Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sex and Money

Here's an article I read this morning about the financial crisis, and media over-play of its effect on the masculine sex. I was sort of taken by this in that most of the "marital advice" books I've read lately make much of the male insecurities, and the necessary female responses to these insecurities. (To be fair, the most recent book, "How to Save Your Marriage Without Talking About It," includes similar though less focused descriptions of the standard female insecurities and necessary male response. But let me tell you, traditional gender roles are enforced.) I'm amazed at the apparent violence of the battle over gender-role-shift. But maybe I'm spoiled. And it's not that I don't have to think about these things ever.

I know a healthy number of men who are able to handle kids and cleaning in the same 24-hour period. Chief among them is my husband. He can watch our five year old son for 3 to 6 hours and still produce a tasty meal for dinner -- after teaching one or two college classes that morning. He's not perfect, but he's quite capable. Ditto a couple of my male friends. And among the rest, even those guys who are indifferent cooks at best can still watch a kid, help her with her homework and manage to straighten up the house before hitting the couch. I just don't know many men (though I know a couple) who have any choice.

Even the one guy who from a distance should represent the picture of genuine reactionary role management turns out to be pretty well-rounded. He owns his own business, is financially successful enough that his wife (who has some money of her own) doesn't have to work, and travels frequently -- yet, he can and often does do the laundry, clean the kitchen, haul the kids around in the car, etc. He'd be embarrassed if something as lame as "masculinity" prevented him from doing it all.

But the point of the article above is this: that as financial times become more uncertain, married men are finding themselves immasculated, and unemployed guys downright rejected on principle, by the usual money-grubbing, bon bon eating females. Actually, the point of the article is that this premise is ridiculous, but also widespread. And the thing is, this immasculation thing is not altogether bollux.

One of my stay at home dad friends feels what appears to be deep shame over his inability to provide on a level that's competitive -- which appears to be due mainly to a short resume. Of course, he's a great father who cooks up a storm, cleans and still finds time to do good in the community as a volunteer. But the kid will enter kindergarten soon, and dad is looking grimly at the job market and contemplating a gloomy future at minimum wage. His wife has a great job, and they aren't in any trouble. But it's a preoccupation for my friend, this inner conflict.

And even my husband, a man of significant earning potential as a college professor (significant to me anyway), goes through wave after wave of anxiety attempting to predict and prevent every possible financial crisis that might come our way, and his provider anxiety makes for some long nights around here. He feels somehow that even the whisper of a possibility of him missing a mortgage payment -- let alone the uncertainties of this economy -- puts his whole lifestyle premise on shaky ground, including our relationship. I myself work, and the pay is okay, though not enough to get us by if we tanked. But I don't worry too much, because whatever happens, we'll get by. My husband would be no less a man if he lost his job. But he would FEEL like less of a man, and that would be our reality -- and I've noticed that when he starts projecting down that road, I become the money-grubbing bon bon eating female counterpart. No matter how unfair or even ludicrous that is, it's as if he can't help himself -- it's the dominant cultural narrative.

What's a gal to do. What's a guy to do?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this is a weird truism you've struck upon. A friend recently had a financially excellent job offer and his partner relayed this with an admiitted 'great pride'. As I've faced job insecurities a-plenty in the past months and esp., days, I worry about bills, upcoming kid (yep!), etc. but, significantly up there is what Emily will think of can I provide?, am I doing my 'job', that kind of grand answers here but I know what yer sayin'. Hope you & yours are good.