Cretia Springs asked me for my opinion on what happens when a woman is the primary breadwinner in the home.
As one might imagine difficulties can arise. In order to address them we have to make sure we know what kind of problems such arrangements inspire and why.
1. “Traditional Male – Female roles in a marriage” (now almost an anachronism) were scripted as follows, the man brings home the money and the woman takes care of the house. Or, if both work, the man typically out earned the woman. I must say that this is the mainstream model. Historically, women of color have always worked in larger numbers and have more often been primary breadwinners as a function of a number of societal constraints on the ability to earn.
2. Next we have a gross generalization that doesn’t always hold true but tends to be the case. Men and women are different (no news there) but they feel differently about work and relationships. There are a number of reasons for that – some societal – some biological – Our brains are structured a bit differently and we have different levels of hormones – Not just estrogen and testosterone but things like oxytocin and vasopressin … They make us feel differently about things.
Women tend to be more concerned about how our actions effect relationships. Men tend to define themselves more by what they do. I always say:
Women need love when they are the least lovable and men need applause when they least deserve it.
It highlights how we prioritize things.
So what happens when a woman is in a relationship and is the primary breadwinner? In some socioeconomic groups thats tends to be very common. In neighborhoods where men have been plucked out or marginalized, in large numbers, in part, as a function of lack of opportunity and draconian drug laws (don’t get me started) women often hold down households. It’s not unusual nor is it deemed so. The issues there are so complex and infused with greater social ills it deserves several volumes of their own.
What I believe Cretia is talking about is the situation where middle class folks end up in a situation in which they exist in main stream America and the woman is the primary breadwinner.
Difficulties can arise because it can mess with a man’s ego to have his wife out earn him in a community in which things are typically the other way around. It messes with their sense of being the Head of the Household. Not too long ago it was embarrassing to have a wife holding it down while the husband’s income is ancillary or nonexistent.
I am sure some of that remains. I was with a group of people once in which a husband and wife (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) were meeting the group for the first time. One guy asked Mrs. Smith what she did and she had a job as an executive. Someone asked Mr. Smith what he did and he said in a very round about, convoluted way, “I don’t work” One of the members of the group then said, “That makes you pimp then …” oooohhhhh Everybody got quiet.
Problems can arise in several areas. 1.Decision making: how you decide to spend the money. 2. Household duties 3. His negative feeling about himself as a function of the situation.
THIS BLOG IS ABOUT THE HOUSEHOLD DUTY DISCUSSION – because it is the one I had to deal with the most and am the most familiar with. Should people be interesting in having a conversation about the rest we can do that.
The problems women most often have in the arrangement is what happens on the home front. Many complain that though they work and are the primary breadwinner, they are still expected to do all of the tradition rolls as a wife – cook, clean, chief medical officer, grocery shop, laundry, childcare …the list goes on.
In the 70’s (I think) someone wrote a book about it called “The Second Shift.” It recounted the resentment and exhaustion many women are dealing with as a function of taking working full time outside of the home and inside as well.
Simply shifting roles is not easy. Those tasks in the home don’t carry the esteem and value of outside work (They should) but they don’t. A man may already have his ego stung by his wife’s making more and then to ask that he pick up a mop and make a meal (women’s work – demeaning stuff) just adds salt on an open wound.
Some respond by not doing it. Others’ dismay surface as anger or controlling actions. To feel powerful again they exercise whatever means available. (This is not a dig at men it is an acknowledgment of people’s humanity. When people feel bad they do things that make them feel better, usually without analyzation or a real understanding of why.)
Here’s the thing. You have to be able to talk about it honestly and with an understanding of what nature makes us do. It doesn’t mean a woman has to put up with doing it all because men feel the way they do, it just means you have to approach the problem in a more targeted way with all of the information at hand.
1. Decide to have a discussion about what everyone is contributing on a good day. Don’t discuss it when you are frustrated or overwhelmed (That applies to all difficult conversations).
2. Raise your concerns in a manner that does not condemn him but explains your concerns.
3. Remember anyone who doesn’t normally do all the household stuff typically don’t realize how much household stuff there really is not to mention what it is and how to get it done. Lay out all of the things you are doing and say that you need some help because you’re getting crushed.
3, Make specific asks as opposed to saying “I need help” or “You don’t do enough.”
4. Be willing to work the edges of the problem. Get help here then there. No one changes what they do and how they feel all at once. Tell him how much you appreciate those things he does take over.
5. Don’t be critical of a job poorly done. Be helpful in your commentary. Never comment when you’re angry.
6. Acknowledge how he feels about it. Tell him you don’t take his feelings lightly.
7. Be willing to let things go. I m a sister who can leave a dish in the sink. If this is his part I’m not going to let the fact he doesn’t get to it when i would like get me to do it.
8. Continue to address the inequities …Time your requests … Make them specific …. Always talk about the why… Never forget the ego
I think I will stop now. There is more I could say but this is a lot for now.
So what do all of you think? Care to share a story or a solution?
Remember men are weird and women are odd. We are trying to accommodate the other gender not indict them.