Money and status in modern relationships
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on women’s experience, but both my partner and I feel bad, at times, about our inability to continually meet these outdated ideals.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.
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.