Connect Motherhood

Media, Money, and Messy Women

Haley Paskalides  |  May 8, 2024

Jo Piazza is rewriting the harmful ‘messy woman’ trope, and diving into the problems with societal pressures.

Money touches everything in our lives. And for women, who have long been documented to earn less than men, save less than men, and invest less than men, the stereotype is often that we’re doing money “wrong.” 

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But it’s getting old. We know that statistically, women are better investors than men are, we fare better during times of recession, and we’re often more thoughtful about our budgets. Yet the stereotypes persist: the “girl math” trend of recent years tried to insinuate that we’re messy and unreliable with numbers, and countless female characters in pop culture (those in Fleabag, Sex and the City and Girls, to name a few) just can’t seem to get their finances together, no matter how hard they try. 

We say enough is enough. And we aren’t the only ones. Jo Piazza feels the same way — which is exactly why she flipped the script for the main character in new novel The Sicilian Inheritance. Rather than ask what is wrong with the female protagonist, Piazza set out to center the book around the question of, in her words, “what did the world do to her to make her a mess?” 

“I wanted to create a character who blows up her life, but it’s not because of her actions. It’s because the world is generally hard and often toxic to women, and especially to mothers,” Piazza says. “So Sara, my main character, is a mother and a chef who opens her own restaurant. It ultimately breaks her down, and it’s because she’s trying to juggle all of the things. So many of the women I know could use a break, and it’s because life is hard. I just wanted to show that life is hard.”

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Piazza pulled from her own life when writing the book, and says that watching how little her own mom knew about her family’s finances compelled her to go in the complete opposite direction. “My mom had no idea what was in any of the bank accounts, and bills often didn’t get paid. When my dad passed away, he had taken out a second mortgage on our house without telling her, and left her with nothing,” Piazza says. “I do think that a lot of this is contributed to by these stereotypes we see in the media of messy women, and the only way to be secure is to find a good husband. But a man is not the plan, and so it has created a lot of situations where women find themselves on the other side with nothing.”

In Mailbag, we hear from a listener whose 18-year-old son is looking for the best ways to start to build credit, and we hear from a woman who is about to have her first baby and is being pressured by friends to make big (and expensive!) life changes. 


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All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416

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