Note: this is last week’s column and the unedited version. But I did hear Karen Coleman quote from it on The Wide Angle on Newstalk on Sunday and it sounded intact.
It’s always hard trying to figure people out from newspaper reports. Brid Murphy, wife of the spectacularly indebted runaway solicitor Michael Lynn, is either hard as nails or soft as rotting fruit. Last week she argued in court she was entitled to some of the proceeds of the sale of their trophy house, Glenlion, because she had no idea he was taking out multiple mortgages on their home. According to her she was an innocent, drawn into a fraud that made her not only homeless but possibly liable for some of their heroically enormous debts. He asked her to sign documents, which she did obediently, trusting him because he was her husband and a solicitor. According to her, he forged her signature on other documents. Her defence was a mixture of Nuremberg (“I was only following orders”) to Victimology (“I had a breast cancer scare and wasn’t paying attention”).
The only problem was she also testified that her marriage is intact and she spent the previous weekend with him in Bulgaria. He even picked her up from the airport. What are we to make of that?
If most women woke up one morning to find themselves homeless, facing multi-million euro debts and the realisation that their husband was a lying, thieving cad, you’d assume they’d be first in the queue after him. As she has taken the road less travelled we have to decide that she’s either telling porkies to the court and was fully aware of the frauds, or she has forgiven him. In this case I choose to believe the latter if only because I don’t want to turn into a bitter, wizened old witch who sees nothing but the worst in people. If she loves her husband her chief concern is for his welfare. Keeping in touch with him maybe her only hope of saving him from himself. Such compassion is commendable and the world would be a better place were her behaviour the exception rather than the rule.
But here comes the “but”. She made one monumental error, one that many other women have made and continue to make. Before marrying Murphy was a nurse, a job she promptly abandoned after her wedding so she could “devote herself to her marriage”. There were no children to care for so I really have no idea what “devoting oneself to a marriage” means. Perhaps its means getting lots of beauty treatments and wearing nice clothes so he won’t leave you. Does it entail constantly redecorating your house to encourage him to stay in it? Maybe it allows you to pick him up from the airport when he comes home from a hard week robbing people’s money. Maybe that’s what it takes to preserve a marriage. But in the process she allowed herself to become financially dependent on a man. Big mistake.
When my mother got married her mother gave her a heifer and a piece of advice: always have your own money and never tell him what you do with it. The heifer produced a calf and formed the basis of her independent income. As my parents bought land over the years, one field was put into my mother’s name and is referred to as “Betty’s field”. It’s hers to do with as she pleases.
On the other side of my family, my great-grandfather ensured that his daughters, of which he had 7, were all properly educated and trained. It might have been the early 1900’s but he wanted them to have an independent means of income.
My grand-aunt Edith was one of the first women students in Trinity College winning a gold medal in Spanish. My grandmother, Sally, earned a degree in Music from the Royal Academy in London and became a piano teacher. It was a good job she did because life didn’t turn out as lucratively as it began. Granny married a farmer and bore her children in the 1930’s just when De Valera’s Economic War was destroying Irish agriculture. What he began, the Land Commission and my grandfather’s wild entrepreneurial schemes and love affair with drink finished. He died relatively young and she supported herself for the following forty years. Till she was well into her eighties, Granny’s piano teaching fed her.
This is my feminist heritage. No matter what, preserve your own source of income, and like my mother’s mother said, never let him know what you do with it. My husband and I have just one joint account into which we put money given to us as wedding presents. I have my own current account, my own credit card and my own savings account. When I see something I want and think I can afford it, I buy it. As a matter of course, I knock about one third of the price when the purchase appears in the house and my husband still grumbles that I overspend. If I had to ask for the price of the item, be it a new dress, linen or a piece of art I’d consider myself humiliated. I don’t check his credit card bill; he doesn’t check mine. I don’t think we’ve ever argued about money. This is equality.
When my children were babies and I wasn’t working I still had the children’s allowance. Though its fashionable for men to complain that this payment is made to mothers and not fathers, there are sound reasons why that system has been preserved. Too many men were gamblers, drinkers and thieving solicitors. Women could be trusted to use that money for the right reasons and it was often the only way they could get money without asking for it. This was true decades ago and for many women, it’s still the case. My male friends call working wives the “laying hens”, no coincidence that it refers to the practice of rural women preserving the “egg money” for themselves.
Money is power and any woman who thinks that’s not important should think about this. Let’s say your husband was made redundant tomorrow and you got a job that kept everyone. How do you think your husband would feel if he had to ask you for some money to buy new clothes? If he felt like a weekend away with the lads? If he thought the car needed upgrading. Does that bring a little smirk to your face? A little table-turning would be fun wouldn’t it? “What? â‚¬250 on a new suit? Why don’t you go to Dunnes? What do you need it for anyway? Honestly, men!” There’s just been a huge power shift in that relationship and I can guarantee he wouldn’t like it. People need their own money. It demands respect from their partner and creates self-respect.
Brid Murphy kept her name when she got married. If she’d kept her job she’d be considerably better off today.