Popaganda: Money


Money. You hate it. You need it. On this episode, we embark on an anti-capitalist exploration of cold hard cash, highlighting work from the Money issue of Bitch magazine. Featuring: Financial advice for your twenties from Ester Bloom of The Billfold, a conversation about the racial politics of fair trade with travel writer Bani Amor, a discussion of gender in the freelance economy with writer Sarah Grey, and the revelation of why cigarettes were once sold to women as “freedom torches” as Andi Zeisler shares an excerpt from her new book We Were Feminists Once. Tune in! 






Push up your sleeves, make the world better. Today’s workplace requires employees who think creatively and dig for the unique insights that drive change. Expand your passion with the skills that will allow you to be a leader in your field. Earn your economics degree online at Oregon State University. Learn more at: ecampus.oregonstate.edu/econ.


• Read the articles “Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism” by Bani Amor and “Between a Boss and a Hard Place” by Sarah Grey by subscribing to Bitch magazine

• The full version of Andi Zeisler’s essay “Empowertise Me” is available online in the Money issue. 

• This episode features a snippet from one of my favorite songs: Barbara Dane’s “I Hate The Capitalist System.” 

Subscribe to Bitch’s podcasts on iTunesSoundcloud, or the Stitcher mobile app.

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Our show will be transcribed by Cheryl Green of StoryMinders. We’re proud to make Popaganda accessible to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.


Two of the essays on this podcast can be read in the Money print issue of Bitch. Read “Empowertise Me” and “Between a Boss and a Hard Place” in the Money issue.

This is Popaganda, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Sarah Mirk.

[theme music]

[snippet of Bills Bills Bills R&B/Hip hop song]

♪Silly me, why haven’t I found another?

A baller, when times get hard, I need someone to help me out

Instead of a scrub like you, who don’t know what a man’s about

Can you pay my bills?

Can you pay my telephone bills? ♪


SARAH: In their snappy 1999 hit, Bills Bill Bills, girl group Destiny’s Child dishes out some sound financial advice:  don’t date a guy who will ruin your credit score.

[Bills Bills Bills lyrics]

♪Now you’ve been maxing out my card

Gave me bad credit, buyin’ me gifts with my own ends

Haven’t paid the first bill

But instead you’re headin’ to the mall

Goin’ on shopping sprees

Perpetrating to your friends like you be ballin’

And then you use my cell phone…. ♪


SARAH: With a flashy beat behind them, the ladies of Destiny’s Child walk through several very mundane financial situations. Your boyfriend borrows your car all day, and then doesn’t even fill it up with gas? That’s a jerk move. Then he borrows your phone, calls a bunch of people, and doesn’t pitch in to pay the phone bill? Red flag. Dump him and date a guy who can pull his own weight.

[Bills Bills Bills lyrics]

♪Silly me, why haven’t I found another?

A baller, when times get hard, I need someone to help me out

Instead of a scrub like you, who don’t know what a man’s about

Can you pay my bills?

Can you pay my telephone bills? ♪


SARAH: It’s a ringer to have our pop culture be this explicit about the relationship between money, gender, and equality. But Bills Bills Bills speaks to something real:  gender and race shape our financial lives. And obviously, women usually get the short end of the stick. We fight an uphill battle, not only against mooching boyfriends but against unequal pay and unfair labor laws. All of the way gender impacts our economy is often unspoken. It’s baked into the framework of capitalism, and it affects everything, from how much we get paid over the course of our whole lifetimes to what shampoo we buy day to day. That’s why money is the theme of our summer print issue of Bitch Magazine. The issue, which should be arriving in subscribers’ mailboxes right about now digs into what movies, books, and TV tell us about how money works.

On today’s episode, we’re highlighting awesome work from the Money issue, including getting some financial advice about what not to do in your 20s, taking a critical look at freelancing, talking about the politics of the fair trade movement, and hearing why cigarettes were once called “freedom torches.” Stay tuned.

[snippet of I Hate the Capitalist System folk song by Barbara Dane]

♪I hate the capitalist system

and I´ll tell you the reason why

it has caused me so much suffering

and my dearest friends to die

well I know you all are wondering…. ♪


SARAH: The problem with most financial websites, in my opinion, is that they’re a) oppressively upbeat and b) usually geared toward rich people. The Billfold is the money website for us anxious commoners. Started in 2012 by two 20-something friends, The Billfold features essays and interviews about everything from when to tip to the economics of addictive Japanese cat app Neko Atsume. Pro tip:  they’re trying to get you to pay for more fish for Tubbs. I wrote about The Billfold in The Bitch List in the Money issue of Bitch Magazine, and I thought I’d call up the site editor, Ester Bloom, to get some financial advice that she learned the hard way in her 20s.

