The Wealth of Women | The Hard Truth About Choice

Seated at the front desk of my office, there’s a ‘sexy secretary’. She wears clothes that cling tightly to her body and her face is never free of the ugliness of that ample makeup that looks like cracked plaster. She struts around in high heels like a chicken prancing upon her territory. She flutters her eyelids and speaks sweetly with the men she serves. With my business partner–who happens to be a woman–the sexy secretary is somewhat nonchalant and occasionally rude.

Are the men of the world falling for this charade?

Unfortunately, many of them are. I apologise sincerely for the stupidity and short-sightedness of my gender.

I am an Indian man and I grew up in a culture that I would describe as deeply chauvinist. It’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be; but it could definitely be better. Cultural norms are not universal norms and I have heard many stories from both Indian and non-Indian women who are highly critical of the lewd, disrespectful and misogynistic behaviour of Indian men. We have earned ourselves an unflattering reputation as drunk wife-beaters and womanisers.

The sad truth about the matter is that the best Indian women I know then end up marrying outside the culture. And all we’re left with are the women who accept the status quo of the self-sacrificing dutiful wife. While the husband may be a complete toad, the wife is still very proud of tolerating and standing by such a man. She has played the role of ‘a good wife’ and she expects to be celebrated for it–even if she’s married to a head case of a husband. While I am speaking of my own experiences, the chauvinist and the woman with low self-esteem are a combination that one sees in all cultures.

While both men and women have to contend with exploitative labour practises, it is a historical fact that women have had less equitable opportunities to freely pursue the wealth they seek.

We no longer live in a time and age where women have to rely solely on their cooking skills and appearance to find financial happiness. When I see women utilise these old-fashioned women’s wiles, I am deeply dismayed. Firstly, at the woman who has the option to make a different choice and secondly at the dumb man who has bought into the charade. He thinks he is using her, but in reality, he has made a highly deplorable choice that will cost him dearly in the end.

In an ideal world, men and women are brought up in an environment where their true talents are nurtured and cultivated. In an ideal world, women are celebrated for their intelligence and brilliance instead of receiving compliments for their looks and culinary abilities alone. And lastly, in an ideal world, men and women would not be intimidated by a woman who stands tall and proud in her own power.

The Goddess Lakshmi

All the powerful women I know have had to contend with decades of painful humiliation from both their parents and their partners. At some point, they began internalising the attitudes that they were a recipient of. With time, they become resentful, withdrawn and downtrodden.

Women are more likely than men to do unpaid work and to be requested to do unpaid work. Over the past few months, many people (both employees and customers) have come up to my business partner demanding that she serve them… for free. She’s not your mother, I want to say. Because in my mind, that’s where it all began. Your mother did your work for free and now you think every other woman should as well.

Was your mother a homemaker? If she was, you may be tempted to say that she doesn’t work–but the truth is, she does. She has made a decision to spend her life doing unpaid work. She has made the decision to be financially dependent on a spouse, on an in-law, and later, on her children.

If you, as a woman, have made that choice, then we will all have to accept that. But don’t expect me to celebrate it. It is cliche, trite and old-fashioned. And like all choices, it is a choice that has been made.

If, however, you choose to work and end up sacrificing your personal life in the process, then I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with that decision and that you haven’t failed as a woman. Even the most successful women I know live with the subconscious fear that they have failed because they never had kids. Don’t conform for the sake of societal approval. You will live to regret it. Besides, I love rebellious women.

Follow the status quo if that is what feels right to you. But to me, there is nothing more attractive than a woman who stands in her own truth and in her own power. By doing that, she earns my respect. Not for her achievements alone, but for having had the courage to stand tall in a world that wants her to cower.

The Wealth of Women

The 2021 Forbes list of the World’s Billionaires features 328 women, up more than 36% from the previous year. Sounds good as a headline, doesn’t it?

If, however, you were to stop and read the fine print, you would note that 154 women on that list inherited their fortune. If you do the math, that works out to approximately 47%. Bettencourt Meyers, who topped the list, inherited her fortune from her mother, Liliane Bettencourt, whose father, Eugene Schueller was the founder of the cosmetics giant L’Oréal.

