Give Your Money To Women: The End Game of Capitalism

#GiveYourMoneyToWomen is more than a hashtag, it’s a theory and practical framework of gender justice.

by Lauren Chief Elk-Young Bear & Yeoshin Lourdes & Bardot Smith on August 10th, 2015

Late last month, #GiveYourMoneyToWomen trended on Twitter, the brainchild of analyst and dominatrix Bardot Smith; private consultant and dominatrix Yeoshin Lourdes; and domestic violence educator and prison abolitionist Lauren Chief Elk-Young Bear. A convergence of women of color feminists, sex workers, internet entrepreneurs, financial analysts and anti-violence advocates, #GiveYourMoneyToWomen is more than a hashtag: it’s a theory and practical framework of gender justice. We sat down to talk to Bardot, Yeoshin and Lauren about how #GiveYourMoneyToWomen provides structural and interpersonal solutions for equal pay, violence prevention, wealth redistribution, and women’s health — and how GYMTW is emerging as a movement in its own right.

MVC: One of the structural bases of #GiveYourMoneyToWomen is direct transfer of money to women, outside of traditional structures for seeking justice and wealth re-distribution.

Bardot: We are not supposed to question systems or institutions themselves. There’s this notion that we have to only seek justice, safety and equal pay through the one venue they allow, which is the male-dominated corporate world.

Lauren: There’s been a massive popularization and corporatization of feminism, of anti-sexual assault activism, and of the gender gap/wage inequality movement. So what people start doing is saying, “Let’s push for legislation, let’s donate to a big charity, let’s vote this person in for president.” As someone who worked in non-profits and governmental positions, I know there are so many limitations when we’re looking at these institutions as the solution providers. So much of that money does not go to direct services. It does not go directly to helping women who need it the most. There are so many barriers and stipulations with money. #GiveYourMoneyToWomen says we need to directly shift that money. This needs to go to PayPals, Square Cash accounts, direct deposits, or in the form of stacks of dollars from ATM withdrawals. We cannot go through or expect institutions to solve these immediate and structural problems.

Bardot: It’s also infantilizing – the premise behind giving money to these institutions is that if they hand women the money directly, women won’t know what to do with it. So, it’s better off if they take these indirect routes, where if you follow the rules maybe you’ll finally get access to something that can help you. But it’s just another way that they keep the women from accessing capital. Meanwhile, the expectation is that we should shrink and continue to suffer because many institutions don’t truly see how women are affected by systems that require their lives, but not their safety. They need more research, they’re not doing the research, they aren’t looking, they aren’t paying attention. How long are should we wait? I’m not waiting anymore. I have a life to live.

Still from Rihanna's Bitch Better Have My Money music video. Rihanna lies in an opulent trunk full of cash, covered in blood, smoking a blunt on a lush yard.

MVC: How does #GiveYourMoneyToWomen play out on an interpersonal level, and in your own lives?

Yeoshin: I realized I was depleting myself dealing with men both at work and otherwise. My career trajectory has almost always depended on male-dominated work, where I was constantly subject to unwanted male gaze and male emotion. It’s demoralizing and exhausting, and it’s the perfect catalyst for mental health problems, which then can jeopardize employment altogether. And not only are women’s wages incommensurate with our job descriptions in any given male-dominated field, but we receive no compensation for any of the other bullshit that is automatically attached to the job simply because we are women. I’ve never gotten paid to get ogled and flirted with every single day in the office. Nothing about that is sustainable as an avenue for survival, let alone achievement of financial security.

I noticed a similar pattern in my personal life, where men who alleged make my life better than before, consistently made it worse. Continuing to invest myself into relationships on the off-chance men would one day start carrying their own weight, became unrealistic and difficult to justify. And so this has been hugely life-changing for me in that I’m no longer beholden to anyone who does not directly and immediately support my success and well-being, and I can be compensated for any and all time and energy asked of me, on my own terms.

