An article on the NY Times site caught my eye today. It seems that a lot of heterosexual men are having a hard time dealing with their partners’ financial success. The idea that men are supposed to be the breadwinner dies hard, and it’s making some guys upset when they aren’t.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably say that my partner earns more money than I do, and that it hasn’t ever bothered me. Partly, that’s because we both need to work- it’s not as if she could support both of us, so as far as I’m concerned, we’re equally necessary even though her paycheck has a bigger number on it. It’s also worth saying that I’m not particularly caught up in stereotypical notions of masculinity and I don’t think I’d be upset if she earned enough to make my paycheck unnecessary. I’d even be willing to give it a try. You know- in the interest of research.
Anyway, the article discusses some of the contortions some couples go through in order to preserve the illusion of man-as-breadwinner. One example is the pair where she pays for things when the process isn’t public, such as paying for a vacation, while he uses his credit card when they’re in public so he doesn’t look like a “gigolo.”
Then, there’s the couple that decided that he should open doors, drive the car, and pay the bill in order to maintain “those little traditions” and keep the romance alive. One man who earned less said that he felt unable to seduce his partner and another felt inadequate at parties because he’d have to tell people that he’s a teacher. Meanwhile, one woman said that she feigns helplessness so she can boost her partner’s ego.
Now, I understand that many men feel shame when they don’t live up to their expectations of what a man is “supposed” to be and overcoming that can be challenging. But it seems to me that the sorts of strategies that these couples are using aren’t going to help because they’re all about coddling his ego. They may be a short-term solution, but they don’t address the root cause and they don’t help him stop feeling resentment. I think that a more sustainable response would be for these guys to work through their internalized sexism and male privilege and find ways to appreciate who they are as men without relying on external things like their paycheck. It’s harder work, but it’s well worth it.
I’d love to see a world in which women didn’t need to downplay their accomplishments in order to protect men’s egos. And I’d love to see a world in which men didn’t feel the pressure to live up to outdated models of masculinity that have never fit very well. Wouldn’t that be nice?