This article will appear in the upcoming issue of Wom*news: Myths.
Even existing on the most basic level has a price tag. The bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. You need to pay for a roof over your head, food to eat, electricity, water, healthcare; all of those things we took for granted as kids, assumed that they were just a given. You pay through the nose to keep on living. It seems that the poorer you get, the more you pay to keep on living. We all know this, and accept it as the status quo – that living, existing on the most human level comes with a price. After all, that’s why you have a job.
But job hunting has an even bigger price tag, and so does keeping that job once you’ve got it. You need to have money to get to and from work to begin with; money to make sure you aren’t hungry so you can concentrate on your job and not get fired; you need to have money to make sure you are wearing work appropriate clothes. You need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on makeup, shaving products, haircuts and colours in order to appear “professional”. You need money so that if you get sick, you can pay for your medication and keep going to work, or you need money in the first place to be on medication so you can work. You need to fork out for internet and a mobile phone so you have access to email, so you can type and print your resume, so you can apply for jobs online, so you don’t miss an all important job related phone call.
Being a part of a support network even has a price tag. You need to have money so you can meet friends for coffee. You need to have money so that you don’t smell bad, or look weird. You need to have money so you don’t sit longingly on the sidelines while your friends see that band, or go to see that movie and make memories without you. You need to have money so you can see a shrink, get therapy and get over whatever it is stopping you from having friends and relationships in the first place. You need to have money so you can afford trips home to see your parents. You need to have money so you can give people birthday and christmas and housewarming gifts and all the other types of presents. You need to have money so you aren’t the “poor friend” who “depresses people” and is always getting into fights about the $3.50 bus fare someone borrowed off you that one time.
You need to have money, a lot of money, to exist in Australian society today. If you don’t have money, people will interrogate you as to why. They will accuse you of being lazy. You will hear people on the news talking about those who don’t have money as if they are just a number. You might hear your friends and family talking in this way as well. You need money so that one day if you don’t have money, you can cover it without going into debt and never having money again.
Luckily, the government realises that you need money to exist and gives you a little, which you have to go through a lot to get. Once again people will interrogate you as to why you don’t have your own money, why you don’t have a job. Once again people will talk about you as if you are just a number. The people on the news will make decisions regarding your life that you have no control over. One day you might wake up to find out that starting soon you will have a hundred dollars less a fortnight to live on because some old rich white guys think you aren’t working hard enough. People will think that they get to tell you how you can spend your money, because it’s not really yours, it’s theirs. After all, they paid tax, so you shouldn’t be allowed to have a new TV or a nice pair of shoes or a bottle of discount lemonade. You shouldn’t be allowed to be just as human as they are and make mistakes. They forget that they are the ones who created a society which tells you, even though you can’t afford it, that you need products and status symbols.
Sometimes, even though you barely have enough money to avoid a permanent black mark on your record, you might pass someone begging in the street and be thankful for how lucky you are. You might give them your last five dollars so they can do whatever they need to with it, even though it means you will be hungry for an extra few hours or you won’t be able to pay a bill until next week. You might turn on the news and see what’s happening in other places and feel a shiver down your spine. You thank your lucky stars that you have a government that is willing to give you something, even if it’s not nearly enough, so that you can attempt to better yourself. You thank god for socialised healthcare, and socialised education, so at least your kids can have their appendix out and learn to read without it breaking the bank…too much. And even though you are thankful to have a semi-understanding government, you will
forget the price of existence.
~ Molly Eliza