Cash is disappearing, relegated to old movies, tax-dodging employers, hip hop videos, beggars and game show prize pools. In its fall from ubiquity to disrepute, it evokes a lost world of treasured possessions, harking back to a time when men were men and women were women. Cash, like ‘women’, might be an anachronism but it’s a useful one insofar as it demarcates old territory we continue to fight over. ‘Cash’ is shorthand for all forms of value; we could have paired ‘women’ with ‘money’ but cash carries a special historical weight. For many of us its material heft authenticates the fantasy of riches, the way a child plays at fabulous wealth by throwing around Monopoly money. Locked out of wealth, women aspire to cash.
Cash helps women disappear too. It confers the privilege of vanishing to those who want to vanish and the violence of erasure for those who are stuck chasing it to live. In this way, it is complicit in the erasure of women’s labour, especially domestic and casual work. It’s almost as though it has an anonymizing force; you don’t need a name to facilitate a cash exchange. Of course, this same trait makes it the best friend of those who need anonymity, such as women who are escaping violence.
Welcome to Bumf’s second special issue: Women & Cash. The six pieces collected here explore the ways in which women and cash interact, contesting the values placed in terms such as work, sex, love and fidelity, as well as the ways in which value becomes valuable.
In the opening essay, 'High Fidelity', Rob Horning discovers that every love story is a property-management story. Writing on Anthony Trollope’s most controversial character, Lily Dale, he argues that Lily’s kind of fidelity—fidelity to herself—will hasten the demise of marriage as a means of exchange, and in turn, the aristocratic order.
Across the Mediterranean, Gillian Bouras finds a similar system in full swing. In 'Love and Dowry', she discovers that her family’s marriages have less to do with love than she thought. Dowry, property, virginity and fidelity confer value on women: if they have enough of it, they can marry and become property themselves.
The collapse of the aristocracy and outlawing of practices like the dowry system ushers in a new order and new hierarchies. Loosed from its restrictions, value is supposed to circulate freely, of equal access to all. But charities, wage divisions, sponsorship, welfare, grants and government funding all continue the work of distributing capital according to unevenly weighted identities. Value pools in the same places as always.
It becomes a question of dislodging it. One option is to break contract: divorce him and take his money. If this won’t work—if, for instance, you have a dodgy pre-nup—you might have to take drastic measures. In the 1981 film Body Heat, two lovers do just this. Sally Olds looks at the film’s mariticidal fantasy and discovers that murder is called ‘wetwork’ for a reason.
The final three pieces offer a perhaps less fraught means of redistributing wealth. In the past year or so, the question of who gets to decide what’s work and what’s not work has been routed via a slew of ideas. One of the most compelling is #GiveYourMoneyToWomen, a Twitter movement that bypasses the push for wage equality and instead advocates that we pay women directly for their work, be it emotional, artistic or intellectual. It has ruffled plenty of feminist feathers, especially those who view empowerment through a lens of ladder-climbing (think corporatized feminism like Lean In). Here, upwardly mobile women—those who are already valued above and beyond others—get a leg up, while anyone who opts out or can’t opt in is swept back to the margins.
Inspired by #GYMTW, we asked three writers, Annie Zaidi, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, and Madeleine Holden, to each create an invoice detailing what they would be owed for unpaid labour they have performed. An invoice is a pass into the safe space of business, but it also appropriates and pollutes its conventions. It demands not only payment but a rethinking of women and work; it uncouples non-traditional work from femininity, recoding it as something performed rather than expressed. In this way, cash opens ‘women’ to alien values, new territory. If you do want to give your money to women, there are links to Paypals at the end of each invoice.
Thanks for reading,