Bardot: For me, this really started when my business and my relationship life had produced a death spiral in that very special way when you find yourself with any visibility. I wanted privacy and income. I started to think about what I could immediately capitalize. So I built up a net of sites and I spent so much time in that world everyday. I was watching the industry and its intersections; relating it to my experiences and to civilian dynamics as well. My interactions through the development of the network matured my perspective on power dynamics. I started off just wanting to make money for myself because that was the most pressing need, and then I started to put together how my work related to women at large…and particularly women under capitalism. The dynamics apply to and affect women, as opposed to just dominatrixes or escorts or any type of job description that women are typically given when they directly capitalize on male interest in female attention, energy, sex, etc.

MVC: How did the hashtag actually get started and trending?

Yeoshin: I’d been following Bardot on Twitter since last fall. At first her message didn’t always sit right with me because it was so far out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t until this past spring that we shared a few private conversations and I paid closer attention to what she was doing. That’s when it all suddenly made perfect sense; I was converted.

Lauren: The specific hashtag developed when I went to go visit Yeoshin, and being in person with her to discuss the exploitation of women on a broad spectrum. This came in the days following anger at the “wife bonus,” and we just started talking about all types of uncompensated labors, in the form of sexual labor, emotional labor, physical labor, educational labor [particularly what we’ve provided in a number of ways digitally], all of this is without monetary return. It was a Friday and I decided that men didn’t need to recommend us for a #FollowFriday, they needed to demonstrate their appreciation by making a payment to our PayPal accounts. “Give your money to women” was explicitly said out loud and we agreed that needed to be the hashtag. “Put up your PayPals, ladies!!!” followed as the initial tweet, and then it just exploded.

MVC: One thing that we often see in reaction to trending hashtags is backlash from mainstream feminism, so let’s talk about the reactions of white women to this and —  

[lots of overlapping chatter]

Bardot: It’s been privileged vanilla bitches who have never had a threat to their existence –

MVC: Wait, we never even asked the question yet —

Lauren: I swear to God white women have been the biggest demographic upset over this, including the wife bonus and all ideas about receiving payment for otherwise expected and entitled labor.

MVC: OK, so it seems that when we start to talk about giving money to women and wealth exchange and essentially monetizing things like women’s time, attention, access to them, the emotional labor that they do, giving them recompense for violence and inequality, people get really upset.

Lauren: I think what is happening is that the mainstream feminist movement for its existence has decidedly said that what’s really feminist is having your own job and having your own money and making your own money, not “relying” on men, not being a stay-at-home partner, being independent. But all of this is meant a very specific context —

Bardot: Corporate…

Lauren: Yes, “Break the Glass Ceiling” and reach the top. And actually subsume yourself more into patriarchy, more into these institutions, mimic the systems that have created the disaster world we live in, and that’s how we’re supposedly going to get free. As Bardot has mentioned this isn’t about us needing to be paid more in the patriarchal-dominated wage system, or  “wanting cash for nothing”, it’s about not being paid for what is wanted and desired from us, and now monetizing that.

Bardot: So anything outside that is considered a failure. They need to find a reason to make what you’re doing unacceptable so they can diminish your success. They’re trying to essentially withhold approval of your existence. Everyone knows women are used to sell things all the time, our sexuality is used to sell things to other people and make money for other people all the time. There’s no way out of this because you can’t strip your sexuality away from you.

Sexuality is how women are policed. It operates on vanilla women, with civilian women, with women who don’t even know sex work exists. It’s how MEN navigate relating to us in public and private spaces, and how much of that is degrading, violent, passive aggressive, aggressive aggressive, etc. It takes a toll on every woman alive in some way.

It also creates a double bind where fulfilling either destiny becomes a way to trap and punish you. If you’re a “good” woman and you serve men submissively and without question, you are vulnerable to whatever comes to you. Sure some women luck out with kind men, we know many do not. We see it everywhere. We do not live in that shared upper class delusion. We can’t afford that denial.

