Vermont author aims to erase financial gender gap

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Rickey Gard Diamond is a successful writer, editor and teacher. But the Vermonter can tell you about the day in 1979 when, struggling to budget for herself and three children on low wages and child support of $25 a week, she landed in a welfare office.

"At the time, I didn't think monetary policy mattered to me," the Montpelier resident says. "I assumed my ignorance of the difference between macro- and microeconomics must mean that I shouldn't trouble my pretty little head."

Four decades later, Diamond knows better. The welfare office visit opened her eyes to a financial gender gap. That, in turn, has fueled her career as an anti-poverty advocate, college professor and founder of the quarterly newspaper Vermont Woman, for which she wrote a series of articles that sparked a new book, "Screwnomics: How Our Economy Works Against Women and Real Ways to Make Lasting Change."

"People ask how long I've been working on this," she says of the 320-page She Writes Press paperback. "In a way, my whole life."

The 71-year-old grew up with a father who was a journalist and a grandfather who gave her full access to his typewriter.

"I wasn't playing with toys," she recalls. "I was playing with real stuff."

But that didn't extend to money, which Diamond never seemed to have or understand.

"Luckily for me, by the time I joined the company of the `low income,' working women had begun to challenge economic divides," she writes in her book. "In 1982, for instance, I would learn that women as a group made 59 cents on a man's dollar in the workplace. This helped explain my economic situation in a larger way than my personal failures."

Diamond went on to discover past and present-day issues that not only have challenged women economically but also have discouraged them from taking matters into their own hands.

"You may try to ignore money's constant murmur around you, but letting yourself doze off is as dangerous as sleeping with a huge python in the house," she tells readers. "Only when a greater number of women understand economic secrets, muffled by slithery language, will we find the political will to transform them."

The book aims to address "Screwnomics" ("my word for the unspoken but widely applied economic theory that women should always work for less, or better, for free") through simple definitions, discussion questions and comic drawings by illustrator Peaco Todd.

"Telling the story on a facts-only basis using a third-person objective voice was not going to be the truest form for me," Diamond says. "I needed to include my own life and other women's stories. I needed attitude, too. And I wanted to laugh, so we can think about how we can bring change."

The writer has endured weeks of phone interviews with press from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Olympia, Washington.

"If I could talk about the book easily," she says, "I wouldn't have had to write it."

But Diamond understands the need to speak out.

"Our economy likes to label, pigeonhole and target us for our market niche, but it doesn't encourage us to acknowledge and claim our own story," she says. "I'm trying to get women together to talk about these issues."

Men are joining the conversation, too.

"I'm surprised by the number who are interested in this book," she says. "I've had older men say they never thought about economics being so male-dominated."

Diamond is set to debut her title Thursday at Burlington's Phoenix Books and appear May 1 at Montpelier's Bear Pond Books, May 3 at Middlebury's Vermont Book Shop, May 10 at Rutland's Phoenix Books, July 10 at Hardwick's Galaxy Bookshop and Sept. 9 at Barre's Next Chapter Bookstore.

When Diamond started writing her book after her Vermont Woman series "Making the Economy Our Own" won a 2012 National Newspaper Association award, she didn't anticipate finishing with the country polarized by presidential and gender politics. That said, she hopes her work offers some common ground.

"To discuss money openly is really difficult, especially when it's personal," she says. "But I have hopes that gathering together to share stories might help to close the divisions we're feeling so deeply. It seems to me money is one universal we could begin talking about."

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