Do Men With Wives Who Out-Earn Them Have An Inferiority Complex?
12:15 pm, May 21st | by Sarah Devlin
Sarah: So. The first thing that stood out to me with this article is that….the problem didn’t seem to be that the wife was making more money than the husband, it was that the husband wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain. If the whole point of having someone stay home is so that person can keep the house, coming home to laundry and dinner when you’re also the primary breadwinner would be infuriating.
Colette: Well, that’s what the problem was for the wives that were interviewed: they were working 10 -12 hour days and then still having to perform the type of “second shift” care that has been haunting women since we’ve entered the workforce. Do you think that their husbands are purposefully leaving this gendered work undone in order to signify their unhappiness and demonstrate their “worth” (since caregiving work such as making dinner or doing the laundry is undervalued)? ‘Cause I sure do. Because I’m a feminist conspiracy theorist/I took a psych 101 class in college. For the men, clearly it is a problem that they are earning less than their wives/not earning at all. I think not holding up their ends of the bargain is symptomatic of that.
Sarah: Yeah, see, that’s the thing…it doesn’t seem to be an issue of money, it seems to be an issue of distribution of labor. People don’t usually see laundry/sweeping/doing dishes as paid work, unless they can afford to outsource it, so these guys are not performing at their jobs. They don’t realize they do have jobs. I don’t think they’re doing anything on purpose, I think they are just literally not understanding that domestic work is their responsibility in this arrangement. That’s what gets me about the article — this isn’t an issue of women “apologizing” for making more money, it’s women who are afraid to tell their husbands that they’re falling down on the job. Also, they probably should have communicated about their expectations more clearly. That’s the big/only problem I’m seeing here.
Colette: Hm, that’s an interesting interpretation of the piece; I certainly didn’t see it that way after my initial read, but you’re right, we definitely need to reconstruct how/what we think about the labor that goes on in the home, namely that it should be viewed as work/labor. But the way I read the piece, I thought it was less so an issue of money, per se, and more about definitions of “masculinity”/”femininity” or, as one of the wives put it, “who we are.” These “under-earning” men or stay-at-home dads or whatever you want to call them feel like lesser men because they are SUPPOSED to be doing so-called “women’s work.” Their self-concept is wounded because their definitions of manhood are so entrenched in capitalist/sexist rhetoric. I mean, that’s why I always find it so interesting that there aren’t more male feminists out there…I can’t understand how men don’t see that these strict definitions of gender and gender roles hurt them and confine them too. Come on, bros; we’re all just being kept in rigid roles that make us miserable and make us feel less-than. RISE UP!
Sarah: Right…but also why did they agree to that arrangement in the first place if they felt that way? I don’t have a ton of sympathy for this problem because it seems like it could be solved with a few conversations about how their particular family unit will make money and deal with domestic stuff. It seems to me like the women went to work and then just expected their husbands to pick up the slack, and the husbands didn’t pick up the slack and then felt scolded. Nobody wins if people aren’t honest about what they need in an arrangement like that.
Colette: True. I was operating based on the assumption that the couples did have a conversation and went into the arrangement thinking and intending the best but slowly things fell apart. (#Yeats) As the article briefly states, I think self-proclaimed “liberal” men are still uncomfortable with accepting their wives as primary breadwinners. I think most people unconsciously abide by particular gender stereotypes/biases and would be shocked by how ruffled they become when these stereotypes/biases are disregarded. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of what is floating around in society on what takes place inside our own minds/consciousnesses. Even though we claim that we are egalitarian and modern and progressive, most of our implicit associations and preferred representations are reactionary.
Sarah: Yeah….I guess I just feel like this is trying to create a “men are emasculated by women earners” thing out of a situation that is not exactly that. I don’t really think that it’s ALWAYS the patriarchy that makes couples have trouble splitting up household tasks.
(MOST OF THE TIME IT IS.)
(But not always.)
Colette: Hahaha sure, probably not, but it does seem weird that a husband would agree to be the stay-at-home parent and then not do the laundry or make dinner. What kind of half-assery is that?! A lady has to bring home the bacon and fry it up too?! Yeah, I don’t think these sorts of conflicts are inevitable; I’m not suggesting that couples shouldn’t even try to buck tradition because THE PATRIARCHY IS TOO STRONG AND IZ IN UR MINDZ, TURNING UR TH0UGHTZ TO SEXIST MUSH. Communication is key! Or so Dr.Oz tells me.
Sarah: Right. I just think that the article starts out with an assumption that is false. Again, it’s not the problem of who’s making more money. It’s the problem of how they’re dividing the labor in their families. It would be the same problem if it were a man working and a woman staying at home. (Except most women are more aware of the things that need doing around the home, #patriarchy #kyriarchy #etc.)
Colette: I also wish that if the piece was going to talk about gender essentialism/struggling with gender identity in the workplace that the author would also open the conversation up to women who feel less feminine/sublimate their femininity because they
1) are important CEO boss ladies who can’t be seen as weak
2) are working mothers who feel guilty/like bad moms/bad women or
3) made the decision to not have children/family because of their careers. Like, if you’re going to go Intro to Gender Studies, GO ALL THE WAY.
…This isn’t really related to your point. Just sharing my own critique.
Sarah: Yeah true, it’s a pretty narrow cross-section of people. And yeah, it’s hard for women to be away from their kids, I don’t know why we are always acting like the person who goes back to work “wins,” somehow.
It’s hard for them too.
Colette: Oh yeah, good point about it being a narrow cross-section of people! Why all the heterosexual couples, FORBES? But yeah, both sides of the work-home divide in parenting are the pits; work and the care industry are so flawed in this country.
“Everyone Loses!: An Uplifting Gchat With The Jane Dough”
I mean, people could start by communicating better. And then tackling everything terrible AS A TEAM.
(This is where I put the link to “Teamwork“)
Colette:Achieving the American Dream takes a TEAM! That’s why TEAMWORK is DREAMWORK ;)
[Photo via Shutterstock]