Are We Teaching Girls That Money Is Evil?
by: Camalo Gaskin
This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.
Internet comments can be a place where the world’s deep rooted beliefs come bubbling out. I must confess, I was not prepared for the first response posted when we finally launched the campaign for our new book for girls.
Here’s the backstory.
A few years ago my daughter went to bed crying, even in a panic with shortened hyperventilated breaths. When I asked what was happening, she explained in great detail that she was filled with anxiety about leaving home and not knowing how to make money. She was sure, however, that she didn’t want to become any of the professions of her friends’ parents.
She was only 5 years old, so this felt early for such heavy concerns.
For weeks she had been visiting the artist’s studios, medical practices, and even the office of one of the few women heads of state in the world, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A former quantum chemist, no less. My daughter adored her. She knew this was an important job, and was particularly fascinated by this visit. If you know her, she’s probably told you about having to go back for a second visit because her pre-school friends took too long for their bathroom break, missing their icon who had to be shuttled off to meet President Barack Obama.
Her lament was that she couldn’t grasp how to get from where she was – at 5 years old – to the place she saw these fulfilled adults figures. She explained in her language that she simply hadn’t seen a place for her unique self.
Taking her to bed that night, I thought I could find a book to calm her anxiety, but none sufficed.
We had encyclopedias of inventions and inventors. Books of science and nature. Allegories about giving and taking too much. We had books of simple and complex children’s poetry. Masterfully written creation myths. Fairy and positive witch tales. Stories of girls who travelled miles by foot to school and others where girls were mistreated and finally found their power to overcome all odds. We also had a selection of some of the best recent choices from the public library – in two languages.
None of the books could address my daughter’s concerns. No narratives that spoke about a girl herself going out into the world, asking her big questions, and trying her own hand at the many ways people made and used money, while fulfilling a need for a girl’s unique self-actualization.
That book just didn’t exist.
So that night, on the spot, I started to improvise stories of a girl character named Entrepreneur.
My daughter had no idea what this word meant. I knew some day, the attributes of an entrepreneur might be fitting for her specific kind of concerns. We formed a new nightly ritual of “story channelling” the adventures of this little girl who went out into the world herself to ask sincere questions of strangers, to figure out what made them happy, to try her own hand at the many different ways they made and used money, and how they learned to find their unique expressions of Self.
Her anxiety transformed into a regular excitement.
At some point she asked if these stories about Entrepreneur (she pronounces it “Antje-pre-noo”) could be turned into books she could actually hold.
Finally it’s happening!
I partnered with a brilliant teacher, poet, thinker, and dreamer to co-author the first book and set of learning tools. We scouted out talented women illustrators and artists to join us. After months and months of intensive efforts to write, edit, re-edit, discuss, research, and write some more, we all realized that my daughter wasn’t the only person carrying these concerns about practical survival and self-actualization.
Fast forward to this week.
With our hope and hard work on our sleeves, we proudly launched the campaign publicly, only to receive this as the first response:
I felt all my feelings rise to my neck. Shock. Confusion. Offense. Disappointment. Annoyance. More disappointment. Over-exposure. I felt misunderstood and protective… I felt judged as a woman and mother. Then I become curious.
While so many women are faced with the real need to self-actualize – to call their own shots – we are surrounded by messages that tell us that dealing with money is either too complex for us or it’s inherently shady.
Should we pass on these same taboos to girls or are we tasked to re-imagine them?
As we see it, money is a medium that many women have used to move mountains. To shape-shift realities that didn’t reflect them as part of its imagination. To do their own thing and to do the right thing.
We look to Oprah Winfrey as a radical example with her many money-fueled and principled initiatives that inspire women and girls on a daily basis. Oprah’s Book Club established a climate for encouraging literacy, specifically around books that urge mindful growth, and self-empowerment.
Ellen Degeneres is another entrepreneur who has impressed us with her individuality and inventiveness. She created a talk show, unlike any that came before it, where she can be energetic, where she can be out, where she can thrive being herself. She is a clever philanthropist, funneling money into programs for underserved youth, educational platforms, and other causes that she feels need love.
We see Latham Thomas leveraging her popular maternity lifestyle platform Mama Glow to bring awareness to initiatives to reduce maternal mortality and her mission focuses on guiding new mothers in radical self-care. This kind of philanthropy sees exponential impact in upgrading social beliefs about the motherhood experience.
Lead by Poet Laureate and Founding President of The Glide Foundation, Janice Mirikitani, the tech industry in San Francisco has accumulated their influence to more fairly distribute resources into the Tenderloin neighborhood, one of the most impoverished in the nation. As a counter culture rallying point, since the 1960s Glide has run 87 pioneering programs that provide transformative education, recovery support, primary and mental health care, job training, housing, and human services. She finds flow, energy and resources and connects them to fill a social void in the most dignified way. Here money is a medium used to break the cycle of poverty and discrimination.
Coming across examples like social entrepreneur and philanthropist, Marie Forleo, it became clear that every year, tens of thousands of women express a deep interest in thriving financially while harboring a need to purposefully contribute to the world through their work. Forleo’s programs are so attractive, and successful, because women no longer want to be confined by typical workplace culture, and seek to truly express themselves in their work – something they’ve probably been after since they were young women and girls.
We understood that this needed to be much more than a hobby self-publishing project.
It was an initiative that we should treat as a necessary conversation that many people – children, parents, women of all ages, especially those who don’t fit neatly into corporate boxes – would benefit from. We produced a high-quality and beautifully illustrated book series and learning tools that would help others address these kind of anxieties with compassion and creative rigor.
Voices from everywhere chimed in to fill the threads. Our campaign hit a very special chord for women who grapple with the same concerns as my daughter.
More women reflected the need for this kind of new narrative.
Others noted that boys should see this kind of girl heroine too.
When money can be used as a tool for change, and self-actualization, the word entrepreneur should not equate to an evil glorification of consumerism.
A culture shift in business is happening.
We see girls independently focused on issues of unique social concern all around us. Think: fierce activist-entrepreneurs Malala Yousafzai, Zendaya and Maya Penn. If anything, girls will be better served with stories about how money is used to become agents of change, rather than perpetuating a superstition that it is inherently evil.
Give girls the tools and let them speak for themselves.
They will inevitably shift our imagination as we pass them the baton.
If you also see the need to champion this cause for these new narratives, join us by supporting and sharing this campaign here.