The personal is political. The personal is economic.

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Screwnomics is a book for women like you, who until now have wisely avoided a dismal subject. You’d like to know more about economics, if only to hold on to more money, but something has warned you off, like a frat house late at night: hazing, secret clubs with creepy names, hoarding private privileges, taking advantage, scoring girls.

Oh, it’s true. My mother wouldn’t like my title for this book, but it’s better than what she called the f-word. In her day the economic frat house wasn’t so corrupt as it is today—not so in-your-face f**k you!—or so fast and desperately dangerous. Still the sexual messaging behind money has long been consistent and routine.

Screwnomics isn’t intended to help you manage your personal finances, but it will explain the larger assumptions of a system that makes managing impossible for so many. Screwnomics is my word for the unspoken but widely applied economic theory that women should always work for less, or better, for free. But why? Where did this come from?

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Inside I translate economic history, terms, and definitions that especially disadvantage women, here and around the world. I introduce you to new, countering ideas and solutions that don’t require a PhD, and may even inspire you to broach an economic subject with your friends.

As designed now, economic theory devalues family, love, young children, music and art, nature’s splendiferous beauty, and the faithful devotions, the loyal commitments, that make any life worthwhile. A glut of fiscal verbiage can put you to sleep, or convince you it’s too hard to comprehend or too boring. Yet its rules have made money the central story of our time. Our current economic theory threatens to blot out any tale but that single one, as if money were all that mattered.

You know that isn’t true. You may try to ignore money’s constant murmur around you, but letting yourself doze off is as dangerous as sleeping with a huge python in the house. 

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Over my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a vast drama of changing roles, expectations, and economic ideas, so along with the definitions, history, and experts unpacked in this book, I include shameful tales, insulting metaphors, and my family’s dirty laundry. However different, all these elements carry a common thread of women confronting an ultra-masculine, ultra-rational mindset, the social construct of our time that I call EconoMan....

In the broadest sense, my premise is that economics, as a science analyzing mathematical market forces, has produced a systemic injustice and the justification for it. I am hardly alone in this assertion. I draw on economists and monetary thinkers whose work calls dominant fiscal assumptions into question—as did the Occupy Wall Street movement, claiming a voice for the 99 percent, and as did the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock Water Protectors in recent times. Perhaps now we can even talk of the female half of the 99 percent. We can look at the role of gender, that other most personal of subjects in the sorting-out process of the haves and have-nots.

In that sense within the world of money, the word female most often refers to being more motivated by love, nature, beauty, and family commitment than by ambition for power. That makes you girly—a negative—whatever your gender or sexual preference. In a similar sense, the word political, as I use it here, does not relate to party affiliation. I use it to mean the dynamics of power and authority, and who gets to decide how our collective power is defined and distributed, and for what end.

Around the world, women and their children remain the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable, and the least noteworthy to most economists. For example, Thomas Piketty’s recent and much celebrated seven-hundred-plus- page work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which so expertly describes growing inequality, has exactly seven index listings for women or females. Women are at the center of this book. I have interwoven my personal story with women’s history and the economic principles I’ve learned about while working as a novelist, journalist, and professor. Generally we aren’t encouraged to connect our personal stories with the effects of an economic and monetary system—everyone knows the economy isn’t personal, right?

But I know that, like me, you also have a money story. I hope you will find it easier to claim, reading mine. “The personal is political,” wrote feminist Carol Hanisch in a 1969 essay of the same name. Soon women everywhere were talking together, setting off a second wave of the women’s movement that changed forever women’s exclusion from education, commerce, and public policy.

The glass ceiling, still in place, however, turns out is actually made of green paper. Women need to talk together about who pasted this in place....Visualizing and laughing at absurdities helps us women reframe our economic lives, so I’ve included cartoons throughout, my jokes coming to life through the illustrations by my delightful colleague, cartoonist Peaco Todd....

Economics is Greek to most of us, its language skewed to avoid all subjective experience and feelings, especially loving ones. So to my mind, unswerving devotion and even the erotic, or Eros—a term modern psychologists use to mean the sum of all our instincts for self-preservation— is exactly the change in purpose our economy most needs to make it sexier and more inclusive of both genders....