses, guidebooks, and financial coaching for women, focusing on personal finance management, money-saving, investment, and attaining wealth.
Institutional operators such as banks also participate in the production of finance content aimed at women. For example, Danske Bank produces the Taloudellinen mielenrauha (Financial Peace of Mind) podcast which discusses themes of financial inequality with experts leading the conversation.
Such themes include the following: Why is the female income euro worth less than the male one? How does staying at home with children affect mothers’ finances now and in the future? How to ensure financial equality between spouses? Should you make an investment for your baby? How do you talk to your child about money? Can you afford to get divorced? Will you ever receive a pension?
I am conceptualising this phenomenon as “financial feminism”, which invites women to bridge the wealth gap by encouraging each other and sharing finance-related information. Financial feminism takes note of the financial inequality between women and men and its multitude of structural causes while guiding women to tackle financial challenges in their own lives.
In the greater life skills literature continuity, financial and investment content targeted at women can be seen as a form of self-help in which a variety of cultural products are used to convey and build ideas about how we could live a better life. The content also creates and transforms cultural ideals of womanhood, motherhood, relationships, spending, and the welfare state.
Women talking about money
Investment content often asks why women invest less than men. The usual answer is that the common mental image of an investor is a middle-aged, white, well-off man. In addition, at least in Finland, money should not be discussed openly, as it is a taboo subject. So, women are discouraged by the lack of role models and beliefs such as investment being for middle-aged men and not for young women, for example.
According to investment content, there may also be psychological barriers to women attaining wealth, such as negative beliefs and trauma related to money. One common notion is that women sure know how to spend but not save or invest their money.
On the other hand, women are nurturers, and money plays a smaller role in their lives than it does in men’s lives. Money is also difficult to manage, and even thinking about it may be unpleasant.
Financial feminist content wants to dismantle these money myths while encouraging women to talk openly about money and increasing their knowledge of the subject.
Obstacles to attaining wealth can also be worked on by adjusting your own relationship with money and thought and behaviour processes and seeking out similarly minded company. An investing woman talks openly about money. A financially smart woman is interested in finance, funds, and the housing market. The most important thing is to take the first step, to start investing.
The battle of financial equality
Psychology is not the only barrier on the way to female financial prosperity. There are also structural barriers. Despite Finland commonly being regarded as the very model of equality, many issues and structures of personal finance inequality have proven difficult to change.
Investment content for women invites you to recognise the age-old equality barriers and attack them, usually in your own life. Barriers and obstacles include low wages, unpaid chores at home, meta-work, the stalling of career and wage progression, and low pensions for women.
A woman investor crushes the patriarchy by becoming rich. Potential solutions are formulated by sharing advice on how (career) women could free up time for earning money. For example, these solutions contemplate whether gender roles within families could be modified (Can a man do meta-work?) Many influencers advertise home cleaning services and ready-to-eat meals.
Investment content also offers advice and information on how you can put aside some investment money with smart budgeting even if your wages are low. Those with higher earnings can participate in challenges such as “Five new clothing items per year” or “Only 400 euros on food per month” and invest the savings.
On the other hand, you are guided towards influencing your income by finding a side job or developing (passive) income sources such as buy-to-let housing, short-term rentals, or perhaps reselling clothing and household items. Much of this advice sounds familiar from women’s career guides, which wonder if a woman can have it all – a career and a family.
However, this is all about how the woman can also become wealthy. This advice and discussion change the ideas and expectations we place on relationships (Is your spouse an obstacle between you and wealth?) and family life (Have you calculated just how much a child costs?) And have you done the math on whether you can afford a divorce?
Investment content directs women to calculate the value of unpaid household chores and negotiate a prenup. You can also calculate the monetary value of your free time and consider how to use your time productively (Do you possess a skill someone might be willing to pay for?)
Investment content can be examined through the concept of everyday financialisation: how to connect financial values to things that have not previously been conceptualised from a financial standpoint?
The home might have been a home for your family, but nowadays it is also an investment increasingly often. The role of your spouse and friends is to help you along your way to wealth. The values conveyed by investment content facilitate deeper financial logic that pushes into more and more areas of daily and intimate life.
What is financial feminism?
According to financial feminist content, women must invest their money because a woman’s own money and wealth bring freedom of choice above all. Financial independence gives the opportunity to marry for love rather than money.
A woman should have a “fuck-off fund” that allows her to leave an unsatisfying relationship or job. A woman must be able to choose whether she wants to have children or go backpacking abroad for five years.
However, various social risks such as the need for pension or women’s roles and responsibilities as carers often pop up in investment content. The introductory text for one 2020s investment guide for women asks the following: “Who will take care of your mother in her old age? Most likely, it will be you. Women carry responsibility for their loved ones, from infants to the elderly. This is the main reason why women specifically must take control of their finances and invest.”
So, an individual is not only responsible for themselves, but their loved ones as well. Women are invited to invest “to fund their and their loved ones’ lifespans”. The welfare state is rarely criticised openly, but its sustainability is discussed.
The care crisis, low birth rate and the labour shortage stemming from that, and the sustainability of the pension system are often brought up in conversation in investment content.
Who takes care of us when we are old? You should not trust your life in the hands of the welfare state. The security it provides is not considered sufficient for a good life.
Financial feminism repeats and recycles many ideals and values we have become familiar with via life skills guides, women’s magazines, and lifestyle programming on television. A real success is an independent and empowered woman who makes sensible choices and controls the different areas of her life.
She is a career mum with a family (or planning to have a family) who takes care of her appearance, home, relationship, friendships, personal mental and physical wellbeing, and sexual attractiveness. She takes a business-oriented approach to gainful employment and her life alike.
In addition, she actively observes herself and improves herself continuously. Such an ideal female subject is also built up strongly through consumption choices.
On top of all this, the successful woman of the 2020s is also financially clever. She plans out her finances and participates in the finance market. She can spend money with a clean conscience as long as said spending is carefully considered, fits the budget, and stays within the investment plan as well.
Financial expertise can be seen as one more aspect of life in which the modern-day woman must improve and manage herself.
Feminism promoting these individualist values and ideals has been called post-feminism and neoliberal feminism, which aims to distance itself especially from the first wave and second wave feminism directed towards social change. Despite financial feminism employing feminist research data and statistics as it invites women to invest, it abandons the solidarity and collective action that would manifest as political movement. Solidarity is more leading other women to investment information so they, too, can change and control themselves and their lives financially.
The slogan about the personal being political threatens to be flipped on its head in the neoliberal society. What used to be political now appears personal, as a project to change oneself or as negotiations between individuals at home or at work.
I admit the perspective on women’s zest for investment I offer in this essay is a pessimistic reading of neoliberal ideas and values pushing themselves deeper and deeper into people’s intimate lives.
However, financial management does undoubtedly offer safety to many, along with ways to make one’s life more liveable within the structures of our increasingly precarious life. It will be interesting to examine how financial feminism is lived, changed, and resisted in daily life. You will hear more about that by following the results of my incipient project in the coming years.