Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Breadwinner Wife's Lament

The study dates to yesterday but the story has been around for years.

Yesterday I posted about a research study about marriages where the woman is the breadwinner. The study showed that men in such marriages are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and that women are more likely to suffer insomnia and anxiety.

Then, Lastango contributed some excellent analysis of the situation in the comments section of yesterday’s post. In it, he linked to four articles about the same subject, articles that affirm the research results, but that date from between five and ten years ago.

A discerning reader of the popular media could have known, years ago, that role reversal marriages were likely to produce serious psychological problems. The evidence suggests that marital roles are not merely a social construct, to be disposed of willy nilly, but are grounded in reality. Couples who fail to respect the old rules and roles pay a price.

Women who decided to go out and become world-beaters have discovered, to their chagrin, that they had been duped by feminists.

Five years ago Sandy Hingston explained:

When my best friends and I signed on to the women’s movement three decades ago, we were aiming for equality. What we’ve ended up with is something else altogether.

From the time she was in junior high Hingston and her friends embraced the gender-bent, role-reversal vision that feminism had been hawking. They became the kinds of women who would attract the kinds of men that they married.

In Hingston’s words:

But Jill, another friend from junior high, reminds me that it was different for her and Ann and me: "Don’t you remember how ambitious we were?" she says of our school days. "We used to bet which of us would be on the cover of Time first. We were driven. We did everything, and we had to be the best at everything. We were real type A’s." We took it for granted that our husbands would keep pace.In our marriages, though, roles have been reversed or, at least, merged and muddied. "We never said to our husbands ‘You’ll be the one who stays home; I’ll be the breadwinner,’" Sharon says. "We expected they’d be able to do what we did: to have both those identities." We changed diapers and made PTA meetings while charging full speed ahead with our careers. Yet by chance or by choice, none of our husbands have really prospered. 
She and her friends are afraid that their successes have come at their husbands’ expense:

But our joy in our own fulfillment is always tempered by that nagging fear that it has come at the expense of our husbands’, and impatience with the life choices they’ve made. 

If Ann and Sharon and Jill and I had been more dependent — or less controlling — would our men’s lives be richer? Have we held them back by insisting on being all that we could be?Perhaps all along we’ve been subconsciously disparaging or discouraging about our husbands’ goals and careers. After all, the fact that our kids were at home and in good hands freed us to work the long hours we needed to get ahead without worrying that anyone would think we were bad moms. 

Ralph Gardner, Jr, made a similar point in New York Magazine in 2003, adding that such role reversals tend to be emasculating:

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Alias to Kill Bill, the culture has for some time been awash in fantasies of powerful women. Fetching as these female superheroes may be—and however potent at the box office and in the Nielsens—are these really the same chicks the average, or even above-average, guy wants to curl up next to in bed in real life? Perhaps not. As the wives grow more powerful and confident, their husbands often seem to diminish in direct proportion to their success.

Indeed, there’s little evidence to show that as women acquire financial muscle, relations between the sexes have evolved successfully to accommodate the new balance of power. Neither the newly liberated alpha women nor their shell-shocked beta spouses seem comfortable with the role reversal.

For women, the shift in economic power gives them new choices, not least among them the ability to reappraise their partner. And husbands, for their part, may find to their chagrin that being financially dependent isn’t exactly a turn-on. According to psychologists (and divorce lawyers) who see couples struggling with such changes, many relationships follow the same pattern. First, the wife starts to lose respect for her husband, then he begins to feel emasculated, and then sex dwindles to a full stop.

Writing in Marie Claire in 2007  Amy Brayfield explained why she divorced her husband:

What I didn't have was a husband I felt proud of. 

She continued:

The truth is, I wasn't attracted to him anymore. It wasn't that he'd changed-he still had the same floppy brown hair, bright green eyes, and long freckled limbs that had literally made me quiver when I first met him. But in my head, I'd neutralized him as a sexual being. I wanted to be overwhelmed by the sheer power of his masculinity in the bedroom, but I wasn't. Because I felt like the man in our relationship.

Unsurprisingly, Brayfield did not marry an alpha male the second time around. She simply found a more compliant and contented househusband.

Amazingly, these ideas are never really discussed in the culture. Anyone who dares to articulate them will immediately be denounced as sexist and worse.

Yet, if you care more about women’s lives and less about ideology you have to acknowledge the pain that these women are expressing. For having embraced an ideology that was blind to what was best for them and their children they have paid a serious price.  


David Foster said...

This Sandy Hingston person is a senior editor at Philadelphia magazine. That's a career that "soared?" Really?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Perhaps she meant, in relative, not absolute terms.

JP said...

"Unsurprisingly, Brayfield did not marry an alpha male the second time around. She simply found a more compliant and contented househusband."

Uh, that's not a solution to her problem.

What was the point of that?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I don't think that that was a solution either. I was just reporting and trying, not too successfully, to be ironic.

JP said...

I didn't mean "what was the point of that in this blog post", rather I meant "what was the point of her thinking that marrying househusband #2 was a solution and how did she justify that to herself after her first misadventure."

It was essentially a comment directed to her and not to you, Stuart.

Sorry for the miscommunication.

I'm not really surprised that she got married to the same type of person again; it's familiarity taking precedence over a solution to the problem.

Sam L. said...

A shame she didn't realize that before she divorce #1, though perhaps it was already too late.

DeNihilist said...

And this fits into this sequence so well - - Where as men a few years ago we were told if we would take on half of the domestic chores, woman would literally be wetting themselves and would throw us down and fuck us hard.

