Money and status in modern relationships
I should have read more mystery stories…
Man. Breadwinner (bringing home the bacon for his bored / Stepford housewife to stuff into a delicious sandwich, for him to enjoy). That is the traditional image that lodged itself into the archetype for my gender. I’m not really living it though. I think that’s the case for lots of men today.
You could make the case that Western society is progressing towards gender equality; but British society’s expectations of gender roles are not. What does that experience feel like for a man?
Whilst acknowledging that we are still a long way off from parity in pay across the board, the gender gap has narrowed in many professions. I am in a relationship with a successful careerwoman who has been earning a great deal more than me all the time we have been together. Many of my friends are in the same boat. Good! I don’t begrudge my partner her earnings – she works exceptionally hard and is brilliant at her job. But what are the implications for both of us?
- Women are under pressure to look nice, bear and raise kids and do the housework in order to free the breadwinner up to work as many hours as required to be ‘successful’.
- Men are under pressure to provide shelter, warmth, food and, let’s face it, money for the family to enjoy. They’re expected to spend less time with their children and to be the disciplinarian.
These expectations take a psychological toll on both groups. It’s not my place to comment on women’s experience, but both my partner and I feel bad, at times, about our inability to continually meet these outdated ideals.
I feel sad that I have to budget carefully and can’t afford to be as spontaneous as I’d like. I want to be able to whisk her away for romantic breaks on a moment’s notice, to buy flowers for no other reason that I know it would make her happy and to get her the things that she needs. My inability to do so makes me feel a failure.
Did you know that there are now more stock photographs of successful white men than there are successful white men?
I can reason these feelings away: I started my career with a series of badly-paid (emotionally rewarding) jobs, made bad financial decisions and allowed myself to get into problematic debts. Part of this psychological pain is payback for the bad decisions that I made earlier. But knowing all that doesn’t stop me from feeling bad. I can’t help but compare myself to male friends who earn more and do a better job of conforming to the ideal male stereotype who exists in our collective head.
If we are to progress as a society, then men need to endure a certain amount of discomfort as we let go of some of the privilege that we have enjoyed for centuries. I don’t expect anyone to pity us – but I hope it’s ok to admit that it is hard to experience it.
Southbank Centre – Being a Man Festival
The Southbank Centre held their inaugural Being a Man Festival over the last weekend of January. I went to a couple of things; less than I would have liked but enough to feel like I’m allowed a comment. I know that it was fairly controversial to have one in the first place, but a lot of the stuff I read on Twitter bore little or no relation to any of the stuff I was at. If you’re talking about an arts festival, your opinion is basically invalid if you weren’t there. The experiences tend to be so subjective that it’s rarely valid if you are there, but here’s mine nonetheless.
It was good. It made me feel encouraged to see that there were other men (and lots of women) who felt that it is important to have a discussion about what’s going on with men, some of the changes that we’re experiencing and some things that might make it better for everyone.
Grayson Perry is an astounding communicator, thinker and role model. The main thing (of many) I took from his talk on the Friday night was about how masculinity (an abstract concept) becomes reduced very quickly to symbols – beards, tribal tattoos, fancy cars. It’s in this reductive approach that we lose a lot of the nuance that makes men and women individuals, thus interesting. He closed by offering men a bill of rights for us to sit down to – including the right to be vulnerable and the right to be wrong. Both laudable things to relax towards.
I didn’t get to anything on the Saturday and day tickets were sold out on Sunday. I got a ticket for the evening event, a panel discussion / singing thing between Billy Bragg, Phill Jupitus, Tom Robinson and Akala. Before this was a performance from the Chaps Choir who appeared on my radar a week or so before. I was surprised by how stirring it was. They sang together, proud and strong and it was edifying to hear a cover of Book of Love by Magnetic Fields alongside more muscular songs.
The panel discussion itself was a bit hit and miss. It was heartfelt in places, never sinking into melancholy, funny without being hilarious. The discussion had to cover such a wide variety of experience from the panel members that it felt a bit incoherent at times. The music was fine but not really my scene. All in all, it was a great festival event. I think that festivals are meant to be hit and miss and you mainly get the benefit from being there.
The main thing I missed out on were the discussions with fellow blokes – they tend to be the most interesting bits. I’ll definitely be getting a full weekend ticket for next year. Jude Kelly is to be congratulated on her idea and execution, in the face of much criticism.