ESTER: Yeah, I have two very key pieces of advice, and they’re pretty different. On the personal finance side of things, I would say start an IRA as soon as possible. Scrape together the minimum required, do it through Vanguard or a place that you trust, and then contribute as much as you can every year starting whenever you can. That was the best advice that my father gave me when I was starting out. Then the other piece of advice, which is a little more holistic, is to go into the right career. Because if you try the wrong career first, or if you choose a career for the wrong reasons, you are probably gonna lose your first job or two out of college. And you might very well lose your first job that you got out of college anyway, but you can skip a lot of that hassle if you don’t choose the wrong place to work in the first place.

SARAH: But how do you know what the wrong place to work is? I mean, obviously, people aren’t gonna go out and say, “I want the wrong job!”

BOTH: [laugh]

ESTER: Exactly. Of course not. But I think a lot of us choose a job based on the wrong criteria; we choose jobs that sound exciting in fields that seem sexy, fields that seem like they would be fun places to work. In actuality, the most important thing is can you respect your boss, can your boss respect you? If you work in a place where your boss does not respect you and/or you don’t respect your boss, it doesn’t matter how exciting and sexy and fulfilling, even, the field is. You’re going to have a horrible time day to day, and you might well do a horrible job at your day-to-day tasks and end up losing your job. So it’s much more important, ultimately, to find a place where you are a good fit, not the place that sounds best when you talk about it at a party.

SARAH: So did you ever get fired from a job in your 20s?

ESTER: I wouldn’t say “fired.” I was asked to leave a couple times, yes, from my first couple jobs. It was a really important part of my education, and I learned a lot from those two experiences. But what I learned primarily was don’t try to work in entertainment. Don’t do something that just sounds like it would be exciting but is soul-killing on a day-to-day basis.

SARAH: So you got let go, but it totally is OK? I feel like getting let go from a job, that’s what everyone fears and could be crushing to you if you’re 22.

ESTER: Oh, it is absolutely crushing. I did not have a trust fund, I had nothing to fall back on, and I was always such a good girl. I’d never lost a job before. I’d never even gotten detention before. And all the sudden, I was filing for unemployment. It was terrifying, but it was also really important to learn that I could bounce back from that, I could get another job and then another job and another job, and ultimately it would be fine. Ultimately, I’d be able to tell the story of my employment history in a way that made it sound funny and even important that I lost those first couple of jobs, rather than just tragic and awful.


SARAH: That was Ester Bloom of the website The Billfold.

You’re listening to Popaganda, the feminism and pop culture podcast. Today, we’re talking money, money, money. It’s the theme of our current print issue. Consumerism is complicated. On the one hand, buying stuff can feel empowering. I remember the first time as a teenager that I got a paycheck and was able to buy something with my own hard-earned money. I think I probably spent most of my first paycheck on tacos. But it didn’t matter. There was that rush, that thrill of, “This is mine! All mine!” But why does that feel so good? And what unseen forces push us to buy one thing instead of another?

That’s what Bitch Media creative and editorial director Andi Zeisler explores in her essay, Empowertize Me, which looks at the history of advertisers co-opting feminist language to sell stuff like cigarettes. A longer version of this essay is featured in the Money issue of Bitch Magazine, as well as in Andi’s brand new book, We Were Feminists Once.


SARAH: That was Andi Zeisler reading her essay, Empowertize Me. See the full version of that essay in the Money issue of Bitch Magazine and in Andi’s new book, We Were Feminists Once.


SARAH: You’re listening to Popaganda, the feminism and pop culture podcast. Today, we’re highlighting work from our summer print issue, the Money issue. For the issue, writer Bani Amor looked at the racial and gender politics of the fair trade movement. In this interview, she talks to Bitch Media associate editor Amy Lam about her article, Spend and Save:  The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism.

AMY: Hi, Bani. I’m so excited to be talking to you today.

BANI: Thanks for inviting me. I’m excited too. Thanks, Amy.

AMY: Yeah, of course. So I’ve really admired your work and have been following you for a long time. I was just so stoked when you had pitched a great piece for the magazine. But before we talk about that piece, I guess I just wanna talk more about your background. So you have a blog. It’s called Everywhere All the Time:  Decolonizing Travel Culture. I wanted for you to talk a little bit more about why is it important to decolonize travel culture? And what does it look like to decolonize travel culture?

