Playwright and essayist (Granta, Orion, The Nation) Christian McEwen talks about the guilty pleasures of a new mattress, why women do more housework than men, and the surprising link between hoarding and forgiveness.
Join us as we explore these stories from her new book Legal Tender: Women and the Secret Life of Money. McEwen’s collection of haunting, and sometimes amusing, first-person tales were initially presented as a play. Over several years, she talked to more than 50 women, of different ages and cultural backgrounds about money, “the great dragon in the room,” issues of self-worth and spending and the management of household finances.
What was the inspiration for the project?
“In 2009, I was in a local performance of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues,” says McEwen, “and at the party afterwards I said to one of the actors, ‘What other topic brings up such complicated, contradictory feelings for women besides our vaginas?’ Before I reached the end of the sentence, I thought: Money. I have to do a project about money.’”
Why is this topic so important now?
“My generation — the Boomers — like to feel that we’ve arrived politically, yet in so many ways it feels as if we’re going backwards, and we need these stories of empowerment. We need to hear how other women have managed because the average American woman makes 77 cents to the male dollar.”
From the women’s stories in Legal Tender:
The Bed of Solitude
“One day after Michael and I broke up, I went a bought a brand new bed. The mattress came on New Year’s Eve and I saw how cobwebs had formed around the room. How my bedroom had become sad place. So I lovingly cleaned and after I finished vacuuming and washing things I polished all my furniture with oil and vinegar. The room smelled a little like a salad…”
“The biggest struggle in my marriage has been about the division of labor in the household. My husband and I both started out with academic jobs but I decided to negotiate a half-time contract and (ended up) working full-time for half the pay. I was made at my husband for ten years because I did almost all the housework and the little kid work and I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t help more…”
A Hoarding Parent
“My father was a self-made man — a fur trapper and a trader, an auctioneer, and an antiques dealer. He made a lot of money but he lived in squalor. When I was going through his stuff I felt I needed to transform it. So I made altars. And I took all the objects from Africa and wrapped in in red cloth and sent them to all the people I knew of African descent. With the money I found (in envelopes, hidden everywhere), I put my niece through college at Columbia. I’ve been able to travel and to support the people I love to do the things they want to do.”
For more information about Christian McEwen and to buy this book, go to www.christianmcewen.com