Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Female Breadwinner Syndrome

To some the concept of a female breadwinner will feel like a contradiction in terms. For others, it will look like a great leap forward, more progress toward gender equity.

And yet, forewarned is forearmed. Couples who believe that the breadwinner’s gender doesn’t matter should examine the evidence before jumping into the feminist dreamworld.

That is the message from Susan Adams, a woman who became her family breadwinner by chance and not by choice. And that is the message from Farnoosh Tornabi, whose new book tries to help women cope with the problems that this role reversal seems inevitably to produce.

To date, the evidence suggests that when a woman becomes the breadwinner conjugal bliss declines markedly. The new gender-neutral lifestyle seems like a formula for permanent misery.

That is to say, it’s a problem that needs to be managed, not a step toward nirvana.

Adams summarizes the downside of female breadwinning:

A 2010 Cornell study found that among 18- 28-year-old married and cohabiting couples who had been together for more than a year, men who were totally dependent on women’s salaries were five times more likely to cheat than men who earned the same as their partners. Other studies show that when women earn more, they wind up taking on more, not less of the housework and childcare. A 2013 study by a professor at Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis who collaborated with some Danish colleagues revealed that in relationships where women made slightly more than their spouses, men were 10% more likely to need prescription medication for erectile dysfunction, insomnia and anxiety, and the greater the income gap, the more problems men had with ED. Torabi conducted her own survey of 1,033 professional women and found that the women who made more than their partners reported less relationship satisfaction and more embarrassment about how much they made compared to their spouse than the women who earned less.

The message comes across clearly:  female breadwinners do not intend to unman their husbands… but, the skewed division of labor does just that.

Adams writes:

She quotes a relationship coach named Alison Armstrong who insists that men need to think of themselves as providers, even if they aren’t bringing in money. We emasculate men by criticizing, complaining and taking over tasks they’re capable of doing and we cling to the idea that we can change them. We think that earning money comes with veto power over decisions. “If a woman thinks that the power should follow the money, she’s in deep trouble,” writes Torabi. All very interesting.

Of course, advanced feminist thinkers deride the notion of male pride. Adams and Torabi state clearly that failing to deal with it will cause  more trouble than you imagine.

But, Adams and Torabi are not just trying to warn young women of the perils of gender-bending. They are trying to help women who find themselves in this situation.

They suggest that even when a woman makes all of the income, she would do well to grant her husband decision-making power. She should not make family finance decisions unilaterally.

Come to think of it, it’s not a bad idea for a male breadwinner to include his wife in decision-making that affects family finance.

For these women a lot of it seems to come down to sex. Not so much because they are obsessed with sex, but because they understand that emasculating your husband is not a formula for marital bliss.

Adams writes:

Here Torabi has a more constructive solution: Even if the woman is paying for everything, she shouldn’t feel entitled to make financial decisions alone. “In addition to wounding your man emotionally, it can affect how much you respect him and are even attracted to him (not to mention whether you feel like it’s your duty to take care of his sexual needs as well as his financial ones). She recalls the blunt statement made by one breadwinning woman in New York magazine: “I’m not going to pay the bills and then come home and suck his dick.”


Anonymous said...

"For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worship—the desire to look up to man. 'To look up' does not mean dependence, obedience or anything implying inferiority. It means an intense kind of admiration; and admiration is an emotion that can be experienced only by a person of strong character and independent value-judgments. A “clinging vine” type of woman is not an admirer, but an exploiter of men. Hero-worship is a demanding virtue: a woman has to be worthy of it and of the hero she worships. Intellectually and morally, i.e., as a human being, she has to be his equal; then the object of her worship is specifically his masculinity, not any human virtue she might lack.

This does not mean that a feminine woman feels or projects hero-worship for any and every individual man; as human beings, many of them may, in fact, be her inferiors. Her worship is an abstract emotion for the metaphysical concept of masculinity as such—which she experiences fully and concretely only for the man she loves, but which colors her attitude toward all men. This does not mean that there is a romantic or sexual intention in her attitude toward all men; quite the contrary: the higher her view of masculinity, the more severely demanding her standards. It means that she never loses the awareness of her own sexual identity and theirs. It means that a properly feminine woman does not treat men as if she were their pal, sister, mother—or leader."

