It shocks no-one more than me, but I’m apparently now seen as something of a success story. And yes, typing that just made me a bit sick in my mouth, but please bear with me – I promise I’m going somewhere.
Since launching The Flock, I’ve had an incredible amount of support and, because of the joys of social media, most assume what I’m doing is reaping rewards. Which is lovely, of course, but also embarrassing and, not to put too fine a point on it, something of a misnomer.
Because the truth is that, behind the shiny Instagram tiles, I’m scared, and actually rather skint. Going it alone is exposing and frightening, but acknowledging that feels like failure. So until now, I haven’t.
Fear of finance
In 2020, I realise, I’m far from alone. My conundrum is shared by many, including a host of successful people that I look up to. And when I say people, I mean women.
Take our creative industries as an example, and their supposed democratisation through platforms such as Etsy and Patreon. That these allow us to set our own fees for our work sounds great, doesn’t it? Ask and you shall receive. But women were conspicuous in their near absence from last month’s chart of Substack’s most successful paid-for newsletters, a veritable cock-fest of writers making huge incomes from the platform by setting a price on their work and sticking with it.
Now, let’s not pretend there aren’t just as many women using Substack to deliver content to tens of thousands of readers as there are men. There absolutely are. Some are making a lovely living from it too. But, to generalise, the figures suggest Substack’s women are undercharging, or they aren’t charging at all.
It’s something the brilliant writer, and former Buzzfeed staffer, Anne Helen Paterson, has something of an insight into. Having recently quit her day job to work full-time on what will henceforth be a paid newsletter (formerly free), she admits she was concerned about charging her readers for her product.
“It seemed like a great way to ruin a nourishing thing,” she muses, adding that as a staff writer on a major publication, she was “very wary of monetising a side gig or leisure activity. And I understood exactly how much work goes into making a piece of writing into a completed feature.”
Someone else who knows what goes into writing stuff people want to read is the ballsy and brilliant journalist Kate Spicer, whose hugely entertaining turn on Sam Baker’s The Shift podcast revealed that she too worries about money – and far more than one might expect after decades at the top of Britain’s media industry. “Right now, I’d just like to make it rain money. Bucket loads of it,” she sighed, when asked what superpower she’d most like.
“I really feel like women have been served huge financial injustice. God, it makes me so angry the fact that women don’t consider themselves entitled to money, and aren’t considered entitled to money by the people who dispense it. Money has been an ongoing issue my entire life.”
Let’s consider another example. Last month, a journalist I’ve always considered to be in the upper echelons of the ‘women nailing this writing gig’ club, Bibi Lynch, wrote about how she’s facing homelessness. That’s right, the same Bibi Lynch whose byline you could find in The Telegraph, Guardian, Metro and a host of women’s magazines any time you cared to look over the last thirty-plus years. The same Bibi Lynch who hosts a podcast and two radio shows, one on the BBC.
Under the headline, “I’m 55, with a successful career – and about to be made homeless”, Lynch walked The Telegraph’s readers along a path from career success and home ownership to life in the precariousness of the rental sector, living month-to-month. Her account of her decade of hidden homelessness was as shocking as it was relatable, highlighting the fact that any number of us could be just one closed bank account away from security.
Work hard, earn… little
These women share brilliant work-ethics and will toil over creating content people want to consume. Yet in their stories, they also shine light on a tough fact – hard work doesn’t always translate into cold, hard financial security.
Of course, this situation is far from limited to journalism. These women have a platform to tell their stories precisely because of the industry that they’re in, but I’m sure that were we to ask the right questions of any woman running her own small business, or trying to succeed in a 9-5 while juggling childcare, we’d find similar stories of hard graft and harder financial circumstance.
Spicer is right. Far too many of us have been raised to believe that it’s unbecoming or uncouth to talk about – let alone ask for – cash. That it’s something best left to the boys. It’s prevalent across business, where women are far less likely to ask for a pay rise and even less likely to receive them. It’s prevalent across the start-up sector, where just one per cent of venture capital funding goes to women-led businesses. It’s even present in our benefits system where, despite fury from women’s rights campaigners, a couple’s payments are still bundled together and paid into one principle household account, rather than direct to female recipients.
Blame the patriarchy?
So, what keeps this cycle running? The answer to that is a many-headed beast, but the fact that these stories are shocking in their honesty says something about our wider culture and the way women’s voices feature in it. From upbringings in which money is still less often discussed with girls than boys, to the persistent gender pay-gap, to inequalities around parenting leave, to a media still primarily helmed by men, women’s interests are too often drowned out or belittled by those who benefit from the status quo – more so than ever in 2020. Is it any wonder speaking up or asking for more feels dangerous?
Then there’s the number we play on ourselves. We live in a world in which everyone is, to some degree or another, marketing their own life. You might not be doing so professionally, but I’d wager you still do it. Our best days make Instagram. The days when our kids are feral and everything goes to shit? Not so much – and that same rule applies to wealth. There’s currently no shortage of people sharing Reels in which they jump through a seemingly endless wardrobe of expensive, on-point outfits. But who has ever shared a credit card bill on the grid, let alone an acknowledgement of the pressure to keep up that lies behind its bottom line?
Make no mistake. If we want to change the narrative, we have to do it ourselves. But who wants to be the outlier, the person saying that trying to have it all is often a shitshow, that going it alone is seldom easier or that, increasingly, trying to make ends meet feels like an impossible ask?
Asking for more
Yesterday, I handed in an application for a business grant. Over nearly ten thousand words, as I had to sell myself and explain why I was worth backing to the tune of thousands of pounds, imposter syndrome kicked in. I cried many times. The good bits felt boastful, the financial bits embarrassing and the whole experience excruciating.
All of which is to say that I’d highly recommend it. Talking about our finances openly is hard – but then, isn’t anything new and worthwhile? As Spicer says, we need to get over the idea that we’re not entitled to money. I’d go one further and say that we then need to ask for it, again and again.
It won’t be easy. But perhaps it’ll prove what L’Oreal has been telling us for decades in a bid to get us to part with our hard-earned cash. Maybe, just maybe, we actually are worth it.