Whether it was a father, a mother, or a spouse–close to half of the richest women of the world–are recipients of an inheritance. This leads me to deduce that for half of the world’s women, a relationship with a parent or a partner is still the primary source of wealth.

Is this a depressing statistic?

Perhaps yes and perhaps no.

It all comes down to choice. If 47% of the world’s women have made their fortune in this way, then there is an estimated one in two chance that you, as a woman, will receive your wealth the same way. I don’t see anything wrong with that from a financial standpoint. Money is money and it is neutral. Where or who it comes from doesn’t really factor into any financial equation.

My real issue is that women who choose to create their own wealth most often do not receive the support, love and care that they need–and instead have to fight many needless and unnecessary battles along the way. The same, however, could be said of self-made men. There are countless men out there who come from humble backgrounds and work their way to the top. Similarly, there are countless men out there who receive an inheritance and that’s their main source of their wealth.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with inherited wealth. Secondly, there is nothing wrong with earning it either.

What I take issue with is women not receiving the same celebratory dance that men do for the same achievements. Instead, people feel an urge to defile it and rip it apart. Most men I know do not see the achievements and concerns of their wives or their daughters as their own achievements and concerns. They do, however, feel deeply beholden towards their mothers. There is a deeply-rooted conflict of interest there–as sons, more often than not–will not abandon their mothers as easily as they would their wives or their daughters. Even if he is the father of the child, somewhere in his misogynistic mind, they are his wife’s kids and primarily her responsibility.

Where are the men who care about the women in their lives? Or is it all a one-way street? The women in your life are supposed to care for you and you don’t have to return the favour?

You may think it odd, that I’m voicing this opinion given my gender and cultural background, but it needs to be said. Legislation can create the structure for a more just and equitable society, but it cannot change people’s hearts and attitudes. That must come from within. And until our attitudes and behaviours change, we will remain a society where half of our population remains enslaved by the very people who are supposed to protect and provide for them.

I suppose some men are content with a sexy secretary who sways her hips and flutters her eyelids. And perhaps, when I was younger and less mature, I had my fun as well. As I grew older, however, my priorities changed. Why, you might wonder…

It’s not so much that I have an issue with being the financial provider, because I don’t. As a former angel investor, I have been the primary provider for many entrepreneurs and investing seed money in brilliant and hardworking people is very much in line with my sensibilities.

The real breakthrough came when I realised that equity is not the same as equality. We are all born with gifts that we are called to share with the world. If we, as men, systematically deprive half the world’s population the opportunities to nurture, cultivate and share those gifts, we have created a karmic backlog that will be served to us cold.

The theme of vengeance has played a particularly significant role in the mythological tales of women. Our modern sensibilities force us to view vengeance in an unflattering light, but at the heart of all tales of vengeance is the story of a woman who has been deeply wronged.

The Pontianak, a popular story in Southeast Asian folklore, refers to the ghost of a dead female foetus, often described as a vampiric and vengeful female spirit. The themes of rape, pregnancy and violence feature strongly in the tales of the Pontianak. Despite the sensationalism attached to these stories, at their very nucleus, they are the stories of women who were wronged in human form. They later return to enact vengeance on those who have wronged them. And who is the perpetrator? The cast is colorful. From the woman who married the ex-husband, to the husband himself and even the mother-in-law who mistreated the young bride–horror stories the world over abound with the terrifying tales of what happens when you mistreat a woman.

Why are these old stories so gruesome yet so titillating? Are we really haunted by the ghosts of the women we have wronged? I’m afraid the question is not for me to answer.

Like all folktales, fables and myths; they are a warning to thread with caution and not to needlessly anger a woman. For as we all know, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Ghost stories aside, in either case, these days, I’m personally more interested in a woman who can light up my world with the brilliance of her mind and soul. If anyone flutters their eyelashes at me, I promise I will do it back and accept ridicule.

I’ve made my choice. And for me, it hasn’t been an easy one either. People ask me about my wife’s culinary abilities and while she is perfectly capable, it is not the reason I am proud of her. And regardless of what those fools say to defend the status quo that maintains their position and their cliche life choices, at the end of the day, I know, without a semblance of a doubt, that our lives, and the way they turn out–is not only circumstantial; but largely a matter of choice.

And you better choose wisely, for if not, the Pontianak will indeed haunt your sorry behind. Brrr…

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