This is a 1968 quote by Ayn Rand, in answering a question about a woman president. I am not an Objectivist… Ayn Rand's writing made a difference in my life in my early 20s, but I didn't go hook, line and sinker to make her philosophy actionable. Hers was just such a powerful viewpoint amidst all the statist, socialist, multiculti nonsense.

I remember being shocked by this quote when I first read it. I mentioned it to a few of my female friends, and they were reflexively horrified. It didn't seems that such "backward" ideas were relevant anymore. As I've aged, and watched men's and women's behavior instead of listening to their words, the more I see that Ayn Rand was prescient in what she shared. And she qualified her key points well. This is why, like the previous "Do Clothes Make the Man?" post, I am so disappointed to watch young men show such disrespect for themselves, in clothes and many other areas. It's like they don't aspire to be anything more. I suspect it's because they get what they want from women by acting aloof, tough and cavalier, but that's an entirely different topic.

By the way, Allison Armstrong, the relationship coach mentioned in the Adams piece, is a genius. I have seen women's marriages be positively transformed by attending her workshops. I cannot recommend her more highly. And she tells it straight.


Lastango said...

Stuart's mention of one breadwinning woman in New York magazine: “I’m not going to pay the bills and then come home and suck his dick”, and Tip citing Rand's point about a woman needing to look up to her man are, I think, important counterweights to most of the writing I've seen about this subject.

I haven't read Tornabi's new book. When Tornabi writes that if a woman thinks that the power should follow the money she’s in deep trouble, is that mentioned in passing for the sake of completeness, or does Tornabi acknowledge that it's the tip of a very ugly iceberg?)

From what I've read, the bitter truth is that most of the problems with women-as-breadwinner relationships originate with the woman, not the man. Like the desire to feel feminine and look up to the man, many of these counterproductive views and actions are driven by gut-level instincts that may be unique to women.

A short list of some of the often-deliberate oversights by authors:

-- the breadwinning women are presented as paragons of wisdom, patience, and excellence. (Women like to read that. As Evan Marc Katz once put it, "You're impressive and admirable and powerful and all of those adjectives that successful women like to call each other"). The woman is never cheap, shallow, or petty. And never, ever immature.

-- stories are cherry-picked for cases in which the men, for reasons all their own, behave like sad-sack failures. Yup - it's all his fault. Can his uber-excellent wife salvage the situation despite his failings, or will his dysfunction force her to leave him behind and move on to the kind of man a star like her truly deserves?

-- When a woman's instincts are frustrated, this is often deeply corrosive to the relationship. As Susan Adams points out (as a defect of Tornabi's book), remedies are not easy.

-- Women often feel free to engage in smashmouth and triumphalist rhetoric, and encourage other women in this practice. Like the 40-year-long feminist's demonization of men, they are stunned when this has consequences for the women themselves. They are above consequences, because they are so powerful and compelling that they create themselves and their own reality.

(I have examples in case any of that is opaque.)

Adams concludes "We’ll see a lot more books like Torabi’s, which will be a good thing." I agree there will be a lot more books, but expect many of these will strategic and tactical efforts to trick men into becoming the wind beneath Superwoman's wings. The women featured therein will be keenly aware they are engaged in an elaborate exercise in theater and condescension, aimed at fabricating a masculine role some poor man who can't do it for himself. Every once in a while, Wonderwoman will come home and perform some equivalent of sucking his dick. But only because that's part of how she leads and supervises when there's a man at home who can't keep up.

Anonymous said...

In an interview with Dick Cavett years ago, Bette Davis said she would never again marry a man that could not support her. She said it was a mistake she made that cost her dearly.

Dennis said...

If I can do no right then your opinion is of little value to me and I have no concern for what you desire. Just because a woman decides she wants something does not mean that a man has to change to meet her expectations. What, you expect me to get your coffee! Get off your backend and get it yourself!
I am not sure about other men, but I am tired of being a cruise director. Since a fish does not need a bicycle the expectation that the bicycle owes the fish anything has been determined by the lack of respect by the fish for the value that the bicycle provides and in many cases, the bicycle is the only way to reach one's destination. The bicycle just does not go there any more.
The bicycles might be more amenable if a few of the fishes stood up and defended the value of the bicycles, but alas the fishes even thought destroying parts of the bicycles were really funny even though the fishes really though that destroying part of the fishes was wrong.
Words and actions NEVER go unrewarded. The fishes cannot expect respect when they have demonstrated none themselves.