Dueling Fools

Dueling Fools
Gender-Specific Investing
April 14, 1999

Gender-Specific Investing Bear's Den
by Yi-Hsin Chang (tmfpuck@aol.com)

As a woman, I can't think of a book I'd rather read LESS than one titled It Takes Money, Honey; Prince Charming Isn't Coming; A Girl Needs Cash; or The Courage to Be Rich -- don't laugh, believe it or not, these are the titles of real, published works. Not only is the tone of such books condescending toward women, they misleadingly suggest that investing and personal finance are different for men than they are for women, which is utterly false.

Money is money. The Federal Reserve isn't printing money "for him" and "for her." Companies that have been good investments have been good regardless of the gender of the shareholder. Microsoft, Dell, Wal-Mart, and Berkshire Hathaway have been good investments for men and women. When you fill out the paperwork to open a brokerage account, no one's asking about your sex, race, or sexual orientation, and no one should because that's all irrelevant.

In fact, the same rules apply to everyone when it comes to evaluating investments, whether you're talking about an initial public offering, return on invested capital, or same-store sales. Likewise, in personal finance, we're all operating under the same guidelines when it comes to taxes, IRAs, 401(k)s, credit cards, insurance, or buying a house or a car. These are universal issues.

The idea of "investing for women" is as ridiculous as "science for women" or "math for women" or "English for women" -- imagine the uproar and protests on college campuses. It took years for women finally to be allowed to take classes with men, to perform the same jobs as men, and now we're being told that women need their own investment guides separate from men? Please.

Investment guides for women ghettoize them in stereotypical roles. Why can't a woman use a generic, mainstream guide such as The Motley Fool Investment Guide or You Have More Than You Think? Are the promoters of women's investment guides suggesting that the material needs to be "specialized" or dumbed down for female readers? Their premise seems to be that women are simpletons requiring special attention. After all, I don't see any investment guides written for men only.

Women's guides also pigeonhole their authors, most of whom are women. For example, some women's books, such as Savvy Investing for Women, are straightforward and informative and could just as easily be marketed as a general investment guide -- imagine The Motley Fool Investment Guide with a "feminine" introduction but essentially the same investment advice regarding mutual funds, index funds, and stocks. In the case of Savvy Investing for Women, the book's author, Marlene Jupiter, is now branded a "women's writer" and is, of course, expected to crank out more of the same. It's not likely she'll be asked to do a "mainstream" guide for both sexes.

Some women's investment guides are marketed as books written for women by women. Now if the topic at hand were pregnancy or breastfeeding, I could see why women might want to read books by women. But we're talking about investing here. Why would I prefer investing advice from someone just because she's a woman? Far more important are the author's credentials and experience as an investor.

Many investment guides for women are written as if women, in general, live single lives. Certainly some do, but most women get married -- one or multiple times -- and make investment and personal finance decisions with their husbands. The books also stress that women are different from men in terms of their financial needs because they are likely to get divorced, to be widowed, and to live longer. What they leave out is that men get divorced, too, and that often women who outlive their husbands also end up with a nice-size inheritance.

The worst women's investment guides are ones that contain more fluff than substance, more pyschobabble than real investment advice. As if the title weren't a dead give away, Suze Orman's latest book, The Courage to Be Rich, actually has a section on "Unlocking the Emotions." A review on Amazon.com says, "If you can't stand discussions of the psychological origins of fiscal decisions, or self-help lingo like 'money is attracted to people who are strong and powerful, respectful of it, and open to receiving it,' you'll want a more nuts-and-bolts adviser." Hear, hear!

One of the worst of the lot is Barbara Stanny's Prince Charming Isn't Coming: How Women Get Smart About Money. This is a 217-page lightweight paperback booklet that talks about psychological obstacles and discovering the "prince" within (not princess?). Incidentally, I was amused to find that Stanny had dedicated the book to none other than her "three girls" -- and her (Prince Charming?) husband. Stanny tells you up front that her book "will not help you get out of debt, deal with creditors, improve bad spending habits, or meet monthly expenses," but will show you how to "empower yourself personally." Great.

Then there's A Girl Needs Cash: Banish the White Knight Myth and Take Charge of Your Financial Life. In a post on Amazon, author Joan Perry talks about building a "money machine," having "dignity money," and some "feminine energy need[ing] us to get our hands around money these days." As if guys don't need cash.

With so much psychologizing and spiritual talk, most women's investment guides belong in the self-help area, not in the personal finance and investing area. Books on investing for women may be a great marketing ploy for writers and their publishers, but it's a great disservice to women looking for real investment advice they can use. "Womanizing" investment advice is exactly that -- it's the women who are the victims.

Next: The Bull Responds