BANI: That’s a great question. That’s the question of everything, of all the work. Decolonizing travel culture is, for me, it’s a question. It’s like how do we look critically at the business of tourism and how its historical relationship and present relationship to imperialism and colonialism? How does that affect people of color who not only travel, but who depend on the tourism industry as workers and laborers, usually cheap labor and menial labor? What is the relationships between these tourist workers, these communities who often experience sort of an occupation, like a presence, like an occupation of foreigners, of Westerners, of mostly white people coming into their communities and shifting the local economies, the local culture, and how those communities relate to their culture? Many times Indigenous cultures, many times backpackers or other tourists, they like to go where it’s cheap for them to travel even though they have the money to travel in other ways. So that shifts how Indigenous people will relate to their cultures and if they have to kind of perform them in order to make a buck. So all of that creates very problematic effects for those people, these communities, and that industry. It relies on that money. It relies on all that oppression to keep going. Travel writing is the story of that industry. It’s the story of tourism, and historically, it’s been the story of conquistadors, colonizers, “explorers” coming into these lands. Those notebooks, you know those old field notes from the colonizers, that’s really a lot of people would argue that that’s not the birth of travel writing because there’s lesser known stories that people of color or other people doing journeys back then that weren’t fucked up. But as far as these writings go, if you open up Condé Nast Traveller or something else, it won’t sound that different from those notebooks. So that’s an issue, and it’s not really talked about in a big way. If you have travel writing, a lot of people writing these things, they have the power to be a tourist, and that is just not available and accessible for a lot of people, especially people of color even if we are from the “Western world” or “developed places.” And even for travelers of color in other places, the politics of us moving around the world is more fraught with these other power relations that have different, what is the “norm” traveler white dude or whatever from the US or whatever. We have totally different experiences traveling. There are different ramifications of us moving around the world. The other side of that is people of color who travel, but we don’t call that travel. We call that tourism. There’s migration, there’s refugees, there’s forced migration. All of these things are happening in conjunction with the story that is travel writing that really supports the industry of tourism. So all of that, for me, getting deep into these issues, into the questions, and challenging those power structures is a big part of decolonizing travel culture, as well as kind of reclaiming the voice of who is telling the story about these places around the world.

AMY: Yeah, I think that’s why I’ve just always really appreciated your work so much, because often when we think about mainstream travel culture, it’s very white-centered. I really appreciate your work because you’re looking at the intersection of race, travel, class, and nationality, and you do it in such a way that I haven’t really read before that was accessible to me. So I’ve just really appreciated your work! I just wanna thank you. So I was so excited when you wrote this piece for our latest issue, the Money issue called Spend and Save:  The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism. In this piece–for folks who haven’t read it yet, you should pick up a copy. I was so excited when you pitched this because it really put into words, and had a deep analysis of, the issues that I felt about fair trade industries and fair trade markets or banding, but I didn’t have all the right words to express my feeling about them. Can you tell us a little bit about what fair trade is and what does it mean within the larger consuming marketplace?

BANI: Fair trade is generally supposed to be a way to equal the global economic workforce, equalize it so that people in disadvantaged countries are making a living wage in comparison to people in countries where the wage is a little fairer, higher, obviously. So yeah, it’s just about paying people what they can live off of in the place that they’re in.

AMY: And in your piece, the companies that you highlight–[chuckling] I don’t even wanna say highlight–that you’re lowlighting, they often are websites and organizations and companies that are run by white women where they sell handicrafts or clothing made by women of color from the global South.

BANI: Mmhmm.

AMY: So I just want you to talk about what influenced you to tackle this specific topic.

BANI: What influenced me was my experiences. I’m Ecuadorian. I’m also Guatemalan. Indigenous culture, history, present, it’s a big part of my life as a person who is diasporic, first-generation immigrant. When I see these shops or ads or whatever websites for these fair trade companies, the story is usually, “We’re gonna sell you these wonderful, culturally important handicrafts made by these collectives, usually, of women of color in what’s usually the global South or in Asia. And they’re gonna make more money, they’re gonna be able to sustain themselves, they’re gonna get more empowerment that women need that they’re not getting otherwise because they lived in such an uncivilized and unequal place.” It’s just like, “Huh?” My ears prick up. I don’t think that that’s true [laughs]! Just the gall that is kind of like, “We’re gonna involve ourselves, and we’re gonna help people.” When that’s coming from white people, or a lot, white women who own these companies a lot of the time, I’m hesitant. I wanna know more. So that made me want to research this subject and these companies a lot more as well as the story that they put forth that is just using that savior narrative. It’s just invoking that historical narrative that humanitarians use, NGOs use, governments use. But right now, in this market, it’s a capitalist thing. So using that savior narrative that is used to kind of defend military intervention and all these other things that we know that have historically not been helping these communities, doing it in this capitalistic market in the name of female empowerment, it’s really concerning. When I looked into it, I had good reason to think why.

