You should know what you're risking when you give up your financial independence.
When I was young, I determined I would never depend on anyone, if I could help it, for my financial wellbeing. And so, I started working as soon as I could, taking any job I could get my hands on: from delivering newspapers to babysitting to dog-walking to working at a dry cleaners.
Now, we’re talking about the seventies and eighties, when what we called “women’s liberation” was still new. New enough, in fact, that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was considered genuinely groundbreaking for its depiction of a woman living and thriving by her own wits and her own initiative. The idea of the independent woman was as much a culture war shibboleth as the rights of trans women are today, something that promised a kind of fundamental change to the way Western society had come to operate. By the eighties, the “working girl” image had given way to the cold, hard businesswoman with sharp shoulder pads and a withering stare. Misogynistic? Absolutely. Women, it less implied than baldly stated, could only succeed in business by emulating men. Over time, this image has evolved, and as a culture, we have made a kind of peace with the reality that women can and very often do lead productive, independent lives without the presumed benefit of a man to take care of her.
A lot has changed since the eighties; the economic collapse of 2008 produced a financial shock from which millennials have never really been able to recover, providing a fertile space for the “gig economy” to feast through carnivorous grins. A generation of young adults spent their twenties and thirties struggling to monetize as much of their lives as they could in order to achieve the basic landmarks of adulthood, blurring the line between work and home well before the pandemic even began. Hustle culture—with its bestie, the pink velvet ideal of the Girlboss—was held up as the gleaming path to success; work, work, work, work, work till you get what you want.
Hustle culture as an idea makes a kind of intuitive sense; nothing in it, on its face, invites a lot of criticism. Of course we should work for what we want! This is America, the land of opportunity! And it was easy, I suspect, for the worn out kids of the post-financial crisis world to look at the proliferation of Etsy stores, AirBNBs, and Ubers and see something like a real shot at the brass ring of being able to achieve financial independence (and all the milestones that come with it: getting married, buying a home, starting a family, and freeing themselves from the shackles of student loans they were fitted for when they were barely seventeen and eighteen years old). But what emerged was a regressive race to the bottom, an economy that squeezed every ounce of productivity out of those hustling to get ahead, before tossing them out without a second thought. What began as a promising ideal quickly turned toxic
; the #riseandgrind mentality bred workaholism, trampled over boundaries, had no care for work-life balance or worker welfare, and fueled burnout. It wasn't a whole lot different from the corporate culture that shut out countless women by demanding long, unpredictable hours, frequent travel, and late nights wining and dining clients. And that aspirational Girlboss who was supposed to create a more balanced and inclusive workplace, lift up women and marginalized workers alongside her, and usher in a feminist utopia? She turned out to be an Insta-worthy, impossibly cool repackaging of the bosses that came before her
. Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss
So when reality failed to keep up with the dream, many young women began rebelling against the idea that we must all be economically productive at all times.
Which brings me to TikTok, where the “stay-at-home girlfriend
” trend is apparently growing in popularity. As a rebuke of hustle culture, it too makes a kind of intuitive sense. When work as we once knew it isn't working for millions of people—see the She-cession—and employers treat their employees as disposable, it shouldn't be surprising that so many are seeking something different. And on the heels of a global pandemic that forced all of us to really think about what matters most to us, it stands to reason that many would gravitate toward spending more time at home with their families.
Now, to be perfectly clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. The great point of women’s liberation was and remains that unshackling of our minds and bodies that gives us the freedom to choose our own lives. Feminism is about choice, so if you want to stay at home, then by all means stay at home. Despite what others may say, there is nothing inherently anti-feminist about choosing to be a stay-at-home wife or girlfriend. But it is absolutely critical that you understand why so many of us fought so hard to be allowed to make that choice—to be able to leave the home, have our own bank accounts, and earn our own money. The philosophy I picked up on so young—to never depend on anyone financially—was one learned over lifetimes by the women of the generations before me. Women without their own means of financial support, women without the ability to take care of and provide for themselves, were in a dangerous position; they were, in many ways, prisoners of their husbands. This is why the normalization and celebration of being financially dependent on a partner deeply troubles me. Our economic independence freed us from subservience—a subservience that cost many women their lives.
This isn’t something I state lightly. The dynamic persists to this day far more widely than any of us would like to believe, and it creates circumstances in which women are more likely to be victimized because they lack a means of escape. When your husband or boyfriend is the sole breadwinner, you are gambling with your independence, your livelihood, and potentially even your life. When you are financially dependent on someone else, it becomes far harder to walk away. Should your partner become abusive, it makes leaving the relationship that much more difficult. And that is incredibly dangerous, deadly even.
That’s a scenario that ought to be cause for genuine concern for all women—that the price of giving up your financial independence could be far more than you bargained for. So think hard about what you're willing to risk. As infallible as any relationship may seem, how much of yourself are you willing to bet on it? More than a generation of young women have grown up relatively removed from what it was like to have so few choices because we’ve always worked, always had a means to support ourselves. Many young women haven’t felt as tethered to the home as much as they’ve felt beaten down by the unrelenting capitalist drive to be productive. There’s something empowering in prioritizing the things you actually want to do over a job, a boss, or the idea that your value lies in your work. And there is of course peace to be found in slowing things down. I do get that. But at the expense of your financial independence, I’d argue that the price is needlessly too high.
This isn’t an argument against choosing the life you want to lead, but for doing so with open eyes—and a plan. Build up personal savings. Keep your resume up to date. Be able to leave the moment you need to leave. It’s for your own safety, and if you don’t believe me—ask your grandmother; she’ll tell you the same thing.
But perhaps, as I firmly believe, there is a middle ground for those who want it, a balance that lies between relentless hustle culture and financial dependence. What that may look like is as limitless as you are. Entrepreneurialism, through which you can carve out a path toward economic independence on your own terms, is equally limitless, and I’d say the same thing to those who want to pursue the stay-at-home lifestyle as I would to any young woman launching her career: know your value and demand no less. If your job is to support your partner who works outside of the home, then you should be fairly compensated for it. It is, after all, work—work that would otherwise have to be carried out by someone else. At the outset, and before walking away from a traditional job, create a plan that outlines how much you will be compensated and how you will be paid (and keep a separate bank account that only you have control over). Make sure your partner is on the same page. This will allow you to support your partner without sacrificing your financial independence and safety. Traditionally viewed as “women’s work,” cooking, cleaning, and childcare are all vital work that have been far too undervalued for far too long. With a little entrepreneurial spirit, perhaps you can be the ones to change that.