It’s Friday, so time for Let’s meet Financial Feminists. This week I have the pleasure of introducing Matt from Optimise your life.
I am so happy we have our first male contributor, and one of my absolute favourite male allies. Personally, I really appreciate Matts take on things and how he sees feminist as a white man.
Handing over to Matt
Please introduce yourself and your blog
Hi! I’m Matt. I’m an American Millennial husband, father, and public-sector lawyer. I blog over at Optimize Your Life.
What sort of finance blog do you write?
I write about ways to improve your life with a focus on personal finance, happiness, and productivity. In 2018, I researched and wrote about a different topic each month, like the intersection of money and happiness, economics and investing, and life planning.
In 2019, I am moving into more detailed, nuanced, big picture topics, such as how different political policies and economic decisions impact your life and how you can impact those decisions.
How would you describe your current stage of life?
I’m in a young family phase of life. I’ve been married for almost five years and have a one-year old boy. My wife and I are both lucky enough to have good jobs that we like making good money, which allow us to live in a high cost of living city and raise our son.
What are your personal values?
This is something that I thought a lot about over the last few years. Knowing that kids emulate what they see adults doing, I wanted to make sure that I was focusing on the values that I would want my son to learn.
For me, that comes down to empathy and curiosity.
Feminism & Society
What is your brand of feminism?
I have always been in favor of equal rights and women’s rights, but I used to focus on policy solutions and I largely kept quiet about my opinions. Over the past few years I’ve evolved into a much more vocal feminist and have specifically used Twitter to highlight issues, amplify women’s voices, and call out sexism.
I’m still in favor of policy solutions, but I’ve realized that they are only one part of the solution. The culture needs to change. Men need to change. And that doesn’t happen without social pressure.
Is the patriarchy real?
For sure. Sexism is often less overt than it used to be, so people (okay, men) assume that we’ve achieved some level of parity and fairness and we don’t need to worry about the power structure. But sexism doesn’t need to be overt, or even intentional, to be real. Just by virtue of men being in most positions of power, they create a system that favors men, whether intentionally or not.
One example that was highlighted by Claire Malone on the Five Thirty Eight Politics Podcast is HSA rules. Sunscreen and condoms are eligible health care costs, while tampons are not. This is obviously a nonsensical outcome, and I would imagine it was not an intentional shot at women, but when men are in charge of making the rules they make rules that make sense to men.
The patriarchy also harms men by setting expectations of male behavior. Because men are supposed to be the breadwinners in patriarchal structures, they are encouraged to work more and spend less time with their kids. My employer offered six weeks of paid parental leave, but coworkers warned me not to actually take that time. They told me that colleagues would think less of me and not trust me with projects because I would be showing that I’m not dedicated to the job.
How do you feel about privilege?
I actually wrote a full 3600-word article on privilege a few months ago. I felt like we had been talking past each other when it comes to the issue of privilege and so I wanted to understand where everyone was coming from in their opinions. Then I put out a call for tweets, DMs, and emails from people that don’t agree with the concept of privilege and promised that while I may ask follow-up questions, I would not try to change their mind.
What I found was that almost everyone believed in the underlying idea of privilege even if they initially disagreed with the application of the term “privilege.” Most people recognized that women faced more challenges than men and that people of color faced more challenges than white folks.
Making privilege personal
The fact that I am a straight white man from a middle-class family does not mean that my life is easy or that I don’t face challenges. It means that there are hoops that other people have to jump through and challenges that they have to face that I don’t even see. Most people get that.
The problem people had was with the connotations that they associated with privilege. They felt that it undermined the hard work that they put in or that it categorized them as some sort of limo-riding elite. They felt that it was an attack on their success or an excuse for why others haven’t achieved that success.
On one side, we need to learn that a reference to privilege is a call to recognize the challenges that others face rather than an attack on our own accomplishments. On the other side, we need to be cognizant of this view and be careful not to weaponize privilege if we want to bring others over to our side.
What is the role of men in feminism?
This is something that I’ve thought a lot about for obvious reasons.
I think one important role for men is to call out other men. Some men are more likely to listen to other men than they are to women. The type of man that does/says sexist things is also likely to discount women’s opinions. Beyond that, men need to establish that there will be social consequences for sexism beyond pissing off women. You need to show that it’s not just being “one of the guys” and that there is no safe space for sexism.
I’ve also found that showing women that they are not alone matters, as well. One of the first times that I jumped in on a Twitter debate about sexism was when a doctor tweeted about how he never meets alone with female colleagues because he is afraid that one will falsely accuse him of sexual harassment and ruin his career. I followed the debate for a while without getting involved.
After about a day, the debate had blown up to include a number of participants that were split exactly along gender lines. All the women in the debate argued that this was unfairly harming women’s careers and all the men argued that it was being smart about protecting the doctor’s own career. The optics of that made me uncomfortable and I jumped in on the women’s side. I didn’t feel like I made any difference in the conversation.
