Read an article from Dr Katherine Hunt trained in Psychology, Financial Planning, Commerce, Finance, Law and Economics, and is currently an academic with the Griffith Business School. Katherine writes about Financial Abuse and Women.

KathleenHunt smallFinancial Abuse By Dr Katherine Hunt

Generations of women who came before us fought for the current level of financial independence we enjoy today. These historical women recognised that although they could not inherit wealth, earn a salary, or found companies, generations later we would have that power. Historical oppression of women has gone hand in hand with economic disempowerment. It was not possible to keep women from the right to vote, university education, or professional occupations, without first restricting their access to money.

Human social structures benefit from interdependence – we are much more efficient at making shelter, caring for little ones, and getting food and water, if we work together. While thousands of years ago our ancestors may have stored root vegetables to last them through the winter, now we store money, and financial assets.

In the capitalistic world of our times, money, and the ability to get money, store money, and pass money on to the next generation, is a cornerstone of independence. I recently ran a series of workshops on financial empowerment for women over 65 in regional areas in Victoria, and when I asked the group what was the core value they held towards money, it is was consistently ‘independence’. This group of women recognised that while they wanted to have loving and supporting interdependent relationships, they also wanted to have the resources and skills to not need to rely on anyone else, if push came to shove.
Given the importance of independence for women, and the inherent reliance on money for independence, it is not surprising that one of the most common forms of abuse is financial abuse. Experts on the topic have explored how the pathway to physical abuse usually follows financial and emotional abuse. Financial abuse is worth exploring in more detail, because it gives us insight into many of the underlying components of a relationship that we seek, and that can sometimes go wrong, before we even realise.

In all relationships, we build on our individual strengths and have ‘roles’ that we play. In my family, as I grew up climbing trees and I am nimble and confident at height, it is my ‘role’ to do any of the roof work such as installing new gutters, cleaning out the gutters, and spot checking for rust on the old tin roof. In hetero-normative relationships, these ‘roles’ often follow gender lines. Often women will do cooking and cleaning, men will take out the garbage and fix the car. Those kinds of things. Women often appreciate men who are strong and in control of the relationship, especially from a financial perspective. Women can feel very cared for, supported, and loved, if they are financially taken care of, as evolutionarily speaking, this can give space for child rearing. In the modern world, with both partners often earning income, financial independence might be considered a given.

Consider a situation where your loving partner says they have thought about it and it is a more effective way of running the weekly budget if all of your wages from both of your jobs go into the same bank account, and all expenses come out routinely from that account, and you each get an amount to spend on incidentals, clothes, slow roasted Ecuadorian coffee etc. Sounds great. It’s his account. No problem – the relationship is going OK, you trust him, and anyway you have a credit card linked to his account.

In this scenario, there are not necessarily going to be alarm bells, because you still feel like you have the financial independence that the women leaders who came before us fought so tirelessly for. You still feel safe in the relationship, and to be honest, you are happy that he is taking control of the financial side of things because it is mind-numbingly boring. This happened to a friend of mine who has postgraduate education and experience in the financial sector. Its more common than we realise, and its not something to be ashamed of.

In this hypothetical scenario, the next step might be that the credit card you use daily is suddenly cancelled. You call your partner and he says that it was too expensive to have a credit card so you will use cash from now on. Your cash allowance is provided by him on a Monday morning. You’re still not too worried about the scenario, because you get enough cash to cover your lifestyle, and all the bills are taken care of without you needing to worry too much about it all.
If this type of scenario happens alongside emerging emotional abuse (name calling, shaming, etc), or physical or sexual abuse, we can see that suddenly the financial independence achieved through work, is now tied to accepting the other abuse types that often go hand in hand. To compound the issue, without access to the money you have earned along the way, leaving is often more complicated than it sounds.

It is a very complicated topic, because not only are we led to think that we should have relationships where we are not the victims of abuse, but we are also led to think that we should be financially independent, and to lose that, is to feel shame and embarrassment. These society-projected ideas are harmful to women, and we can take some little steps to ensure if we are in a scenario like the one described here, that there is a financial back up plan.

Dr Katherine Hunt is trained in Psychology, Financial Planning, Commerce, Finance, Law and Economics, and is currently an academic with the Griffith Business School.