AMY: Your piece is full of really great quotes, but one of this that speaks to what you’re talking about now is this quote where the piece says, “The presumptuousness of claiming you can ‘eradicate poverty and gender inequality’ by selling bracelets to yuppies exposes one fallacy of corporate feminism, that leaning into capitalism can heal the symptoms of the system without actually challenging it.” Which is the entire fair trade branding.

BANI: Mmhmm.

AMY: It’s like, if you buy this, then these brown and black women will have better lives, without questioning what it means to live under a capitalist system that harms them. Which leads me to another great quote in your piece where you say, “The central paradox of fair trade capitalism relies on an equity to keep these shops open.” My mind imploded a little bit there! Because your thesis is that the reason why these shops are open is because the very machine that drives capitalism, that drives you to go shop at these shops, is what is keeping these people and these situations oppressed in their way.

BANI: As well as the mentality. You have to be in the mentality that I have something to offer, or I have a way of thinking that these people don’t. Cuz if they did, then they would be able to do it themselves. Or I’m endowed with some sort of power, but I haven’t searched and seen, “Why do I have more power than these people?” So just that narrative that it takes to be in that space that you go to a shop and be like, “Oh, I am gonna help these people.” That’s something historical, that’s something daily that a lot of these women who not only start these companies but shop from them, they believe in that.

AMY: Another really great quote from your piece, you point out that, “The bodies of women of color are hype-rvisible while remaining invisible, seen but not known.” That really sort of helped me to visualize what you’re saying because often in these types of fair trade stores, on their websites, it feels like they’re using women of color as props to sell these products that ostensibly help them. But then, we don’t know anything about them, usually, beyond just the fact that they’re a person of color living in a developing country.

BANI: Absolutely. A lot of the times, they don’t have means. But there’s a lot of research on it. They’ve done research to see how people react to the images, to the names, how much of the story that they need. Because a big part of a lot of these websites, these companies who have their websites where people can buy these things off of, is just giving a little blurb. And those blurbs of the workers, the artisans, the women, they’re almost all the same; they’re just so identical that you get the idea that they don’t really think of these people as people who have totally different lives and personalities and are facing different kinds of oppression and just different difficulties in their lives. It’s just like this one woman, the global South worker. And the sexism that she experiences through capitalism, it’s just very sad. It’s meant to be this sappy image that gets white people and their white guilt. It monetizes it, and they capitalize off of that.

AMY: So what can people do to support marginalized folks but without supporting this system of capitalism [laughs]? I was like, “Tell me. How do you make world peace?!”

BANI: Absolutely. I mean, it’s huge because I think some of these critiques of these companies might seem that– The whole thesis that they have to be involved in the system of capitalism in order to free them of the same thing, and how that doesn’t make sense, it’s just one part of it. And it’s very simple. But the thing is that there could be other ways. There are other options and other alternatives. And I think not all these companies are totally shitty and are trying to be fair to their artisans in how they communicate their stories and their lives and how much they pay them, etc. But in general, just this humanitarian-by-way-of-capitalism work and market, it’s going to be automatically a fail because you’re setting up the people that you’re trying to help without [inaudible]. They’re not that empowered. It’s like something we’re going to give to them, not something they’re going to claim for themselves. So for me, the answer is always activism. How can we support women in their local struggles in these different parts of the world? And how do we, as people diasporic or however, white people in the Western world, or the “first world,” how can we support that and not omit the political ramifications of our presence in these places and how we involve ourselves in their local economies? How can we support them economically without intervening? That’s always going to be an issue at this time in the world, where so much damage has been done. So if you wanna get some crafts made by these women and actually support them, you have to do a little bit of digging and find something that you think seems trustworthy, that treats them with dignity, and it’s not just some white women making a few bucks off of it. And supporting their local struggles.


SARAH: That was writing Bani Amor talking with editor Amy Lam. Bani’s article in the summer print issue of Bitch is called Spend and Save:  The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism.

You’re listening to Popaganda, the feminism and pop culture podcast. Today, we’re talking about money. It’s the theme for our summer issue of our print magazine, and it’s the ongoing theme of our lives, whether we like it or not.

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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1 Comment Has Been Posted

I don't think that fair trade

I don't think that fair trade is a con, but it's like buying energy-efficient lightbulbs: it makes a significant difference, but it's nowhere near enough on its own.

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