How To Say “F*ck Being A Good Feminist” & Take The Money

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In this week’s Ask Chelsea Anything, we’re talking about an issue very close to my heart — the constant, all-consuming pressure to be a Good Feminist according to an ever-shifting and ever-complicating definition. Nearly every choice a woman makes can feel under scrutiny and judgment, and nearly every option can feel wrong in a different way. Part of letting go of this, of course, is just saying fuck it to the whole game to begin with, but I don’t want to spoil too much. So, without further ado, let’s get into the question! (And as always, don’t forget to send your own questions to askchelseaanything@thefinancialdiet.com)

Chelsea,

I’m getting married in two months to the love of my life, and he’s offered to do something really incredible for me. He makes more money than I do, and has a good amount in savings, so he has offered to pay off all my student loans once we get married (about $22,000).

I feel uncomfortable with this for a lot of reasons, but I know it’s important for him to do because he wants us to start off with a blank slate, financially. Still, it makes me feel like a #BadFeminist, because I want to be independent with my finances, and there is something… guilt-inducing? about letting a man pay for me in this way. What should I do?

-Betty Draper I’m Not

I’ve taken a while to answer this question, because I invariably get a River of Shit whenever I take on this topic, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t avoid it for that reason. I’ve been open in the past about the help, financially and in terms of tech work, that Marc has provided to help TFD become a thing, and the (not-insignificant) way in which he helps sustain it, by spending $500 a month on our fancy web hosting.

I’m not ashamed of this at all on a personal level, and it’s always been important to me that Marc be repaid for his investment in me and in TFD, but I know how it will rub some people. And while I do think that it is super-important for bloggers to be transparent about the cost that goes into starting a site, and the help required for most of us to get it off the ground, I can’t pretend that the flutter of backlash doesn’t exhaust me. I know it’s important to disclose this financial stuff — if for no other reason than to be realistic for people thinking of doing the same thing — but it’s hard. And I imagine that at least part of what you’re feeling is the pre-emptive cringe of judgment from others that will inevitably come.

Because #BadFeminist is entirely in the eye of the beholder, and there are many things we do as women which we are totally comfortable with, but which make us feel like we’ve pulled the wrong lever in some kind of pinball game of Womanhood. And it’s so, so important to distinguish between the things that actually make us uncomfortable, and the things that we fear other people won’t be impressed by.

A perfect example in your case would be “accepting some financial help from your husband which will help you both enormously in the long-run,” versus “turning a blind eye to all things financial and becoming entirely dependent on him to make all decisions.” The latter is what many women in generations before us lived with, regardless of personal preference. And the resistance to being totally blind and dependent when it comes to money — lest we forget, the majority of married women still don’t even manage their communal investments until death or divorce — shouldn’t be conflated with “total independence at all times, even when it doesn’t make sense.” You should be uncomfortable with giving up all financial autonomy, and obviously, even if he always out-earns you, you should have your own savings account, emergency fund, financial goals, and financial literacy. But to deny yourself a good decision for you and your partner out of some vague, external pressure to be a “good” feminist is only shooting yourself in the foot.

So ask yourself the questions that are based on your own financial health and health as a couple: make sure you both understand the terms of him paying this, and are comfortable with it. Figure out if anyone expects some kind of repayment, and outline the details of what you plan to do with that “blank slate” you’re speaking of. As long as the actual financial details and goals are something you are both comfortable with, and both feel is a good decision, then the rest is noise.

For myself, when I accepted that Marc would help me to a certain extent in the transition to making TFD my full-time job (and growing it as a company), it was because I knew that it was an investment into something bigger, and that it would be foolish to not take that opportunity where it lay. If Marc couldn’t offer that help, I would have asked family members, most likely, and made my business case to them as I would an outside investor (and, of course, offer them equity if they required it). It happened that Marc was also able to work on the project actively, and understand the investment better than most, so he was always happy to make it. And sure, the gender dynamics of that might piss some people off. But if I hadn’t taken that opportunity, I’m sure that a whole other group of people would admonish me for not being sufficiently ambitious as a woman.

You can’t win, so don’t play.

At the end of the day, I am confident in my choices, and even if I’m getting angry tweets or emails about people making wild assumptions about my life and my relationship dynamics, that’s still worth it to me. Because I have to live my life, not random commenters on the internet, and I don’t have time to waste nail-biting over whether or not the decisions I’m making will please the maximum amount of people. If my boyfriend happens to be in a position to help me make an investment in our future, fuck yes I’m accepting that.

And I encourage anyone to make the right decisions for themselves financially, professionally, or otherwise, regardless of the gender dynamics that make you feel guilty. Worry about helping yourself so that you can be in a position to help others, and always keep in mind the goal of paying it forward. Remember that a privilege is just that — something not afforded to everyone, and something you should be grateful for. But it’s not something you should agonize over, because that’s not going to help anyone. Do something great with your opportunities, and strive to be generous because it’s the right thing to do, not because you are worried what other people think of you.

