Why Black Women Reject The Idea Of The Male Breadwinner (And Black Men Don’t Mind)
“Well if I’m raising the kids, what the hell is he gonna be doing?” said no Black woman ever, which is odd because Black women are faced with a similarly odd line of questioning any time the male breadwinner discussion rears its ugly head. You’d think someone would pose the question, being that Black women are both the primary breadwinners and caregivers in the home, but we tend to get stuck right around the intersection of “If I pay all the bills” and “You become my silent sex slave/maid.”
Has anyone found it odd that we associate being maintained by Black men with being mistreated by them? I mean, Nick Cannon mentions that a 9-5 is optional for the women in his life and we all start brainstorming the many forms of abuse that come with his offer. And I get it, our perception of the Black male breadwinner looks a lot like the ones we see in Tyler Perry’s films, mean spirited, tyrannical, abusive, manipulative, elitist, controlling, etc. So it’s no wonder Black women are leery of this kind of arrangement. But where did the idea originate that a man who manages the household bills gets to run it like a plantation? Since when does an electric bill take a man from John Q to Training Day? It doesn’t. And the idea that a Black woman is asking for trouble by looking for her partner to take a leadership position in the home creates a dynamic that allows men to avoid their responsibilities with our approval and our encouragement.
Let’s be frank, Black men and women don’t trust each other. We may not like how that sounds but our casual suspicion of one another is obvious. Granted, that doesn’t stop us from relying heavily on one another for social support but we do so with the sturdiest of side eyes. If it’s not due to the idea that Black women are fertile, neck-twisting gold diggers, it’s the assumption that Black men are breedy trash bins waiting to milk the next “strong Black woman” they come across. And furthermore, it’s the belief that Black men secretly wish to dominate and control us in the same way that white men dominate and control everyone that reinforces this distrust in our households. Black men and women have been at odds when it comes to who to trust with leadership for quite some time and as with most detrimental facets of our community, this rift began where our freedom ended.
When Black men and women were enslaved, the functionality of the home was lost. While home served as a communal retreat for other communities, Black people found home to be a place of release. Being treated like cattle day in and day out without the ability to express any discontent or dissatisfaction meant that for Black people, home was the only place to do that. Unfortunately, these expressions of rage and anger were often directed towards the weaker members of the community, with women and children taking the brunt. For many Black men, their provision came with some perversion and if their provision was the only provision, the perversion was inescapable.
This means a man may have worked tirelessly Monday through Friday, but weekends were spent feeding his alcohol addiction at the neighborhood bar. Or he built a family with his childhood sweetheart but couldn’t dodge rumors of multiple illegitimate children sprawled across the city. And other times he was a faithful father and husband who couldn’t keep his hands to himself when he got angry. The idea of the malevolent breadwinner is nothing new to us. In fact, as far as Black history in this country goes, the malevolent breadwinner is all we know. When left in the care of our own men, we have often been subjected to their misdirected rage, and growing up seeing our grandmothers and great grandmothers caught in the same trap has left a sour taste in most of our mouths. The fear that a Black man who has the power to help you can at any moment decide to use that power to hurt you is very real for Black women, one that makes the conversation that much more complicated.
So are our concerns valid? Is it the concept of the male breadwinner altogether that creates this lose lose situation for Black women? Quite the opposite. According to a study by the American Psychology Association that examined how self-esteem is influenced by the success or failure of our partners, it was men who suffered a blow to their self esteem when outperformed by their partners, women were seemingly unaffected. Another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research indicated that marriages with breadwinning wives were often “less satisfying” to both parties and had higher incidences of divorce. Another study out of Cornell University found that the more economically dependent a man is on his female partner, the more likely he is to cheat on her. Even domestic violence rates increase when the male partner is experiencing financial instability. I’m sorry to break it to you ladies, but you’ve been lied to. It was never the Black mans position in the home that made him believe we were his subordinates, it was the twisted pathology he shared with the world that Black women existed in servitude to him that sealed our fate. That idea dwells in the subconscious minds of many Black men meaning no matter how hard a Black woman works outside of the home, life inside the home doesn’t improve for her based on that alone. This in no way means we should be actively seeking to under-earn our men, it does however mean that no matter how much we make or how we split the expenses, Black men have some serious internal work to do.
It’s not that Black women enjoy the heavy load we’ve undertaken or that we don’t need help. We do. But we’re afraid of what happens when we get it. And the fact that Black men are literally saying “If I pay the bills, I will mistreat you” should demonstrate to everyone why Black women feel the way they do. Our concerns are real and historically they are valid and they shouldn’t be smothered by the additional burden of having our trauma go un-acknowledged. Fundamentally, this isn’t about who pays what proportion of what bills, what it boils down to is the fact that we don’t feel safe when left in the care of Black men. When we ask for help maintaining the household, we’re reminded that homemaking is the measure by which we asses a woman’s marital worthiness. But ask to share the financial burden and it’s sex on demand, unwavering submission and a firm backhand for any back talk. How did we get to a place where Black men could use the threat of violence to avoid responsibility in the home and we not only accept but support it? Newsflash, Black men aren’t the breadwinners in our community and we’re still being mistreated by them, so what’s everyone’s excuse right now? The real conversation begins when we admit that being superhuman hasn’t earned us the respect of our men yet. And without that basic component between us, we’ll always find new and demeaning ways to try and earn it.