A lot of people talk about the gender roles that are put on women and how shackling they are: devoted wife, nurturing mother, chaste virgin, the whore—I also find feminist to be a bit of a gender role by this point as I feel more pressure to be a “champion of womanhood” than any of those other things, no thank you—but if there are roles for women there are also roles for men, such as the strong and silent type, young angry man, chivalrous knight, fearless warrior, and, my absolute least favorite—the providing man.
What, Pray Tell, Is the Providing Man?
The Providing Man role comes from the idea that the head of household is the man; therefore, all monetary responsibilities fall to him. This is why men, especially of older generations, often get jobs that make them unhappy but are lucrative. It’s why a man who doesn’t have a job is viewed so negatively. It’s why men give up their dreams, while women often—but less so than before—give up their dreams for children. The Providing Man mindset makes men think that if they aren’t bringing home the bacon then they aren’t worth a damn. Nurturing their children and being there emotional for their wife is a distant second to depositing a (healthy) paycheck in the bank account on the regular basis, so they are distant, distracted, and depressed.
But Isn’t Money a Way to Power?
Actually, more often than not, at any level, money is a prison, especially when a person thinks that is their sole responsibility and contribution to life. It’s too much pressure for one person, and some people may say that men just need to “get over it”, this is the kind of attitude that is disgusting to those people in the reverse (i.e. Woman: “I don’t want to give up my dreams to have a baby.” Society: “Get over it.”). Mostly because being told who you are and what makes you important is a trap, no matter who you are.
Where the Role Is Most Seen
If you’re a man, you’ve probably paid for a woman’s meal, and if you’re a woman, you’ve probably had a meal paid for by a man. This isn’t inherently a problem. If both man and woman find this equitable and what they want, than it’s not a problem. It becomes one when the man doesn’t really want to pay for her meal but feels he must or when she thinks that he’s a jerk if he didn’t pay for her meal. I’ve also heard men say something to the effect that his money is their money, but her money is hers alone, which can be sweet if they have a good relationship, but is nearly codependent when they don’t. A woman shouldn’t feel entitled to a man’s personal earnings, and a man shouldn’t feel obligated or forced to provide and to give her his earnings.
Lazy, Shiftless Men
Some people completely disagree with me, stating that the only men who have a problem with this role are the kind of men who lay around all day, drinking beer, eating, and watching T.V. Maybe people will also say they are dishonest in their relationship, taking and taking from her and possibly sleeping with other women. They are immature, have no ambition, and are irresponsible. Some men are like this because they enjoy it and their friends and family enable them, but some men seem this way because the pressure—especially in a bad economy where their skills may not be useful—got to them and they gave up. For those men, it is a spiral: they failed to provide for their families because they were laid off or couldn’t get a job, they felt so down that they stopped trying, they kept failing because they weren’t trying so they felt like more of a failure and their will to try lessens even more, and so on down the drain. Calling them names or accusing them of laziness is not going to make them feel good about themselves. Some may respond “What about the guy who doesn’t pay his alimony or child support?” Child support is based on a separate idea from this gender role; it is based on the idea that both parents are responsible for their children’s well being. Alimony confuses me in a society where women act like they can do anything and support themselves; it seems to undermine the idea that women are independent and can take care of themselves without a man’s support and money. Different from even that though is . . .
The Succeeding Woman
On the other side, wherein a bad or shifting economy has a similar effect on women, is the woman who feels the pressure to succeed. This success isn’t as strictly tied to monetary gain, but more to a sense of “doing it all”: having the career, the house, the husband, and the children. Women often feel like they need to prove to the world that they can be successful “in a man’s world” by reaching the same levels professionally as men, so depression of the same sort can happen to women who feel this kind of pressure. This is the career woman who can’t get her career off the ground, who hasn’t found a job or a good enough paying one to feel as though she has been “successful”. Success in our society is tied strongly to two ideas: your wages and your usefulness—neither of which are ideas I find very good for personal happiness.
Ambition, the Murderer of the Soul
From both these gender roles, ambition is born. People strive for a goal that they think will get them satisfaction in their lives, but this goal which they believe is the “end” of the strife never comes whether you are successfully reaching for it or if you fell short. Why? Because ambition begets ambition. Once you catch the ambition bug, you are a slave to it. The Providing Man and The Succeeding Women are both ambitious, even when they feel they have failed because ambition and a loss of identity is what is hurting them and forcing them to care so much. The actual lazy, shiftless man has no ambition, and frankly, I’m happy for him because he is ignorant of its barred cage. Either way, successful or failing, ambition is too painful. Either you’re not focused on other things in life that also matter (family, joy, self-awareness, personal integrity) or you end up hating yourself for failing your grand ambitions.
Personal Identity vs Social Identity
Gender roles are social identities, labels. They are inherently designed to make the machine keep moving forward, but most people end up ground up in the gears. When a person replaces their personal identity with a social one—or maybe they never had a personal one—they destroy themselves. They end their lives and just stand in line.
The Man Wearing a Tie
So when you hear the voice in your head telling you you’re worthless because you don’t have a job, because you don’t have a goal, wife and children, because “childish” pleasures make you happy, that you need to grow up, that you need to give up your dreams to get a paycheck, tell that voice to SHUT UP! We are all capable of being happy and amazing people if we stop listening to the roles talking at us. Like the Angel in the Attic or the Grandmother in a woman’s mind, the Man Wearing a Tie or the Grandfather in a man’s mind need to be killed, need to be told to be quiet. And if you are one of those people who actually voice those imprisoning ideas to men, remember the Angel in the Attic of Virginia Woolf or the Grandmother of Erica Jong. If you don’t like it to happen to women, don’t do it to men. Just as a woman’s worth isn’t based on how many babies she’s had and if she is domestically optimal, a man’s worth isn’t defined by how much money he makes.