April 14, 1999
Gender-Specific Investing Bull's Pen
by Selena Maranjian (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." -- Virginia Woolf
"Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated. The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness." -- Virginia Woolf
Is there a case to be made for gender-specific investing guides and forums? I think so, and I hope to make that case. I might seem to be undermining my own argument at the outset, though. I offer up not only the first Virginia Woolf quotation above that supports a little separation, but also the second one, which endorses collaboration. That's because I don't think there's a single simple solution -- total unity or total separation. I think instead that a little of both is the best way to go.
Why unity? Why invite women and men alike to learn about and discuss investing in the same place? Because:
-- The information is the same. A P/E ratio works the same way for men and women alike.
-- Stocks don't know who owns them. They don't behave in any gender-informed way.
-- The more diverse a group, the more far-reaching, inclusive (and fun?) is its discussion.
Why a separate place? Why attention to gender? For these reasons:
-- A little occasional separation is natural. Different groups of people have different interests. Many couples don't do everything together. Perhaps one partner might enjoy a weekly poker game with friends. Perhaps another might belong to a book discussion group. Perhaps they garden, watch TV, go to church, and dine out together, but still enjoy the company of like-minded friends for engaging in other activities or pursuits. I'm Armenian-American. I enjoy occasional gatherings with fellow Armenians, as well as gatherings with more mixed groups. In Fooldom we have message boards for teens, retirees, teachers, military people... why not women, too?
-- Some women feel more comfortable discussing financial topics among other women. (Note: I said some. Not all.) Where would such an attitude come from? Perhaps from history, which has taught many women (especially older ones) that the world at large is likely to underpay them, under-respect them, undervalue them, patronize them, and dismiss them -- to a degree.
-- The quest for financial security is a vital matter, so whatever methods work should be used, within reason. Just about all women need to learn about financial matters and investing. If some will be more likely to learn in a certain environment, why not provide it? It's not mandatory for all women. Those who crave a room of their own can use it. Those who don't like the idea can ignore it. Those like me, interested in conversations taking place in both arenas, can drop in on both.
-- Some women (perhaps many) will respond/relate best to advice or information coming from female sources. We'd probably all agree that most women know little about carpentry. (Few men might know about it, too.) Some women who wanted to learn about carpentry might be more inclined to read a book about it written by a woman and addressed to women. The fact that the author had mastered carpentry might (consciously or subconsciously) impart a little extra confidence to the prospective carpenter, serving as proof that she, too, could master beams and hammers.
-- By having a separate forum, women can tailor their discussion to topics of general interest to the group. So along with financial topics, they might discuss parenting, husbands, women's history, plastic surgery, mystery books, and women's college basketball. It's simply efficient sometimes to be able to carry on a variety of discussions in one place. Like it or not, many women feel more comfortable discussing some subjects with each other -- or at least with those of either gender who are comfortable and happy to be in the given discussion area. (You'll find both women and men engaged in lively discussion on our Women & Investing (W&I) and Woman's Own (WO) message boards.)
Let me now include some thoughts from denizens (both male and female) of our message boards. (I'm including only snippets of the many things said.)
In a community... shouldn't there be recognition that at certain times people want to hang out in different places? I may enjoy the conversation in the kitchen as well as the conversation in the television room, but the content of those would be different if we insisted that the two rooms congregate. I would miss out on the variety, and I love spice.
Part of the reason to have a place like W&I or WO or any such place is that the word "woman" freights a welcoming degree of compassion and sensitivity. W&I, WO, or any board with the word "woman" offers at least the promise of a soft landing place -- for people, especially newbies, of both genders.
We've had numerous posts in the past from widows or the newly divorced who don't know what to do about lots of different kinds of money matters (buying insurance, the house, repairs, cars, etc.). When you're scared to begin with sometimes you need a safe space until you learn to stand and walk on your own. I was much more comfortable with most money matters than some of the women who've come here with questions; but even I needed it for some things.
The bottom line is that learning about investing is equal for any gender. However, the purpose of a "Women and Investing" area is to ATTRACT women to the subject and help them feel comfortable with it. There is no exclusivity on this board, and everyone participates regardless of gender.
I think that the need for women's boards has come from a desire to discuss issues and thoughts on life that may not be perceived as relevant to investment to all, but in fact those issues are the very reason that the individual is investing in the first place. This may seem frustrating to those who are more pragmatic (male or female)... And it seems to me, that if there wasn't a need for this type of communication, boards like W&I and WO would not have been established in the first place.
I don't think that every woman needs a place like Women and Investing, but I was grateful it was here when I needed it.
Back to Selena.
In conclusion, while I don't believe in strict separation of genders in financial education, I do think that there are sound arguments to be made in favor of a room of their own for women -- for those who want it and feel comfortable there. At the same time, I'd hope and expect that no women would remain only there, not venturing to hang out in other areas. Fooldom is already a much friendlier-than-average cyberplace, and I'd like to think that anyone can be made to feel welcome and comfortable in any part of it.
Next: The Bear Argument