It really hit home when my father gave me twenty bucks for a pizza, his treat. As if I were a teenager. Instead of a 50-year-old woman with a mortgage to pay, property taxes, and monthly bills for oil, electricity, phone, internet, tv, house insurance, car insurance… Amazing. He was sitting in my living room at the time. (My living room.) A carpenter I’d hired to do some renovations on my house (my house) was outside working at the time. And yet, he seemed to think I didn’t need, or couldn’t use, any real money. He couldn’t see me as an adult negotiating my way in the real world, the one with jobs, paycheques, mortgages, and bills.
How did he think I came to own my own house? Who did he think would be paying the carpenter? Who does he think bought the car sitting in my driveway? And pays for its repairs?
I don’t doubt for a minute that my parents have given my brother and my married sister a lot more than twenty bucks over the years (I divorced them thirty years ago, so I don’t really know) (and for that reason, I don’t feel entitled to anything from them, but that’s not my point), starting with the hundred-dollar (thousand-dollar?) gifts they gave them to start their households. Said gifts were ostensibly wedding gifts, but hey, I had a household to start too. Why do they get a new fridge and I get a hand-me-down blender just because they’re starting a new household with someone to whom they’ve contracted themselves?
And it’s not just my parents, of course. The twenty-bucks-for-pizza incident wasn’t by any means the first time my economic expenses have been apparently invisible. A neighbour (a kept woman) explained to me once that she and her husband were happy to have given the commission from the sale of their property to a certain real estate agent, a woman, (instead of selling the property without involving her, which they could have done), because her husband had recently died, so she was on her own now. No similar sympathy has ever been directed my way. And I’ve been on my own since I was twenty-one.
Why is this? What can explain this phenomenon, a phenomenon that is surely causally related to women’s lower salaries? The belief, clearly mistaken if anyone cared to open their eyes, that every woman is married? (And every married woman is completely supported by her husband?) The insistent belief that women are, or should be, considered children? (And children don’t have adult needs, adult financial responsibilities…)
In 2009, American single women outnumbered married women (All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister). So what do people like my parents think? That banks waive our mortgage payments, and landlords never charge us rent; that insurance companies waive our premiums; that oil and propane companies fill our tanks, but never send us a bill; that we get our cars and bus passes for free; that we don’t have to pay for gas; that grocery stores let us walk out with all the food we want, for free; that our dentists and optometrists don’t charge us for check-ups; and that little elves come in the middle of the night and leave heaps of money so we can pay for whatever else we need.