“Woman will always be dependent until she holds a purse of her own.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton
As the Real Housewives of New Jersey prepares to end its second season this Monday, the drama continues to unfold not only with Danielle (oy – that’s another article altogether), but with Teresa and Joe Giudice’s bankruptcy scandal that hit the news airwaves earlier in the season.
As the viewer has sat through episode after episode, she (or he – it could happen!) has cringed as money has been thrown around for lavish parties, home decorations, and of course, as seen in the most recent episode (taking place in good ol’ Italia) custom-made, matching dresses for the little ones!
The awkward pauses as Joe surveys a bill or listens to another of Teresa’s plans to shop ’til she drops also reached a head in the past episode as he made a public performance of reading off the hotel bill from the family’s stay in Venice. Growing redder and redder – resembling a cartoon character ready to send his noggin flying off in a jet of steam — and breaking down each of the exorbitant charges on the itemized hotel bill (“2,200 for drinks – I don’t drink! My father doesn’t drink!” – Really, Joe – then who downed over two-thousand dollars worth of whiskey sours? Lady and the Tramp needed something to wash down the spaghetti?), Daddy Giudice made this week’s Real Housewives quite the event television.
Making the rounds on talk shows, Teresa has tried to explain her family’s situation – most notably on her August 2 appearance on the View. As was to be expected, the harpies (and Bryant Gumbel) ripped her apart – honestly, what publicist books their client on The View anymore? – as Teresa tried to explain the main problem that led to her overspending: THE FACT THAT SHE WASN’T KEPT ABREAST OF DEVELOPMENTS IN HER FINANCIAL AFFAIRS. “Joe didn’t want to worry me,” she said. “He didn’t tell me at first because he thought things were going to get better.”
She emphasized that she is a responsible spender: “I always live within my means. Always.” (To which Joy responded, “But how could you live within your means if you’re now 11 million dollars in bankruptcy. I don’t get that.” Followed by raucous applause from the audience) The crucial point that the “ladies,” and I use that word very loosely, of The View seem to be not only missing but willfullyignoring, is that the “means” which Teresa believed were available to her and the “means” which were actually available to her were two very different things. Because of her husband’s obfuscation of their money matters, Teresa continued to operate in a mindset which allowed her order custom-made dresses and plan parties that, let’s just say, did not receive their supplies from the Card and Party Warehouse (unless there exists a special branch of that store which coats its paper plates in gold and has live unicorns serve as coasters).
The situation was made even more complicated about a week ago when the news broke that Teresa went on a spending spree (reportedly a 60,000 spending spree) for furniture and home décor to replace what will be sold at the bankruptcy auction in October. The money for this excursion, according to Teresa’s lawyer, James Kridel, comes from Teresa’s own book advance (Skinny Italian) and was earned after she filed for bankruptcy, so she “was absolutely free to spend it.”
One just need read the comments on each story that breaks and the opinion of almost every blogger that writes about these stories to feel the sense of hatred and outrage towards the Giudice family — especially towards Teresa. Popular opinion seems to paint her as an out-of-control pampered princess who knows no bounds and often contrasts her with the ‘average American’ – working two jobs (or more) – to support his or her family and curtailing spending to the extreme . . . often cutting necessities rather than luxuries. I’m certainly not going to get up on a soapbox and defend the God-given right to spend 60,000 on furniture – I obviously believe that such expenditures in the face of financial troubles are lubricious and reckless to the extreme. However, I unlike the audience members of The View who, in my mind, paint a perfect picture of cubs frothing in anticipation as their prey dangles tantalizingly at the claws of their host-mothers, am willing to see the complex gender play that seems to be at work in the Giudice household.
Stanton is right in saying that woman must have a purse of her own (I have many – I collect purses . . . irony, perhaps). But a good quotation is like a good slap across the face. It hits you sharp and sweet but then lingers, stinging afterwards – reminding you; making you think. At first hearing the quote, any card-carrying feminist raises their fist and yells “YOU GO, GIRL!” (Just me? Really? Ok . . . ) Put into practice however, life is never as cut and dry, never as easily boxed up as you think it will be. I’m going to the bank tomorrow to deal with my own money matters (nothing so dire as Ms. Giudice), but I’m taking my father with me. Now, I’m a 21-year-old woman. Very intelligent. It’s not that I couldn’t handle it on my own. And it’s not that I want to take a man in particular with me for some out-moded “the banker will respond better to a fellow penis” reason. If my mother was physically able to come with, I would much rather she come – we could hit a movie afterwards; I’ve been dying to see The Switch rather than that Eat, Pray, Love (again, another article!). I just want someone there with me so that I have some help. Yes, this does make the feminist in me prickle just a little bit. It brings me shame that I don’t know enough about money to handle this myself – that I’m not another Suze Orman (that, in fact, after watching five minutes of her show, I wanted to cry!). I’m young, I’ll learn.
But, I understand why Teresa didn’t. I mean, maybe she does know a lot about finances and just chose not to handle them. Old-style Italian (and yes, I know this sounds somewhat racist, but I promise I don’t mean it this way) – means a sharp division of labors between husband and wife. She is raising four beautiful daughters and she doesn’t employ any household help (the show made a point of highlighting this in one of the episodes this season). She cooks, cleans, dresses, organizes, and yes, decorates and party plans. This may make the feminist in you, dear reader, prickle as well, but let me provide you with these soothing words that one of the women who made me a feminist today, (and one of my best friends!) Ms. Michelle B., provided to a cynical anti-feminist:
Cynical Anti-Feminist (picture wearing devil horns and draw on your own devil goatee as you wish): “Well, she’s a housewife, but you probably don’t like that, because you’re a feminist (sneer)”
Ms. Michelle: “Actually, the feminist movement is all about choice. If she chooses to be a housewife, that’s great!”
I choose to bring someone (again, a someone who just happens to have a penis) to the bank with me to help me sort out my money matters. Teresa Giudice and her husband chose to divide their household in such a way that insulated Teresa from her financial status. For various and sundry reasons (many of which will never be known to the general public) this strategy did not work. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s theory was proved to be correct as Teresa was dragged down with her husband to bankruptcy court to account for a vast deficit of money that she had no knowledge of. However, to damn Ms. Giudice to Hell for her lack of a “purse of her own,” is to turn a blind eye to the intricacy of the gender roles at play in her situation. As much as I love Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and as much as I believe in the truth of her quotation, it seems that I am more willing than most to forgive even a feminist for wanting a little help carrying her purse now and again.
Charlotte Triggs, “Attorney Defends Teresa Giudice’s Alleged $60,000 Shopping Spree.” TVwatch.