Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?
Part 3 in a biblical feminist's deconstruction of HBO's controversial portrait of the next generation's values and priorities.
June 23, 2013 - 7:00 am
Check out the first two installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series:
“You know, I want to have children. I really want to have children.”
“Of course you do. And you will have children at a time when your life is set up for it.”
This simple two-line conversation between pregnant Jessa and supportive Hannah in the hours leading up to Jessa’s “abortion party” illustrates the number one struggle young women face: To birth, or not to birth. It is an ironic struggle given the fact that women have classically been worshiped for their fertility and typified, first and foremost, as mothers. In the case of Girls, the irony is furthered by the fact that Jessa sought out girlfriends over her own mother for counsel and care in the face of an unexpected pregnancy. (“Unplanned” is so gauche; even the most unintentional sex has guaranteed biological consequences.)
Jessa’s mother isn’t the only absentee parent on Girls. Shoshanna turns to her aunt for advice, and Marnie’s mother is a cougar who’d rather “just be friends.” Hannah’s mother takes the cake in bad parenting. Cutting her grown daughter off financially sounds like a smart act of a wise and caring parent until, of course, the conversation devolves into mother referring to her daughter as “a major f*cking player,” and justifying the financial break as a way for her to afford a lake house: “I’ve worked hard, I want to sit by a f*cking lake!”
Which returns us to the heart of Hannah’s response to Jessa’s innate need to have children: It’s all about money, or, rather, the stability that comes from money, which for most modern women translates into having a professional career, the definition of which is devoid of child-rearing. Have we entered a new era of child sacrifice? Has career-worship become an idol inspiring generations of women to sacrifice parenthood? Or is the idea of a “career” a fresh veneer that has been slapped onto an age-old pagan mentality?
Last year Elizabeth Wurtzel issued a feminist tongue-lashing to stay-at-home mothers in the Atlantic. It was a bitter criticism embodying the foundational tenets of feminism: Men control money and because they control money, they are in charge:
And there really is only one kind of equality — it precedes all the emotional hullabaloo — and it’s economic. If you can’t pay your own rent, you are not an adult. You are a dependent. …[O]nce we get away from the scientific need for sustenance, it’s all gobbledygook.
For Wurtzel, being a feminist is synonymous with being independent, which translates into “earning my keep.” She has such a complete dependence on money that she has turned down everything from dates to marriage proposals for fear of becoming even slightly economically dependent on her male partner. While she doesn’t expect every woman to be as stringent a feminist as she is, for the sake of the cause, they should be just as dollar-dependent.
Her argument dates back further than the supposed corporate patriarchy she despises. Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess, symbolized the intertwining of security and money long before career feminists like Wurtzel began burning their marital bridges:
The origins of the modern English words “money” and “mint” lie in ancient Rome. In the period of the Roman Republic, from about 300 BC onwards, coins were made near the temple of the goddess Juno Moneta. It was located on the Capitol (the modern Campidoglio), the citadel of Rome. The goddess’s name, Moneta (“Warner” or “Reminder”) eventually came to refer to the place where the coins were made, the “mint,” and to its product, “money,” both of which derive ultimately from the Latin word moneta.
Under the guise of employing talent (Moneta was also credited with being the mother of the Muses), feminism’s “career drive” is rooted in a financial dependence that grants goddess-like powers of protection to money. In other words, it isn’t so much about “leaning in” as it is about cashing up. Ancient worshippers sacrificed a sow to Juno Moneta, a symbol of her pecuniary fertility. However, today’s worshippers pay a much higher price, sacrificing their own fertility for Moneta’s protection.
According to a 2011 survey reported in the Huffington Post, 43% of Gen X women are childless, while “only 14% of the women said that having kids was never part of their life plan.” Referred to as the “unintentionally childless,” these women, born at the height of the feminist movement, “…are able to support themselves financially, their energies are going into their careers, not into their search for a husband. As a result, they can be choosier when it comes to picking a mate, and they are tending to marry later” …and not have children at all. For women like Wurtzel who have chosen to redefine marriage in economic terms, not having children is a more rewarding way of life:
… being a mother isn’t really work. Yes, of course, it’s something — actually, it’s something almost every woman at some time does, some brilliantly and some brutishly and most in the boring middle of making okay meals and decent kid conversation. But let’s face it: It is not a selective position. A job that anyone can have is not a job, it’s a part of life, no matter how important people insist it is (all the insisting is itself overcompensation). …[S]omething becomes a job when you are paid for it — and until then, it’s just a part of life.
The fact that Wurtzel misses (or refuses to admit) is that not just “anyone” can have children. Men can’t; in fact, even many women can’t. According to the CDC, 6.7 million women between the ages of 15-44 have an impaired ability to have a child. The emotional pain of such an impairment is no easy thing to dismiss; as common as it may be to ask a young married woman when she is going to have a baby, it is a question that can open seriously painful wounds. Take, for example, singer/songwriter Lori Carson’s emotional struggle with infertility that morphed into a novel about the child she never had:
I wasn’t sure why I’d written those particular words, but they felt alive, full of possibility, so I kept writing. Sentence by sentence, I found myself addressing her, this “little fish,” who came to be called Minnow, a brown-eyed girl who had never been born. I wrote to her every day, telling her about the past, describing the beauty of the world, inventing an alternative life for us. And, I swear, she came alive: a daughter with nutty-brown hair who held my hand, skipped when she walked and loved prime numbers.
In my neighborhood, there is a sign for a place called the Advanced Fertility Clinic. I pass it all the time, walking Doe. Thinking of Minnow, I liked to fantasize that there was a time machine inside. Now wouldn’t that be some kind of advanced fertility treatment? A device that could take me back 30 years, to a time when motherhood was still possible.
Wurtzel’s crass notion that childbearing is worthless because the mother doesn’t get paid flies in the face of a growing number of Gen Y mothers who are choosing children over career. Her analysis is also grossly ignorant of all of the mothers who have paid very high prices to become fertile or to adopt, because those are the women who crush her goddess Moneta in pursuit of a type of security that is more reliable and ultimately more fulfilling than the cash in their wallets. And yet, when Marnie declares to Charlie that all she wants to do is be with him and bear his children, feminist critics bypass the baby talk, focusing instead on Charlie’s newfound fortune with comments like: ”for someone who claims she doesn’t love him for his money, she sure seems to talk about it a lot.”
Heartbreakingly strange, this devotion to money over children doesn’t exist in the biblical feminist mindset, primarily due to the fact that marriage is not a matter of financial security or patriarchal dominance, but of mutual support and respect. After all, Eve was created to be Adam’s equal, a helpmate kenegdo; wisdom is consistently personified as a woman; and the Eshet Chayil (Woman of Valor) of Proverbs 31 managed a household of servants, wove her family’s clothing, sold her wares, capitalized off vineyards, and bore and raised children while keeping food on the table.
Simply put, a biblical feminist doesn’t need to fight for “it all,” she doesn’t answer to any person, movement, or goddess; she merely focuses on fulfilling her God-given purpose. She does not worry about money because money has no intrinsic value. As Kohelet writes,
Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! …We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. …[I]t is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood…
Juno Moneta’s role as protectress of funds inspired many Romans to begin engraving images of family members on coins as an everlasting record for future generations. Without a future to leave it all to, it would appear that the fortune of goddess feminists is useless in more ways than one.