May 02, 2008

Men, Women, and Bringing Home the Bacon

EARLIER THIS EVENING, I was thinking about how to pay for college for the kids I don't have with the wife I haven't yet met. This may seem strange, but I find it useful to engage in theoretical planning exercises once in a while, because it helps keep me focused on certain realities of life. After about ten minutes of running various scenarios in my head, I came up with a solution -- start saving when the test strip comes back blue. Problem solved.

Soon after I ran through this exercise, I stumbled upon an essay which a Texas physician wrote regarding the modern American man and how he views his obligations towards work, family, finances, and so on. Dr Melissa Clouthier argues that men in general need to act more like, well, men. In her words, "men need to butch up."

As Loyal Rant Readers may well expect, I am in general agreement with this argument, although my outlook may be a bit different than Dr Clouthier's. But to do full justice to her argument, I think I should address it point by point. Dr Clouthier starts out by writing:

Men. What the world needs more of is manly men. I've blogged about this before, but it's worth repeating. A girlfriend of mine told me that her three best girlfriends all have husbands that stay home while their wives work and the men sit around complaining about their wives. That just seems wrong somehow.

Seems wrong? Oh, come on, now. Unless the men are taking care of the children full time and keeping house along with it, it's entirely wrong and pathetic. There's absolutely no excuse for a man to be idle while his wife is out earning the couple's living expenses.

Dr Clouthier continues on by writing:

This post is going to be so politically incorrect that a good chunk of even my most traditional readers might not like it, but I'm kinda thinking out loud here for a minute. Do you guys think that by women entering the workforce, that women have had the same effect on the man's role as say welfare has?

I mean, a generation ago, a man wouldn't look down on his woman for not working outside the home. Taking care of the house; cooking, cleaning, caring for the children and basically being the center of the home was what a woman did. It was enough. No one would consider her to be slacking. In this generation, women suffer a vague, and sometimes, explicit, unease about doing that job. She is viewed as not pulling her weight because she's just a housewife.

And it's not just women judging women. Men, too, want their women to work to take the pressure off. A man is simply not interested in carrying all the financial weight and why should he have to? Women are equal now. Equal means doing the same thing--working and living like a man. Feminism means, and it's men that I've seen to be the biggest feminists, being a good man and bring home the bacon, frying it up in a pan and doing it again and again.

But it seems like an unintended consequence has been resentment. Women have excelled in the workplace. They can take care of themselves. They do leave their babies to work. Meanwhile, some men (not all, of course) have gone the other way. They no longer work as hard because they just don't have to. On the one hand, they don't have the financial pressure of their father's generation, but they also don't have the self-respect, work-ethic and noble purpose of their father's generation either.

Now perhaps I'm just old-fashioned, but I can't imagine looking down on my wife -- whom I haven't yet met -- if she wanted to stay home and raise our family. She would be, after all, raising the family and keeping house, which is no small feat. Meanwhile, I would have the luxury of getting to go out and work -- which involves fun things like eating out and talking with other adult human beings. If anything, I would do everything I could to make that a reality if that was a choice she wanted to make.

I can also say I would feel horribly guilty if my wife felt she had to work in order to meet our expenses. That's not the same situation, I would note, as the idea of my wife working because she wanted to do so. That's entirely different, and if she wanted to work, well, we'd just handle things accordingly -- just as we would if she stayed home and I had to do the providing bit.

As for men wanting their wives to "take the pressure off" -- perhaps it's just me, but I don't think I know of any man who personally looks to his wife as the financial savior of their relationship. Perhaps I just look at things differently, but to me, the first answer to Not Having Enough Money is reducing expenses, and only then looking at ways to earn extra income. A man provides for his wife and children first and then indulges his whims afterwards; that's how things are supposed to be done. If that means I have to work longer hours or moonlight to provide for the family, well, that's what I do.

This is not to say the circumstances Dr Clouthier mentions do not exist -- they do. Why this is, I don't really know. We know the family has become weaker over the decades and I suspect that has played a big part in it. I know in my own case, though, that my family has had a very strong influence on me. When your father and all your uncles work like the devil at their jobs -- especially Uncle Bob, who famously returned to work the day after his appendectomy -- those ideas about your responsibilities are passed down accordingly. (I haven't had a 14-hour day in a while, but when I do, I refer to it as a "Dad day.")

Along those lines, I wonder about the resentment angle Dr Clouthier mentions. In terms of the workplace environment, I certainly don't see it. When I was growing up, I was taught that it didn't matter who my competition was or what advantages they might have -- my job was to succeed regardless. At home, though, maybe it's a different matter. Men certainly have that provider instinct internalized in them, and I certainly think some men would be resentful if their wives demeaned their contributions (or lack thereof).

But it seems to me there are two solutions to this problem. If one's wife's reaction is unreasonable, then marriage counseling is the answer. If one's wife's reaction is reasonable, then the answer is for the man to contribute more. If a man is not working and his wife is doing so, and his wife also keeps house, then the man should go out and get a job -- even if it really sucks. Also, along with getting a job, he should help out with the vacuuming or something.

Dr Clouthier continues:

It seems to me that a man needs to be needed and when that feedback loop is cut either by the government, or even by a working woman, he can (not always) lose his drive and desire to work and succeed.

Societally, it seems like men don't value or seem to be valued for manliness. A strong, hard-working, driven guy has been replaced with a soft, unmotivated, aimless man who can't make a declarative sentence or find the will to do what needs to be done. Basically, too many men have become pansies.

Yes, a man needs to be needed. But the fact his wife is working shouldn't cause him to lose his drive or desire to work or succeed. That's a rather poor excuse, if you ask me. And as for society -- who gives a damn about what society thinks? My loyalties are first to my family and then to my friends and then to the church and only then -- a distant fourth! -- this concept of "society."

When all is said and done, the pursuit of manliness starts with the man himself wanting to pursue it. Oddly enough, I saw this principle best exemplified in a children's cartoon some years back. The idea can be summed up as follows: "Help wanted? Inquire within."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 2, 2008 12:21 AM | TrackBack
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