More on male allies
Months later, in a totally separate conversation, a woman made a comment about that debate and thanked me for jumping in. It was sort of an aha moment for me. Even if we’re not changing hearts and minds en masse, there is value in providing support for women. They have to live with sexism every day. We don’t. The least we can do is let them know that we are out here supporting them.
A more tangible thing that men can do is help women in the workplace. Because of structural advantages, it is much easier for men to break through on the career ladder than women. We need to reach back and bring women with us when we do.
Highlight women’s ideas (and credit them) in meetings. Go out of your way to make sure that their opinions are heard. Give them good projects and opportunities to succeed. Provide guidance and mentorship. Use whatever sway you have to make sure they are considered for promotions and raises. In short, make sure that women have an opportunity to reach their full potential.
(You should do this because it is the right thing to do but in case you are worried about negative consequences to your own career, I recently wrote an article about how advocating for women has actually helped my career.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
I want to be more of an activist than I currently am. I use my platform to raise issues and fight for people who are less privileged, but I don’t often feel like I am moving the needle much. And I want to get more involved in organized campaigns that push in a more targeted fashion.
How do you get your news?
For quick updates on politics I usually go to The Hill or Politico. For more context I like the Washington Post and the New York Times. Vox is great for deeper explanations of complex issues. The Atlantic and the New Yorker have great long reads.
I will click stories from my Twitter feed, but I am always cognizant of the source. If I’m reading from a source that I’ve never heard of or I don’t trust, I’ll google the topic to see if a source I do trust is saying the same thing.
I find that most television news covers politics as a sport and is more frustrating than informative, so I tend to stick to print.
What are your thoughts on the mainstream media?
I suppose it depends on your definition of “mainstream.” I find that most television news tends to have a bias towards conflict. This means you’re going to get more people shouting at each other, more coverage of bad news than good, and more pessimism in general.
I find the situation with local news channels in the United States quite concerning right now. More and more local stations are being bought up by national conservative conglomerates. They continue to have the same local hosts but are given “must read” segments that push conservative talking points. People think that they are getting unbiased local news but are actually getting a steady dose of conservative propaganda. I find this type of hidden bias to be much more dangerous than the more obvious conservative bias of networks like Fox News.
Some media spin that’s upset you lately – please share your rant
It isn’t so recent anymore, but nothing beats the Kavanaugh hearings in the last year for pissing me off.
A woman reluctantly came forward with her story, believing it was her civic duty even though she thought it would cause her massive stress, anxiety, and public ridicule and would not change the outcome of the hearings. She was immediately attacked as a liar and part of a Democratic conspiracy. The Republican party refused to conduct a full investigation despite the fact that they were dealing with a man that was going to be given a lifetime appointment to the most powerful court in the country.
Kavanaugh himself yelled and ranted and attacked Senators that questioned him. He spouted conspiracy theories about Democrats being out to get him for his prior attacks on President Clinton and made threats suggesting that he would rule against Democrats once he was on the bench. In short, he showed that he did not have the temperament to be an impartial judge.
The Republican party treated it as a political issue and the media did the same. They covered it as Democrats versus Republicans and he said/she said. Now Brett Kavanaugh has a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court and Christine Blasey Ford has had to move multiple times and hire personal security because of repeated violent threats on her life and her family from conservatives.
And some media that has galvanised you
The things that upset me tend to be the things that galvanize me. Especially with issues of inequality or injustice, I start by getting pissed off, then I get educated, then I get vocal and try to get involved in making things better.
What is one awesome thing in your life now?
Family! My wife is amazing. My son just turned one and it has been such a joy watching him grow and learn and develop a personality. And we have a new little one on the way!
Ms ZiYou Comment: Congratulations Matt, epic news – so happy for you both 🙂
Anything else you’d like to say?
To be honest, I still feel kind of uncomfortable talking about myself with regards to feminism.
My approach to feminism is informed by what I learned from the Black Lives Matter movement. I can’t experience what it is like to be a woman or to be black. Therefore, I can’t take the lead on those conversations. My role is to listen and to use my platform and my privilege to amplify the voices of those who do have the experience.
I recently spoke to Tanja on the Fairer Cents podcast (coming soon!) about feminism and had the same uncomfortable feeling. I want to be careful that I am not making this about myself or presuming that I have some understanding beyond the women that I am supporting. At the same time, I am hoping that by speaking about my experience with feminism I can encourage other men to become more vocal. Hopefully, I have walked that line today.
How can people connect with you?
Feel free to stop by the blog (optimizeyourlife.co) or shoot me an email (optimizeyourlife.co at gmail.com).
Most of my time, though, is spent over on Twitter, so feel free to join me over there.
Ms ZiYou Back Now
Thanks for taking part and sharing Matt – it’s fabulous to have our first male financial feminist!
If you identify as a feminist – female or male – and would like to be featured on Let’s meet Financial Feminists – please get in contact.