Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Huntress-Gatheress? You're sooo 2013!

Many of my girlfriends are significant, major or even sole breadwinners.

Sometimes it's because of unavoidable circumstances which has reduced or eradicated the man's earnings (ok the recession may have influenced this stat slightly) but in many cases the woman is earning more just because she chooses a job that pays better, is better educated, has a better CV, is more driven or is more ambitious.

If any of these are you: Well done you smasher of centuries-old stereotypes1! Have yourself a little glass of something to celebrate…

…Then realise that, as in the case of all significant change, someone somewhere is paying a price and you’re not exempt.

Here are 7 Things I Want to Say about this topic:

1. You are not alone (I am here with you)2

And in the statistically insignificant population made up of My Friends you may even be in the majority. All you have to do is google ‘Women breadwinners’ and a raft of recent stats and articles appear.

Be excited; be very excited, we are all walking talking evidence of the Great Wave of Modern Women3.

2. Don’t expect him to suddenly develop multi-tasking skills.

Of course he isn’t going to do all the stuff you would do if you were home more. He isn't you! And if he has not so far mastered the that fact that he needs to fill the downstairs loo hand-wash dispenser with pink soap and the upstairs one with blue (or indeed to fill any empty hand-wash dispenser he encounters in life with anything at all) then uneployment or lower paid but still-as-busy as you employment isnt going to be the the catalyst for change; in fact, if he isn't used to this State of Affairs his general helpfulness around the house may actually decrease (see Thing I Want to Say number 3 below).

For working women with children, by far the most consistent complaint I've encountered is that although men will carry out tasks that are explicitly allocated to them they cannot  / will not proactively identify the needs of their wife or child i.e. they infinitely more likely to ‘do’ than to think’ or ‘plan’4. Some women in compensation take on almost comic levels of multi-tasking like frantically emailing friends and family to try and fill gaps in the complex schedules of school-holiday-childcare, whilst on the phone to an internet order company that hasn’t delivered their mother-in-law’s 80th birthday present in time and typing up a work document in time for a deadline an hour away.
When the woman is earning more (in our inconsistent heads this can equate to ‘doing the man’s job’) resentment at still having to undertake all the ‘women’s jobs’ can increase exponentially.
Nagging him may backfire on you (see Thing I Want to Say number 3 below). Nope, I don’t have the foggiest how to deal with it5. All I will say is that in spite of modern technology, the evolution of the Emotionally Intelligent male and a combination of hints and nagging, I’m afraid that in my home the reign of the tried-and-tested chore list continues triumphant6.

3. If you earn most or all the money, chances are you will need to add Maintaining Morale to your to-do list (or feel that you must)

What strikes me most, particularly in the case of girlfriends where the man is earning dramatically less / not a living wage / not at all, is quite how much more the woman worries about the emotional and toll being taken on the man than for instance, how bills will be paid.

Although I’m sure that this is because we love our men and are concerned about their welfare, it must be true that if we believe they are letting themselves and us down, they are going to sense this in the same way we know if they really looked at us before they answered ‘you look fine just hurry up’ and no amount of ‘God you look hot in those pants’ is going to make up for it (to them, not us. Personally, I’m easily placated by anyone who tells me I look good in my pants).

Like us (see Further Illuminatory discussion note 8 below), the men who seem to fare best at maintaining their own morale are the ones who have the benefit of a damn good excuse such as having a job that makes them a good person (nurse, policeman, social worker) or where a lack of drive or skill is clearly not the issue (such as relocation, contracting a degenerative illness, or taking time out to start their own business or solve the inverse Galois problem7). If the 'excuse' works on you, so much the better.
4. Chances are you will be forced to prove to him, yourself and everyone else that you are not sacrificing family for money

This is most pronounced for mothers who openly enjoy their work or choose to work for one pound more than is strictly needed to pay the mortgage. On the other hand, if you matyr yourself the general public will be thrilled. Fact. 

Whilst a man who earns is automatically entitled to sacrifice a reasonable amount of time with his family (miss a few bedtimes, do a bit of client entertaining, go drinking with his colleagues, go to the gym, make early morning or post-5 o’clock meetings) this entitlement is not automatically extended by the world at large, (including by ourselves) to a working woman/mother (unless you can blame shift work, an unreasonable boss or find another watertight excuse8).

You may find yourself baking home-made bread in compensation.

5. It’s normal to worry about the impact of all this on your relationship.

Again, we are not alone.

It’s just another thing to worry about. Add it to your to-do list after Maintaining Morale and Inventing Watertight Excuses.

6. No one wants to feel trapped, humiliated or be forced to feel grateful

Let’s be fair girls. If we choose to or are forced to be the earners, this is no different to the role foisted upon men for centuries. Doesn’t make us Mother Teresa just because we have to share the wealth with them nor automatically entitle us to Jimmy Choos9. But let's not apologise for wanting to work / being good at work  / getting the family out of a tight spot by going back to work / not losing our job.

The thing to remember here is however uncomfortable is it, however much our husbands hate it (or don’t hate it enough), the fact that we even have the option to work and earn more than our men is a BIG DEAL. For those men who either chose us because / in spite of this tendency to over-earn or those who thought they were going to be the hunter and have had to adjust to having a huntress-gatheress in the house instead, you too are a BIG DEAL and come on in, you can join the Great Wave of Modern People party10. The issues we face together may be new ones but it looks like our daughters are going to have to get used to it!

Further illuminatory discussion:

1 : I hate hate hate the term 'alpha female' though I accept that it’s an easy shorthand to describe a complex modern phenomenon. It makes women who just happen to earn more than their male counterparts sound exactly like the testosterone-filled Masters of the Universe types who’ve given the male gender such a bad name. I also hate it because it plays on male insecurity by leaving them no other term than ‘beta male’ which is a horrid word and spears directly into the old chink in the male armour of fragile ego and that isn’t going to do any of us any good because whenever men’s egos need a boost they start a war. Fact.

2 : Thank you Michael Jackson.                         

3 : It is likely that in looking for a job, worrying about his identity and dealing with the snide comments of the residual patriarchy (or yours) your man may not have realised that you are part of the Great Wave of Modern Women and may therefore be slightly less excited.

4 : The average man can proactively identify the need and plan ahead for hobbies, sporting events and nights out with friends days, weeks even months in advance. These skills however have no known correlation with planning a trip to Clarks when the child has outgrown all their shoes and it is snowing outside. Fact.

5 : But you can chat about it here. Go on! Someone has to!

6 : In my less hypocritical moments I will admit that part of the reason the chore list is needed is that a lot of the stuff I want done is stuff I want done. Somehow he can live with a guest room bookcase that is stained in Old Ash when the rest of the furniture is Walnut, but I cannot.

7 The inverse Galois problem concerns whether or not every finite group appears as the Galois group of some Galois extension of the rational numbers. For more information on how to entertain an idle husband when the hand-wash dispensers are full go to
8 : Of all the armour that a choose-to-work mother needs, a watertight excuse is the most necessary. Like CVs, it is best to have different versions for different audiences including, at a minimum, varieties which cater for your mother, mother-in-law, father, father-in-law, husband, emasculated male colleagues, Master of the Universe type male colleagues, childless female colleagues who believe they will/would stay at home when/if they have/had children, stay-at-home-mothers, female colleagues who only work because they have to, old women who sit on the committees of groups you want to join (e.g. clubs, charities or tennis leagues), your cleaner and people on the number 155 bus to Balham.  

9 : If there is money to spare however, a new pair of shoes is a good compensation for blue hand wash going in the downstairs loo soap dispenser.

10 : I’ve changed the name of this new movement just for you special guys.