On Oct. 18, Yeoshin Lourdes and Lauren Chief Elk-Young Bear, the co-founders of the movement “Give Your Money to Women,” gave a talk to a large audience of University students in Memorial Chapel. The talk articulated the meaning and motives behind the controversial movement started by Lourdes and Chief Elk a year ago.
Give Your Money to Women, Chief Elk explained, is a movement suggesting that women be provided with financial compensation for the hours of unpaid labor they supply, whether labor at home, emotional labor, or the expenses necessary to escape abuse.
“This is about a number of things in terms of gender and economics, and looking at women specifically under capitalism, and the types of exploitations that are gender-specific, and what it costs to be a women,” Chief Elk said. “The type of labor that we are expected to do, that is needed to keep things going, yet that is severely undervalued. All of these things came together to form this message, [asking], how do we remedy these things? How do we remedy pay inequality? How do we remedy what it costs to be a victim of sexual violence? How do we remedy domestic work? So we said, we’re going to pay money directly into the hands of women.”
The movement began with the establishment of the viral hashtag #giveyourmoneytowomen and has since grown to a social movement across a variety of platforms. One of these platforms is public speaking, and University students reaped the benefit.
Lourdes and Chief Elk’s talk opened with a discussion on the different roles women play in a variety of areas, and the work they are expected, culturally, to provide without compensation.
“We’re expected to do [these feminized things] throughout our daily life in all of these contexts, whether it’s the formal workplace, the classroom, corporate settings, social settings, and, of course, interpersonal relationships,” Chief Elk said.
She explained that women are often expected to go above and beyond their prescribed role in a wide range of settings, citing as an example the assumption that women will plan workplace parties.
Chief Elk went on to note that emotional labor was a prevalent form of labor for which women should be compensated.
“Emotional labor especially is one of the big things we focused on,” she said. “A lot of people ask, ‘What is emotional labor? It sounds ridiculous.’ But it is really something, again, that is feminized, that is needed, and really seen as not real, not real work.”
But, according to Chief Elk, it is real work, involving both the efforts of women to suppress their emotions, and the constant push for women to provide emotional support. Women are expected to listen and give positive emotional feedback based on the stereotype that they are more in tune with emotions.
From there, Lourdes segued into a discussion on the importance of broadening the term “unpaid labor.”
“When we say unpaid labor, we’re talking not just about work that’s done in the formal sense, so not just work that’s done in a job, but also work that’s done outside of formal property,” Lourdes said. “So work that people do in relationships, work that people do to maintain their homes, reproducing the labor force, reproductive work.”
With all of this in mind, Chief Elk noted that the movement has been criticized as an effort to simply hand women money for nothing at all.
“This isn’t about handing over money for nothing, but rather paying for all of these things that are desired, expected, and demanded,” Chief Elk said. “All of these feminized activities are very much needed and desired and wanted to keep the world going around.”
“We’re taking account for the work that’s always been expected to be done for free,” Lourdes added.
Chief Elk explored the reason why women’s work is devalued.
“Part of the reason these activities are traditionally devalued is because they are attributed to the nature of women,” she said. “So women are [portrayed] to be caring and nurturing, and therefore enjoy these kind of caring, nurturing activities. Since they enjoy them so much, they can do that for free, right?”
It is precisely this judgment that Lourdes and Chief Elk hope to dismantle. They noted that masculinized activities, even if enjoyable, are rewarded with monetary compensation, while there is a divide for traditionally feminized activities.
From there, Lourdes and Chief Elk then moved into a discussion on the second part of their movement, which, rather than focusing on the gender-based workforce, honed in on sexual harassment, abuse, violence, and the importance of compensation for victims.
Chief Elk explained that experiencing sexual assault, abuse, and/or rape is extremely traumatizing for victims, and, on top of that, can be very costly. Women are often unable to continue working after being sexually assaulted, whether due to trauma or because the perpetrator is in their workplace. Likewise, lawsuits and hospital bills can add up to an extremely expensive process, in addition to the emotional trauma experienced. The two explained that the lack of compensation is unacceptable.
“This adds up really quickly,” Chief Elk said. “So [Give Your Money to Women] is a meaningful way to respond to these gender-based assaults.”
Chief Elk also noted that when women are unable to stay at their jobs, especially for reasons relating to sexual abuse or harassment, the economy suffers. Women are taken out of the workforce, their income decreases, and they will be purchasing less.
Lourdes added that when women no longer have an income or financial security, they are even more at risk for assault.
“You’re more vulnerable to further violent events happening to you,” Lourdes said. “So part of Give Your Money to Women is aimed towards giving immediate financial relief to women who have perhaps suffered some form of violence or are in some form of transition related to violence and are unable to access money to move or money to protect themselves.”
Lourdes noted that, because of this, not only are women dealing with the primary effects of the trauma, they are also dealing with the secondary economic and financial effects.
Chief Elk acknowledged that she has been met with some resistance to the concept of providing financial relief to victims, specifically the argument that money cannot make up for the trauma. Chief Elk notes that she takes personal issue with this argument, noting that victim compensation funds are extremely difficult to obtain and that there is little time for victims in the criminal justice system. She notes that monetary compensation is both direct and meaningful, especially considering the costs that rack up over time for victims.
The essential goal of this movement, Lourdes notes, is to “make it not about pleasing men in order to get what you want out of [the system].”
Toward the end of the lecture, Lourdes and Chief Elk made a point of saying that when they used the term women, they meant all people who identify as women. They also noted that the capitalist system tends to be a binary one, which is why the marginalization occurs in a binary fashion, but they also noted that non-gender conforming people certainly have a role.
The University’s Women of Color Collective was responsible for setting up the talk, and member Chantel Jones ’17 found it both interesting and illuminating.
“I feel like, as women, we’re so fearful of asking for certain things like this, and we’re so afraid of the backlash, even having this discussion and talk,” Jones said. “Finding ways in which we can fight against this fear, I think that was really important to me, just listening to that.”
Chief Elk and Lourdes covered a variety of points and topics in their talk, but finished with a simple and poignant message.
“Women have to lead this,” Lourdes said.