‘I want to feel secure; I want to feel safe; I want to have my own agency and never be silenced again,’ the New York Times best-selling author told Moneyish
This is a woman who knows what she wants — and isn’t ashamed to go get it.
Novelist Jessica Knoll already has a new jet-black Porsche. Her next aspiration, she says, is to live the bicoastal life. “I have a great place in L.A., but I want a great place in New York, too … I’m not there yet, but I’m striving,” the 34-year-old author told Moneyish. “I don’t think that’s ostentatious, necessarily, but that is some next-level, ‘You’ve really made it’ stuff.”
Someday, Knoll added, she might want a vintage Porsche: “I’d love to feel like an evil ’80s b—h whipping around town in a 1980s little 911. That would be pretty sexy.”
Knoll laid out her unabashed pursuit of wealth last month in a viral New York Times op-ed titled “I Want to Be Rich and I’m Not Sorry.” While the statement “I want to be a rich person” might sound obnoxious coming from anyone, Knoll noted that men don’t seem to be penalized for expressing that goal. “I want women to be able to claim their ambition, and … not be dissuaded or disheartened by a negative response to that,” she said. “Because I think that’s what happens — I think women are guided away from those paths in life.”
The former magazine editor’s essay, drawing praise from the likes of Reese Witherspoon, traced back to a past personal trauma. After she was sexually assaulted by three classmates at age 15, Knoll wrote, success “became a means to wrest back control, literally to increase my value.” And success, to her, meant making money.
“It’s a combination of deeper drives or deeper pain that I’ve experienced in my life, and a determination to never feel vulnerable again; never feel like anyone can take advantage of me again and get away with it,” Knoll said. “I want to feel secure; I want to feel safe; I want to have my own agency and never be silenced again.”
That’s a big part of it. But there’s also the allure of going on great vacations, living in a great house and enjoying the flexibility that money affords, Knoll said. “I want to be my own boss. I want to make my own hours. I want to live my life on my own terms,” she added. “Nothing can buy you happiness; not one thing is going to guarantee happiness or satisfaction in your life — but money helps.”
Knoll drew upon her sexual assault for her best-selling 2015 debut thriller, “Luckiest Girl Alive,” revealing about a year later in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter that the protagonist’s gang rape echoed her own experience. The outpouring of support and sympathy Knoll received showed her “we were in a different place” from 17 years earlier, she said. “To anyone who is where I was at one point,” she said, “I think my message is just to know there is another way; there is another side to this — and that you can come out the other side of it and reclaim your own power.”
The women in Knoll’s forthcoming second novel are “financially empowered” in a way that her previous book’s character was not, she said: “The Favorite Sister,” on sale Tuesday, stars a cadre of women on a reality show called “Goal Diggers” — their lives rich with aspirational apartments, clothes and travel — who are “not supported by men at all.” “The idea is that this is group of women who are aggressively seeking power and money in the ways that we really only see men get to do that,” Knoll said.
Knoll says she was “galvanized” by Ellen Pompeo’s candid, take-no-prisoners Hollywood Reporter interview in January, when the $20-million-a-year “Grey’s Anatomy” star laid bare her salary negotiations and fight to get paid what she was worth. Though Knoll expected Pompeo would be “eaten alive” on the internet, she was surprised to find an overwhelmingly positive response — signaling to her that society was “ready to hear women talk about money, and talk about advocating for themselves financially.”
“It’s no small thing to use your voice in that way,” she said. “It gets people more comfortable hearing it, and it makes other people more comfortable adding their voice to the mix.”
Now Knoll is adding her own voice. “Women are outpacing men in college, and that is great — until you start to really parse that and realize, ‘Well, then, why is there still such a gap? Why is there a wealth gap; why are women still not being paid the same as men?” she said. “And it’s because an education and a GPA don’t always pay off financially.” (In 2015, 72.5% of recent female high school grads were enrolled at two- or four-year colleges, in contrast to 65.8% of males. Meanwhile, U.S. women on average make 80 cents on a man’s dollar.) The missing piece is that girls often aren’t raised with the confidence to ask for what they deserve, Knoll suggested, but then “speaking up gets us penalized, too.”
That leaves a chicken-or-egg predicament, Knoll said. “So the more women speak up, the more we are doing our part in getting people comfortable with seeing women behave in these more ‘manly’ ways,” she said. “It doesn’t feel so abrasive.”
Knoll urged young millennial women to get in the habit of negotiating for raises, negotiating for promotions, and pushing for salary transparency with coworkers. “It’s important that men do their part, too, and that they are open with their female colleagues,” she added. “We have to come at it from several different angles to really effect any sort of change, because it is so systemically entrenched in our culture.”
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