But that means accepting generosity for yourself. Even if it comes from a dude.

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  • KP

    Humor me for a minute and pretend the person you’re marrying is a woman offering the same thing to you under the same circumstances…would you be feeling the same way like a #BadFeminist? Are you not wanting to take the money specifically because he’s a man (who happens to make more money) and you’re a woman?

  • Alyssa

    I don’t see anything wrong for either gender in a committed, long-term relationship to help out the other in erasing debt or helping to financially sustain something. Not everyone is so lucky to have that financial backbone and if you’re both in it for the long haul, it only helps to improve your eventually combined credit. I understand the fear of seeming un-feminist by others, but your commitment to each other should trump that. People in general simply need to relax!

  • Great advice, Chelsea. And fwiw, Mallory Ortberg has been pretty open about how The Toast was funded by her Toast partner & partner’s husband, because they could afford to. (She discussed it in her presentation at XOXO, I believe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1ui7LCC6So)

    And to the question asker… I agree with Chelsea’s advice, but Helaine Olen also had wise words about whether paying off the debt in a lump sum like that is the best use of the money, regardless of where it comes from. (Mostly, once that money’s gone it’s gone, no getting it back in an emergency http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_bills/2016/04/ask_the_bills_i_inherited_a_fortune_should_i_pay_off_my_fiance_s_student.html) Just another discussion point to consider! Good luck!

  • Sindhoo

    As someone who can be pretty judgmental, I see literally nothing wrong with either “Betty Draper I’m Not”‘s answer, nor Chelsea’s situation.

    Time for a bit of a ~humble brag~ but I have already contributed over $20,000 to my fiancé’s (at one point six figure!!!) student debt pile, and I recognized that it is both an immense privilege, and also to my own dang benefit, to do so. Rapid debt payments = higher credit score = better interest rate on mortgage loans, etc, for us.

    Partners who help each other out like this are awesome, and it reflects a trusting relationship. As long as there are no weird strings attached to it, he is giving you freedom while working towards financial security together, and I think feminists embrace that.

  • Jackie Onorato

    You are getting married. You are a TEAM. As long as it’s not coming out of an emergency fund, this is going to be good for your TEAM.

  • Bri

    “Good” feminists can accept money from their partner. This has jack shit to do with someone’s “quality of feminism.”

  • Summer

    Call me a bad feminist then, because I would happily accept $20k from any man (or woman!) willing to give it to me, regardless of my relation to said person. I care far more about the benefits to myself and my own life than the external judgment of others. Particularly considering that most people who would judge something like this harshly are probably rather envious that such a windfall opportunity has not presented itself for them.

  • Beth W.

    I was very much in the ‘no, I can pay my own loans, I don’t need your help’ camp. Then my husband and I sat down, looked at our finances, and determined that we’d pay my loans off as quickly as we could. Ultimately, it’s not his money or my money. It’s our money.

    • Court E. Thompson

      Yes, yes, yes! I feel like I see so much “my money/his money” stuff. Marriage is a partnership. It’s not going to always equal and you can’t keep score (if he does keep score, that’s another issue).

  • Kelsey Rupp

    When you are husband and wife, His money = your money, Your debt = his debt. He’s doing the right thing by reallocating his paycheck to help you both. (And vice versa!)

  • Mj D’Arco

    i thought feminism was about making sure women were equal to men, and could make any choice that wanted… i missed the memo of when it became such a close minded ideology where unless you live to the feminist stereotype you are not a feminist

  • VL

    I outearn my husband, and gladly contribute to paying off his (6 figure) student loans. Our finances are combined and we treat both our student debt as one large pool. We overpay on the highest interest loan (regardless of whose it is) until it’s paid off, and then attack the next one. If we could pay it all off in one lump sum, we definitely would.

    Ultimately, the faster you guys can collectively pay down debt, the faster you can move on to other financial goals as a couple. It’s not “him helping you as a man”; it’s working together on a financial plan that makes sense for the two of you.

    Just make sure you always have a handle on your finances and equal control of any money you share. Joint finances are one thing, losing visibility into your money is another.

  • AN

    It sounds like an incredibly generous gift, but by all means, take some time to unpack why it makes you uncomfortable. Are there strings attached? Will he always hold it over your head? Are you only worried about what other people will think, like Chelsea mentioned? If it were /only/ that, it would be foolish not to take it. Critically examine why it makes you uneasy, and whatever you choose, try and be 100% sure that it’s the right decision for you.

    • Winterlight

      Yes, if he’s going to use this as a club, then I would decline (and rethink the marriage.) But if it’s just what other people think, well, don’t tell them!

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