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on women’s experience, but both my partner and I feel bad, at times, about our inability to continually meet these outdated ideals.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.
Having struggled for some time with feelings of inadequacy around my ability to be a man, I find myself strangely heartened to repeatedly hear that masculinity is in crisis. It’s an idea that the British press has grabbed hold of and continues to run with. Unfortunately, the consequences of this crisis are pretty terrible for men and the people who know men.
In typical fashion, we don’t tend to talk about our experience of being men and so I have started this blog in order to try to articulate some of my experiences. I have lots of opinions and I’d like to hear from other men so that we can understand each other, understand how to explain ourselves to others and ultimately attempt to find some sort of way out of aforementioned crisis.
Struggles I have faced:
- Anger – anger is a human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It can be harnessed to positive effect but it can also be extremely devastating. These feelings can lead to domestic violence, family annihilation and suicide. Not all men will go to those extremes but my sudden losses of temper frighten me.
- Money – the old model of masculinity has men as breadwinners, providing for their families. This is an ancient idea, harking back to the image of man as strong ‘hunter-gatherer’. My generation has struggled with student and consumer debt for some time and in certain fields, thanks to positive changes in the workplace, we can no longer expect to have as great a slice of the collective wealth, power and status. I find it hard being caught in-between the expectation to be a provider and the understanding that I should not expect to be one.
- Love – sexual politics is complicated and we receive mixed messages. Men need to be romantic, but they also need to have a bastard element (if they want to be attractive). We need to be ourselves but we need to be better. We need to be amazing at DIY and incredible lovers. We need to be there for our kids and do more housework, but we also feel the urge to provide for them.
- Communication – if there’s one thing that ties together all of these issues, for me it’s about communication. I frequently find it hard to tell people exactly what and how I feel, who I am and who I want to become. I think that an inability to communicate clearly leads to many of the struggles and issues that men face.
- Appearance – men aren’t supposed to care about their appearance but they’re also supposed to look like Rambo / Arnie / Ryans Gosling and Reynolds. It’s confusing. I’ve found myself worrying about my appearance and odour from time to time. I’ve recently lost weight and found myself preparing for a mud race. More about this next week.
- Faith – I grew up in the Church of England and have gone through Evangelical and Liberal phases, settling on an uncomfortable agnosticism that recognises many of the positive aspects of organised religion. I studied Religious and Theological studies at University, so it’s likely that some of these themes will come out in this blog.
- Friendship – I have a good number of friendships with other guys, but few of them are deep and involved. This I’d attribute to difficulties around communication on the whole, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. I’d like to explore the nature of male friendship.
- Role Models – who are the people that we should look up to in these times? Let’s try and find some role models that aren’t Chuck Norris cartoon archetypes and celebrate men who are doing it right.
It suffices to say that being a man in the early 21st century is confusing. I’m going to do my best to share some of my experiences, I hope that you will join in too.