On the surface, stripper-turned-rapper-turned-superstar Cardi B and my grandmother Lois don’t have anything in common, other than being human females born in the state of New York – Cardi B in the Bronx, Grammy upstate in Argyle (population 3,700). Both of them would probably be somewhat horrified at the comparison.
I was in the car with my mom the other day and Cardi B’s newest single, “Up,” came on the radio. (It is very catchy.) There was a line in the chorus that goes “Broke boys don’t deserve no kitty – I know that’s right!” And my mom, bopping her head along to the beat (again – very catchy!) says, “That sounds like something your grandmother would say.”
And I said, “What.” Because the saltiest language I ever heard Grammy use was “derriere.”
“Well, she phrased it differently,” Mom admitted. “She always used to say, ‘Don’t date a man you wouldn’t consider marrying’ – so if you wouldn’t consider marrying a musician, don’t waste your time dating one.”
You see, one big thing that Grammy and Cardi B have in common is that they are absolute sharks with money. Both of them know what it was like to struggle financially – Cardi B as a young stripper in the Bronx, and Grammy as a single mother of three in rural New York in the 1970s. Both of them know – and expressed quite clearly, in their own ways – that for women in particular, money means independence, security and power.
Grammy used to say, “Money can’t buy you love, but it can keep you comfortable while you look for it.” And she would know. When my grandfather died in a plane crash, leaving her a widow at the age of 22, she didn’t remarry for almost three years, focusing instead on raising my infant mother. She was able to do this because my grandfather, wisely, left behind a large life insurance settlement. After she divorced her second husband, she moved back in with her mother (a family tradition, apparently), with three young children in tow.
She did find love again, with my grampy, and they were together for 42 years, but she did also tell me that “it’s easier to find a husband than a really good job.” And she would know. (One of the few things Grammy and my dad had in common, other than their limitless love for my mom, was a fondness for catchphrases.)
While Grammy never came close to Cardi’s millions, after she married Grampy, who had a good union job, she steered their financial ship safely into the calm waters of the middle class. She didn’t drive Lamborghinis or Bentleys, but she bought a new Ford sedan every three years (trading in the old one at the dealership). I haven’t bought myself a brand-new, fresh-off-the-lot vehicle yet, but if I wanted to, I could. My credit score is high enough to qualify for a full loan at a decent interest rate. It’s that good because of the money lessons my grammy taught me my whole life.
After the song finished, Mom considered it. “Was that whole song about how sexy and rich she is?” That sentence sums up most of Cardi B’s ouevre. Cardi B knows how to game the game. Regardless of how we feel about it, we all live in a society where two things are true: Money is power, and women are largely – and sometimes exclusively – valued for their physical appearance.
Even Grammy knew that, I think, because the worst of her catchy sayings was “nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels.” That is the one thing I can firmly and confidently say that Grammy was wrong about. But figuring how to turn your visual appeal into cold, hard cash is beyond simply “empowering” – it’s an inspiration to overworked, broke young women like myself.
Do you know how many men have been interested in me only because of what I look like? The answer is “most of them.”
Don’t get me wrong, I like how I look, but it’s not exactly an accomplishment that my parents’ DNA interlocked in this particular manner. All the time and effort I put into developing a particularly zesty personality seem like a waste sometimes. Having a great personality is kind of like a car having seat warmers – a nice addition, especially in the winter, but not why you buy the vehicle. A man can leave you. A 401(k) can’t.
Grammy passed in 2018; I think about her every day, especially when I clip a coupon or deposit money into my savings account. Lois Fleming would have been horrified at Cardi B’s lyrics and fashion choices, but she would have admired how much Cardi B loves her daughter and how hard she works.