If you decide that it’s not worth it to play the game, you become a “bad” woman. A whore. A slut. A bitch. Now you’re a target for abuse. You stepped outside of the “safe” zone they’ve allowed you so they feel entitled to abuse you freely. “She was asking for it.”  How convenient. They will find endless reasons to justify who deserves to be violated. So the way out of this trap is not to fight them, but to turn their weapons on them.

Sexuality becomes her weapon again.

I was working in tech and finance and both of those environments, they are using your sexuality against you. The more visible you are, the harder you have to be to persist against the result of the visibility. In places where you are the only woman, this makes you a target. You can’t opt out of how *they* assess your sexuality. It was actually more unpleasant for me to be in an environment where I’m subject to the sheathed psychological dominations of men who don’t like how smart I am or how fast I rose their ranks very early in my career. I’d rather deal with them on my own terms. They certainly haven’t stopped coming to me.

Yeoshin: I’m finding there are levels of disapproval on a spectrum of socially accepted financial exchange. People get stuck on what they already deem worthy of payment. Some will say it’s okay to receive gifts and shopping money from a suitor, but what Bardot and I are doing is dirty and immoral. Once they have these preconceived delineations of acceptable financial exchange, wherever on the spectrum that may be, they find anything outside of that unacceptable. Even people who themselves face violent stigma and devaluation for their own work have also lashed out against the concept, claiming what they do for a living is legitimate because it has a job title, whereas providing emotional labor is illegitimate and unworthy of compensation because it doesn’t have a job title. So, whatever they get paid to do is valuable, but what others do, isn’t, and they’re somehow authorized to assert this distinction? Why? Because of semantics?

And ironically, many of the individuals who have reacted this way also vociferously object to the safety risks and economic violence they face, that stem from the exact brand of capitalistic gatekeeping they themselves are now enacting. This hypocrisy specifically targets women of color–particularly Black women–who are already largely denied participation in any kind of socially sanctioned paid labor. Much work that is financially compensated today has also undergone similar scrutiny and denial of recognition — child care, mental health care, and housekeeping service, and more.

And of course, the response from men has been predictably polarized. Many men paid women right away. In some cases, not knowing how to repay us for their consumption of our time, energy, and intellectual labor, had been a source of guilt; so this type of exchange presented them with an opportunity to finally balance the scales and affect some welcome relief from the burden of indebtedness. And then there was the onslaught of male rage. The prevailing sentiment seems premised on a misconception: many men declare women do not deserve money for no reason. To that, I would say I agree: we only require recompense for any and all benefits they reap from women, including taking up our time and energy for any and all reasons. If they seek nothing, then there is nothing to discuss. And that should also mean they never interact with or go near any woman, ever again. Which is perfectly fine with me. So, why such rage, then?

Bardot: Specifically, there’s a large overlap, it’s privileged women, because these women don’t understand that not everyone has security other than what they provide for themselves. It’s women who have never had a threat to their existence, and basically its this huge overlap with sheltered white women. They are really pissed off that anyone who doesn’t look or live like them, be it person of color, queer person, sex worker, whatever, anyone who doesn’t exist as they do could possibly have any kind of security and access to capital that they do…nevermind how *they* got it.

And because people are conditioned that the “demand” is coming from a certain type of person, they decide it’s not actually worth money. This goes back to classism again and again and again. If you look across the spectrum, things women do for society are valued little or not at all in terms of money. They’re essentially forced to access capital through their relationships with men: personal, familial, professional. So we’re dealing with who has a right to access the means to provide a security and that’s a really fucked up position.

Still from Sin City. The Girls of Old Town gather around a man, all pointing guns at his head.

MVC: A big theme of #GiveYourMoneyToWomen definitely seems to be around how much money is being made off women by male-dominated institutions and corporate environments, and that money not actually resulting in capital and wealth for women.