To now this - - Where we are now told, to get out of the kitchen and get back to the yard work, and if we do, the woman will be wetting themselves.....

Well you get the picture!

Dennis said...

Anyone ever notice that women don't like or respect the men they have created?

David Foster said...

I suspect that many of these women would have been equally dissatisfied in a traditional marriage/society with the husband as sole or primary breadwinner. They might have complained that he wasn't making enough money (no matter how much someone makes, there is always someone else who makes more.) They might have complained that he was too focused on his career and was a workaholic. They might have complained that he got to go on "exciting business trips" while they had to stay at home. And so on.

I think people tend to have dissatisfaction "set points"...which vary a lot from individual to individual...and find things to be dissatisfied about to reach their set-point dissatisfaction level. Although the set-point level is probably mainly established by early adolescence, it can be modified somewhat (in either direction) by media and other influence...which also has an effect on selecting the targets of the dissatisfaction.

Joe Ynot said...

I think there is a lot of truth in David Forster's comment, but perhaps it is Oscar Wilde who had the ultimate word: "The illusion that women bring to marriage is that their men will change; the illusion that men bring is that their women won't."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with David's point about set-points too. Clearly, the culture has modified significantly people's expectations and tolerance.

And thanks for the great Oscar Wilde quote.

Lastango said...

Oops... I intended to put a comment under this post, but put it under the previous post by mistake. At the risk of being a poor guest at Stuart's blog, I'll copy/paste it from there to here.


Here's a piece that sharpens some of the issues:

Consider this snip:

Making more makes me resent him and feel he's not pulling his weight and should figure out something else to pursue," says Elizabeth D., a computer executive in Silicon Valley, of her husband, who holds a lower-level job in the industry.

"When my husband stopped having sex with me, he said that my haranguing him about his lack of income killed his desire," notes Lisa R., a recently divorced publicist in Vail, Colorado.

Indeed, fury isn't pretty. I know one television executive who walked out of her 25th high school reunion "when one too many women said something like, 'Your husband does what? Oh, that must be ... creative.'"

It also includes this interesting bit, about power:

"Jane Greer, Ph.D., couples therapist and host of Doctor on Call at "When a man makes a lot of money and a woman doesn't, there may be fighting over money — the actual dollars and cents of living and how she spends it.

When a woman makes a lot of money and the man doesn't, the fight isn't exactly over money but over power: She expects to have more of it ... It's more about who gets to choose the vacations, the cars, the furnishings — and also, who takes up the slack at home."

The theme of women being "powerful", rather than merely successful, comes up over and over again, and I'm getting the feeling it's deeply corrosive to relationships.

For instance, here's something that never would have been written this way if the men had been the high-earners:

"Seven of the 18 women who are currently CEOs of Fortune 500 companies....have, or at some point have had, a stay-at-home husband. So do scores of female CEOs of smaller companies and women in other senior executive jobs. Others, like IBM’s new CEO, Ginni Rometty, have spouses who dialed back their careers to become their powerful wives’ chief domestic officers."

If the wives were the stay-at-home spouses, no one would ever designate them as subordinate by calling them their husband's "chief domestic officers". The rhetoric would have been all about how she's key to his success, not how she tags along behind, or, worse, "All these men wrap themselves around their wives’ schedules much like a trophy wife would”, as smashmouth Barbara Corcoran declared when she returned from -- wait for it -- Fortune’s annual “Most Powerful Women in Business Summit".

I suspect the bias toward aggressively wielding power in relationships in innate to women. We see it in the workplace, where the great majority of women prefer to have a man as their boss, rather than report to another woman. (I've seen an heard this myself, many times.)

If that's true, the "power" rhetoric is natural, but secondary, and reinforces rather than creates a basic female bias toward exploiting an advantage.

This interpretation suggests a marriage with a bread-winning woman who makes substantially more contains the seed of its own destruction, and the woman will have to work to keep her instinct for supremacist behavior from wreaking havoc over the longer term. She won't get help from the sisterhood, which is doing all it can to encourage a gaudy triumphalism. A professional woman who succumbs to the siren song of her own specialness, destroy her family, and learn too late that she's too old to piece together another homelife.

Bilejones said...

My perception is that the breadwinner wives flourish in large corporations and government rather than the smaller businesses that drive the economy. The larger an organization becomes, the more it's driven by politics rather than competence.
At the back of my mind I've got a half formed idea that the rise of the monstrous regiment of women is in large part behind the economic stagnation of the past decade.
Men are continually being told that when women complain, they don't want the problem fixed, they just want to be listened to.
I get the feeling that a lot more listening than fixing is going on

Dennis said...


You don't suppose that is why many women like Obama. He stays in campaign mode instead of leading, talks a lot, and never actually tries to fix anything. What issue has Obama taken any real responsibility for making things happen? Even the one that bears his name was not driven by him and I suspect that he will go for plausible deniability on all of the failures of Obamacare, which will be legend. Some time when I look at Obama I keep seeing the cover of "MAD" magazine.
According to Obama we are in dire straits that require our immediate attention and he demonstrates his concern by playing golf and taking vacations. Name a time when Obama stayed in Washington DC during any supposed crisis. It seems as if when it gets tough he goes on a trip/vacation.
One tends to associate with those they think are like them so you might very well be right. Why do good when one can feel good?

Anonymous said...

Reading this brought to my mind an episode of Dick Cavett talking to Bette Davis about marriage, and her lack of success. I believe she said if she had to do it all over again she would never marry a man that could not support her.

Anatswanashe said...
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