The Times They Are A Changin’

Women Rise to the Occasion

I’m sure you know a woman who has faced a wake-up call in her life – be it a divorce, a job lay-off, or the death of a family member. Maybe you are that woman? As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

I believe that to be true, especially of women. I’ve raised the point before that when there is a crisis in a family, such as a financial crisis, it is often the woman who steps up, increases her financial education and takes charge. Given our current economy, there are family financial-disasters creeping into more and more homes today. And the women are, most definitely, rising up.

A Role Reversal

In the September 2, 2012 issue of New York Times Magazine, there was an eye-opening article titled, “Who Wears The Pants In This Economy? – Welcome to the new middle-class matriarchy.” The article focuses on the citizens of Alexander City, Alabama where 7,000 of the town’s 15,000 residents were employed by the Russell Corporation, the maker of athletic wear and the town’s number-one employer.

Due to price competition, the Russell Corporation began manufacturing in Mexico and Honduras where they could make clothing at a much lower cost. Today, after relocating its plants and selling the company to Berkshire Hathaway, the Russell Corporation employs only 900 workers in Alexander City, a drop in employment of 87%.

This did not only affect people who were employed by Russell, but it also impacted families whose businesses and companies dealt indirectly with the Russell Corporation. (Note: This is not to make the Russell Corporation out to be the bad guy. The U.S. manufacturing sector overall, which includes the textile mills, lost almost six million jobs in the last decade.)

What happened next within many of these families is what’s making the news. While the men struggled to find jobs, the women of the families went to work. Some women continued on with the jobs they had while others found new jobs being teachers, secretaries, nurses, and more.

The question to ask is, why are the women finding work and the men aren’t?

In the article, Joe Summers, director of the Economic and Community Development Institute at Auburn University, explained it this way, “More important than the particular jobs available, which are always in flux, is a person’s willingness to adapt to a changing economy.”

And Michael Greenstone, an economist at M.I.T., added that, “An important long-term issue is that men are not doing as well as women in keeping up with the demands of the global economy. It’s a first-order mystery for social scientists, why women have more clearly heard the message that the economy has changed and men have such a hard time hearing it or responding."

The wife of one, ex-Russell employee is still employed by the Russell Corporation. Her husband says it’s because, “she’s willing to do anything – payroll, balance the books, do shipping.” Another former employee, when asked why he wouldn’t train for one of the available jobs such as teaching, nursing or retail, gave two reasons. First, he said that those jobs didn’t pay as much as he was used to making. And second, he stated that, “We’re in the South. A man needs a strong, macho job. He’s not going to be a schoolteacher or a legal secretary or some beauty-shop queen. He’s got to be a man.”

One other comment I find telling is this observation by the writer. She states, “Once it all started to fall apart, some women in town took out loans or used savings to go to school to become nurses, human-resources managers and legal secretaries. Many were willing to take low-paying jobs because they hadn’t spent their lives expecting to be the primary breadwinner. They did not find the available jobs humiliating or beneath them; they found it thrilling to be making steady money. After years of receiving promotions whiles their husbands looked for work, many women ended up in [the]… position as the main source of support for their families.”

Save Your Ego Or Save Yourself

I’m no expert on male pride or ego, but that definitely seems to be a major factor for these Alabama men. The one husband said it best of his wife stating, “She’s willing to do anything.”

Put egos aside, and forget about what people might say. Let’s do what we need to do to solve this problem.

This is possibly the greatest strength I see in women today. They rise to the occasion and take action!

I began this article asking about wake-up calls and women because, unfortunately, many women don’t reveal their real strengths until a crisis appears and they have no other choice but to act. If this is what it takes for women to step up and lead, whether it is within her immediate family, community, country, or beyond, then maybe this global economic fiasco may have a silver lining after all for women throughout the world.

If you want to change your life for the better, don’t wait for a crisis. Increase your financial literacy and our free, financial education community here.

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