Bardot: If you look at the sex industry, you can’t even come up with a figure because there’s no way to measure how many things are just never capitalized in our interest. If you think about the way the mainstream porn industry works, most women are paid as laborers and kind of discarded, and every cent of profit and capital that comes out of those videos then goes back to these companies. So if you wanted to calculate it as a percentage of the amount of money that’s currently being spent on this type of work and this type of output, I would say upwards of 75% of it is being missed by the women that create it.

So there’s a chasm between women being able to do that on on their own and directly, which is something that the internet — theoretically — provides for anyone who can build a supportive patronage for themselves and/or their digital wares. We see a very diverse but contained application of this in the sex industry. You have women catering to all sorts of niches and building their own sites to be able to do this, but much of the existing technical and financial infrastructure is run, financed, and regulated by exploitive entities.

The internet is 30% adult traffic. So I keep seeing this pattern of women and their sexuality being used against us, and being something to be consumed and depleted. That makes me want to find ways to get direct compensation back to the source of that energy.

Yeoshin: Speaking of the internet, think about the way even mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and others, capitalize on female participation. On Facebook, people who click on profiles are mostly men, and people whose profiles are clicked on are mostly women. So my having a personal account on Facebook makes me a product for Facebook to sell to men. And now that site is worth $250 billion. Likewise, nightlife venues thrive by getting women to participate in their business operations, and they do so by waiving or discounting cover charges or otherwise marketing to women specifically. Women are the product these establishments are selling to men, who then arrive and spend heavily just to be in the same room as women. But I’ve never received a check from Facebook or any club for my business development services. So, instead of wasting my time generating revenue for corporate entities that aren’t paying me, I’d rather make my social interactions profitable to me.

Bardot: And since this is all happening on mainstream platforms, we’re seeing broadly that men are just approaching women online at all times for all reasons, expecting to be accommodated or humored or entertained or fought with or whatever it is. It’s not trivial. And it’s not without cost. So I started just using that as my own practice: my boundary is that if you want to talk to to me at all, you have to pay. Period.

Yeoshin: I started actively using Twitter about two years ago and soon discovered how taxing and violent the daily online experience was. It’s particularly unmanageable if you don’t enforce a highly selective filtering mechanism, so I eventually followed Bardot’s example and began requiring payment to interact with me.

MVC: Yeoshin and Lauren, one thing that’s been surprising about this a lot of money being given as a result of the #GiveYourMoneyToWomen movement is actually being given by women.

Yeoshin: Some women have been swift to recognize that their own consumption also comes at a direct cost to other women. A handful of women, mostly white women, have sent me money, expressing gratitude for knowledge and insights I’ve shared that have impacted their lives. A select few white women have acknowledged their status as beneficiaries of my intellectual labor specifically resulting from racialized marginalization at the hands of white women. So they paid. It’s an important and significant gesture. This is capitalism: words and white guilt don’t improve my life, but capital does.

There are also women paying me to work with them privately. It’s an opportunity for those who have wanted my expertise, counsel, time, and energy, but held back knowing it was wrong to ask me for it without somehow replenishing their consumption. This paradigm opens up avenues for everyone, not just men, to get their needs met systematically and fairly, which provides potential for our human relationships to be more equitable and sustainable than ever.

Lauren: White women are the biggest beneficiaries of white men’s historical wealth. When we begin to really dissect what pay inequality means we have to look at it intersectionally. When thinking about wealth redistribution it’s important for white women to look at their position to women of color, and examine how for generations they have also exploited us and gained huge advantages off us. Recently even the *anti-establishment* champion of the 2016 presidential race said that we should put race and gender aside in our strategy to fix economic problems. We need to be CENTERING race and gender in this discussion.

