Lisa Wilkinson exposes the last great taboo

TWENTY years ago, we talked about sex in whispers. Now there is a new taboo. And we need people like Lisa to spill all.

Melissa Browne
October, 2018

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LAST year Lisa Wilkinson notoriously left Today after not being paid the same as her co-host. It was a move that sparked gender pay conversations and encouraged us to ask the question of each other and our male counterparts, “What are you getting paid?”

What is interesting however, is that in many conversations I’ve had, talking about wages and salary is incredibly taboo, particularly for women.

In fact, not long after Ms Wilkinson left the show, her successor Georgie Gardner declared, “discussing people’s pay and contracts is crass and unhelpful”.

Nothing against Georgie, but her statement shows something crucial about Australian society. It’s always one step forward, two steps back when we try and discuss money.

For years now, I’ve been on a mission to point out that money is one of our last big taboos. This is particularly true in the case of women.

Nice girls don’t talk about it and we certainly don’t own up to wanting more of it. It’s one of the reasons why I’m always disappointed to hear that talking about money and contracts is crass.

Lisa put up with a lower salary than her co host for far too long, and walked because she knew her worth. Picture: Renee Nowytarger / The Australian

Lisa put up with a lower salary than her co host for far too long, and walked because she knew her worth. Picture: Renee Nowytarger / The AustralianSource:News Corp Australia

Because that’s something many of us inherently believe.

Once upon a time that crass subject — that taboo — was sex. Thanks to Sex and the City and other books and movies that dealt with it irreverently and cleverly, somehow sex became OK to talk about. Not just over cocktails where you hoped you wouldn’t remember the conversation in the morning but suddenly we were talking blow jobs over brunch.

Sure, you might not talk about it with your mum, but somehow the ick was removed from sex because the shame was lifted simply by bringing the subject out into the light of day and talking about all of it: not just the polite parts.

I for one, would love money to be given the same treatment.

The problem is, I already know so many women who truly believe that talking about money is crass.

That it’s impolite to talk about finances to friends, loved ones or colleagues. That it’s unfeminine for women to discuss cash and particularly wanting more of it. It’s a judgement I rally against on an almost daily basis when working with clients, when speaking to groups and when writing about money.

What we need are more women willing to talk openly and honestly about money, not making judgement calls on whether it’s OK.

That’s because I believe many of us can substitute the word shame or vulnerability for crass and impolite when it comes to describing conversations about money.

Why shame? A couple of years ago, I met with a good friend to talk about her business. I think she beautifully described why we don’t talk about money.

At our very first meeting it quickly became clear she felt she wasn’t in a great place financially and was extremely embarrassed about it. She told me she felt incredibly vulnerable about coming to see me — and gave me a long explanation as to why that was, before she even began to talk about finances.

She even told me that she’d cancelled the appointment twice and had been tempted to cancel again. Eventually, just as I thought we were finally able to get started, she stopped, grabbed my arm and said, “I feel like I’m about to get naked.”

The reason so many women leave the lights off in the bedroom to have sex is the same reason we’re also leaving the lights off on our finances. By talking about money, we’re ashamed that someone will see and judge us.

Part of the reason I believe we’re so vulnerable and feel so icky about money is because of the extremes associated with it.

If you don’t have enough money, if you’re not earning what you think you should be, or if you have too much debt, there can be enormous shame involved. Perhaps it’s because we worry what people will think of us if they see the financial mess we’re in.

Or perhaps we don’t think we’re earning enough to keep up appearances for the suburb we live in, the school our kids go to, or the people we associate with. Whatever the reason, we’re ashamed because of our perceived deficit.

Or perhaps it’s more to do with the opposite extreme.

While it seems to be quite acceptable for men to say they want more money, is it OK for a woman to say she wants to be financially successful and wealthy? Particularly if, say, like me, she has chosen not to have a family? Or if she is a working mother? Does that make us selfish somehow, or less feminine?

Is there judgement involved with women wanting to have more money, in the same way that, pre-Samantha, women might have felt about coming out and saying they enjoyed sex and wanted more of it?

Twenty years ago it was a bit crass to talk so openly about sex. But talking about it only improves it.

Twenty years ago it was a bit crass to talk so openly about sex. But talking about it only improves it.Source:Supplied

Or if you’re a man and your wife is earning more than you, does that make you feel less of a man? Or just if your mates found out? What about if you chose to stay home and look after the kids for a year? Do the (mainly) women at the school ground think less of you because you’re not a provider?

The truth is, there’s already so much judgement involved — we may as well talk about it.

I believe we need to acknowledge the vulnerability and awkwardness involved with talking about money and have the conversation anyway. To begin talking about all facets of money, not just the socially acceptable parts like buying property — and, by talking about it remove the ickiness.

Which is why I propose that women don’t shy away from the debate, but instead, we own that word: crass. I propose that women become crass and classless and choose to talk about money.

Let’s embrace our vulgarity and choose to have deep and serious conversations about cash. After all, if we’re going to be financially resilient, financially well and ever to close the gender gap, then perhaps we need to roll around in the gutter together.

I mean, women everywhere, let’s get f***ing serious and talk about money.

Melissa Browne is CEO of accounting firm A&TA and financial planning firm The Money Barre.

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