Being The Female Breadwinner Is About More Than Money

April 5, 2012  |  

For the longest time I’ve touted the sentiment that I would be perfectly fine being the breadwinner in my marriage as long as I had a supportive partner to sort of be my hype man the way so many housewives are to their husbands. I take a lot of pride in being able to make my own money and my self-admitted need to have some sort of control and purpose outside of just keeping house would only be fueled by bringing in most of the cash.

I had a small taste of that life for a little bit with an ex who’d become unemployed. It was a tad annoying on mornings when I’d get up for work and he’d have nothing to do, but sometimes he’d stick around and I’d come home and the laundry I’d failed to fold was put away neatly, dishes were washed, and the bathroom was scrubbed down. I felt like, hmmm this is something I think I could get used to, but I’ve had a much more realistic look at this arrangement with a family member of mine.

My relative’s husband is quite a bit older than she is and retired early, only to lose most of that money when the economy tanked. Now she is essentially the breadwinner and the pressure of that burden is noticeable. Her husband definitely makes up for what he’s unable to do financially by cooking every night, handling the grocery shopping, car maintenance, and tons of errands but at the end of the day, he’s handling those things with “her” money and it’s not a good feeling. The partnership works for the most part but when money is tighter or unexpected things come up the frustration and even subtle anger that it’s all on her is apparent, particularly when it comes to his extended family who always wants to have gatherings or go out to eat or needs favors. That’s when it’s hard to suppress thoughts like he’s using my car and my money and my resources to handle their needs and the realization that things are hardly 50-50 is more apparent. When I look at the situation I often wonder, what does she even need him for and I question if this is an arrangement I could really handle when it comes down to it. I also questioned whether men with wives who don’t work have those same feelings when they’re the only ones bringing in money and I don’t think they do.

Men no doubt feel enormous pressure when they’re the only ones making ends meet but I think the value of the woman in their life is much more apparent. A woman who stays home will cook, clean, take care of the home, handle the bills, schedule doctor’s appointments, bare the children—things men just can’t or don’t tend to handle whether they’re single or married, so that benefit still holds real value.  When women are the breadwinners, on the other hand, they have a man doing things that they’ve probably been doing all of their lives. Women cook for themselves, they keep a neat home, they handle the bills, they can even have a kid on their own. When a man does those things they’re really just doing things a woman can and is willing to do for herself and I think it’s hard to suppress feelings that you’d be better off on your own when it almost feels you’re paying to be married. The one who makes the money typically makes the decisions, and the idea of submitting to a husband without the means to even execute some of his desires can be particularly challenging.

I’m realizing that I was probably fooling myself when I thought as long as I’d have someone to cuddle next to at night or talk to after a long day at work I’d be good, because even with the shifting acceptance that women are becoming the richer sex, as Time magazine points out in its latest feature, “Women, Money and Power,” I don’t think that’s changed much about the role we want and expect a man to play, which is to provide some ounce of financial security, and I don’t know that we’re at a point where we can put aside resentment for having to essentially be the man and the woman in relationships with a huge gender pay gap. This issue has been brewing among black women for quite some time, and gave birth to the “I don’t need a man” badge of independence, but now that all women are facing this reality it will be very interesting to see how society shifts. Not only are women going to have to become OK with bringing home most of the bacon, men are going to have to be taught that they have more value than what’s in their wallets—otherwise we might be looking at an entire society of broken men who feel like less of a man because they can’t live up to the expectations that have been placed on them.

The way things are turning in society is a result of a lot of things women have strived for for many centuries but I think some of the consequences weren’t anticipated and we’re now trying to figure out how to handle all the financial power we’ve asked for. I’m sure marriages and relationships will be able to stand as women become primary earners but that success will only come if there’s a shift in expectations and values for the role each partner plays.

Do you think you could really handle the burden of being the breadwinner in your relationship?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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