MVC: Another major component to this movement is the discussion about gender-based violence and #GiveYourMoneyToWomen as playing a role in that violence. Even when we’re talking about just like, what a woman’s experiences of violence over her life is, what is the financial cost of that…

Lauren: It’s High. HIGH. Violence is expensive, and for years now, I have been advocating monetary compensation as an alternative to the justice system and prison industrial complex, and that retribution for domestic violence and sexual assault needs to come in straight cash. Some of my first activism and feminist work around violence started in college, with regard to campus sexual assault. Many women pay a year’s tuition or even four years tuition, or the amount of an entire four-year degree [or more] that they have to forfeit and drop out of because of experiencing violence. And if we look at how many women are sexually assaulted, stalked, harassed, beat up or abused in any kind of way by men across the board, and what the opportunity cost and capital cost and monetary cost of that sabotage – that’s trillions of dollars. Additionally what losing a degree – especially an advanced one – can mean in the long run: a job and desired salary and potential to have more economic security in the course of your life; that could all be gone.

And throughout the course of a lifetime of having to leave violent situations, that requires transportation, having a car maybe or gas money or being able to access public transportation or having someone to pick you up. Finding another location that is safe either permanently or temporarily, but that being available for you. If you have kids, this multiplies…. exponentially. You might have to even quit your job in terms of whatever relationship you were in, especially if it’s also your workplace environment that’s hostile. Having your work sabotaged, having your finances sabotaged/being controlled financially, monitored and surveilled with things you can spend money on or having it restricted from you. Maybe even having zero dollars to your name for a very long time because of all of this and your ability to survive is obliterated.

Yeoshin: When you’re escaping a dangerous situation in a hurry, sometimes you have to leave with nothing in hand. How many of us have the luxury of a separate savings account just in case we suddenly have to run away and start our lives over from scratch, particularly if we have children? It’s especially difficult to prepare oneself when abusive partners often control household finances from the outset, expressly to preclude victims from ever exiting a violent situation.

Bardot: We use money as our way to exchange value, to secure resources. So since men are the primary controllers of money, women are conditioned to want access to men because that’s essentially an access point to security. Our cultural expectation of sexual monogamy in exchange for any provision of resources between a man and a woman often puts women in the position where they are dependent on one person. It is the same dynamic that casts all other behavior into whoredom.

Women, like all living beings, seek resources for themselves. We’ve decided some ways are OK for them to do this, some are not. We punish anyone who steps outside those bounds.

MVC: Another important thing that’s been brought up in terms of this conversation is the sheer number of women that experience absolutely horrific abuse, and they get absolutely nothing.

Bardot: I would say I fall into that category, my experience in business has been so violent that I left it to start my own consultancy after only a few short years. I cannot even imagine going back into that type of environment; there’s hardly upside. And I think women who are not willing to tolerate that get additional abuse. Essentially in speaking up about it, they want to determine if you’re worthy of having objections, whether you’re worthy of disturbing the male dominated-environment. They want to make it so there’s something wrong with you and the system’s completely fine. You have to just turn away, you have to just walk.

Lauren: I also want to mention this in terms of anti-violence, because we’ve all talked about this individually as a violence prevention strategy. There are few things that men love more than their money. If they are making an investment up front and in advance to be able to have access, the chances they are going to harm or disrupt or destroy their investment shrink.

Yeoshin: It’s a litmus test of their intentions, upfront and in substantive terms. In a capitalistic society, money secures power and safety. Statistically, women engaging with men in any capacity is an unsafe venture. If a man wants me to open myself to risk so he can consume my time and energy, but he is unwilling to offset that risk in substantive terms? Without question he is a liability. Next. And while there’s no guarantee a man who pays won’t be violent in some way, it does eliminate men who are certain deadweight.

MVC: What for each of you is the vision that Give your Money to Women offers? What’s the dream that it brings into reality?

Bardot: In my mind, allowing women to see that they have power, and that they can wield it for themselves. There is nothing more rational than capitalizing on what the world asks of you.

Yeoshin: For me the goal is a drastic cultural shift, to where what we’re doing is normalized, so that all of women’s contributions command direct access to resources and without question. This is how things always should’ve been.

Lauren: Having a whole new theory of economics. Thinking about this on basic, anatomical, and also a global scale. Both micro and macro levels: Violence reduction, rebalancing the positionality of income, slowing down unrelenting capitalism, reparations for certain populations of women, and tangibly improving lives and safety.