Suburban Breadwinner

22 02 2011

A couple interesting articles online lately about breadwinning wives and slacker men. I’ll point mainly to Hanna Rosin’s article in Slate, but this isn’t really about that. I think Rosin is making a good career move writing crap that approaches something that is essentially misandry. I’m comfortable with the word because I think she probably knows and digs the niche of man-hate she’s been working on and, well, it sells magazines and gets clicks.

Mostly, though, I had started this post several weeks ago, because I was struck by the following quote:

“If the suburban breadwinner father didn’t exactly know who he was, he could at least figure out who he wasn’t. In the 1950’s American men strained against two negative poles – the overconformist, a faceless, self-less nonentity, and the unpredictable, unreliable nonconformist. American middle-class men faced what I think of as the ‘Goldilocks dilemma,’ from that fairy-tale heroine’s search for commodities (chairs, beds, porridge) that were not too something yet not too much the other side. Men had to achieve identities that weren’t too conforming to the march of the empty gray flannel suits lest they lose their souls; but they couldn’t be too nonconforming lest they leave family and workplace responsibilities behind in a frantic restless search for some elusive moment of ecstasy.” (Kimmel, Manhood in America, p. 236)

Take note: We all, men and women, walk a pretty narrow path and it’s not easy. The room for error is really, really small and the very idea of gender muddies the water. Traditional roles are very messy things. The upside is, as the quote shows, it’s been that way a lot longer than any of us remember (and it’s been going on longer than that, too). It’s not fun for anyone. Can’t we get away from that? Can’t we define ourselves with just a slightly bigger brush? Because this kind of thing was and is a straitjacket and it sucks.

My pro-feminist take is that these conversations such as those presented by Rosin are coming about because of a good thing, even if certain voices are misguided or just annoying. We say that as we achieve equality in a society – and we’re still a ways off – that this is going to ultimately mean emancipation for everyone. For men, that women can move into the breadwinner role is supposed to be liberating, since it means that we no longer have to. We still can, they still can, and hello!, welcome to freedom to choose. And, in case you didn’t get the memo, basing the success of one’s gender performance on something as fickle as the economy is a very, very bad idea.

On the other article, I really have very little to say. Again, it’s an unambiguous assault on single men, so it doesn’t apply to me. If they’re not the marrying sort, there’s a lot of dialogue to be had about there between single men and women, I guess. I’ll say only that if money and being a provider and breadwinning and careers and materialism and traditions are the only (or even main) points of discussion between prospective mates, I’d suggest that they’re doing it wrong. Given the success rate of marriages in this country, I think I’m probably right when I say most of them are doing it wrong.