Are Women Breadwinners Signaling An End To Society As We Know It?

03 Jun 2013

Watching Lou Dobbs’ all-male panel on FOX News freak out over the news that women are sole or primary breadwinners in 4 in 10 households with kids, you’d have thought the world had ended.  While these men encompass both ends of the political spectrum, the money quote was conservative Erick Erickson’s contention that men have the “dominant role” in society while women are “complementary.”  Like an appendage?  So women function better when we walk two steps behind the guys?

FOX anchor Megyn Kelly’s subsequent smack down of both Dobbs and Erickson has since gone viral.  A good thing, too, since their reactions to a woman having the temerity to call them on the carpet were more revealing than their initial knuckleheaded statements.

Erickson had commented that “Having moms as the primary breadwinner is bad for kids and bad for marriage.”  As Kelly pointed out, his pronouncements are faulty science, since children have been shown to thrive equally, no matter who has which role in the household. For his part, Dobbs seemed to be blaming rampant abortion on women in the workforce.  Since abortion is at an all-time low, the real numbers offer a different story.  Dobbs’ retort to Kelly when it was his turn on the firing line, referring to her as: “Oh, Dominant One,” made it clear he resented a woman for correcting him on anything.  Isn’t the real problem here that some men have difficulty sharing power?

Even more than Dobbs, Erickson’s assertions about male dominance “in nature” smack of fear, as an insecure person can only feel big by making others small.  Anyone comfortable in their own skin and with their own power suffers no such dilemma when they see someone of their own, or the opposite sex, excel.

Is a man only a man because a woman allows him to be dominant?  Implicit in Erickson’s argument is that if a woman stands just as tall, a man is no longer a man.  Isn’t it possible that men might feel less stress in the marriage if they knew they were sharing financial obligations?  And isn’t the point of partnership a meeting of true equals who respect one another and help each other to achieve their goals and dreams – and that of their children?

With 73% of women in the workforce, the myth of the “dominant” hunter/gatherer male and “submissive” homemaker female that Dobbs’ panel touts is a fiction for many today.  For me, it always was.  Of necessity, my mother was the sole breadwinner, taking care of a sick husband and two daughters.  While this placed an enormous burden on her to both work and take care of our home, she had no choice.  My dad, a brilliant but emotionally disturbed man, could no longer hold down a job.  He wound up doing much of the child rearing and was very involved in my education.  He offered me nurturing and encouragement, no matter how sternly it was packaged.  The importance of my education, ability to work and self-reliance was impressed upon me by both parents.  That advice was not only liberating, but wise.

Any emotional bruises I received growing up in this unusual situation had nothing to do with having a stay-at-home dad – who was always treated with the utmost respect.  The problems arose because in order to maintain power, he denigrated my mother’s contributions, shaming her at every turn.  This led my sister and me to internalize that nothing we did would ever be good enough and that to be equal to or succeed past a man was a bad thing.  Eventually, I overcame that message and am fortunate now to be married to someone who celebrates what I bring to the table, as much as I celebrate him.  We are both breadwinners.  And yes, the earth still spins on its axis.

My father’s worth was never diminished by his role.  Only he felt that way and acted out accordingly.  Erickson likewise “acts out” his own insecurity by insisting that women must assent to “biology” and be submissive.

Stereotypes are as limiting as they are useless.  There is more than one way to succeed – and to have a well-balanced life.  In the family unit, it is not important who is giving you the good and nurturing message – the only thing that matters is that you get it.

A gay friend adopted a newborn eight years ago.  His son thrives, is super smart, joyful and interacts with boys and girls the way any well-adjusted child would.  So what stereotype should we apply to this single father simply because he is gay?  It is obvious to anyone looking at this man with half an eyeball that he’s doing a fabulous job raising the son he loves.

Likewise, for Mr. Dobbs and company to pretend that society as we know it is going to explode because 4 out of 10 women are heads of household and primary breadwinners is ridiculous.  The implication of this panel is that because women are now in the workforce, men will somehow be displaced or that the “natural order” will be disrupted.  If a man wants to excel and work, nothing and nobody is going to stop him.  Some women are better at making dough and some men are better at nurturing kids.  Nothing is set in stone, nor should it be.  Unless their contention is that self-worth is inextricably tied to the almighty dollar.  Then it might interest Mr. Dobbs and Co. to know that many women feel just as empowered as men when they bring home a paycheck.

This panel also seemed to say that by virtue of women working, they are abandoning a core responsibility to the family unit, as if there is only one way to parent.  As Juan Williams inferred, there are policies today that make it more advantageous for fathers to stay away from the home so moms can receive aid.  That is not the fault of women working.  Look to government for that one.

The “white picket fence” existence Juan Williams, Doug Schoen, Erick Erickson and Lou Dobbs yearn for equates apples and oranges.  For example, Mr. Dobbs regularly harps on the horrible high school drop-out rate in this country.  He is right to do so.  But the problem lies with the education system and those administering it on a local, state and national level – what does that have to do with the woman as breadwinners?  What about two parent families where it is an economic necessity that both parents work in order to make ends meet?  Is the problem not enough parental involvement?  That alone cannot be blamed on a working woman when a working man is just as capable of helping Sonny with his homework.

The hysterical pronouncements of these men ignore the larger issues:  Is the societal breakdown because men leave or do not want the responsibility of a child, because the women don’t want these men or because children are born out of wedlock, or to teenagers?  Are we failing at teaching proper sex education in this country – and what the responsibility of having a child really means?  These are complex problems that forcibly sending women back to the kitchen will not solve.

If these gentlemen wish to argue about the breakdown of the family unit, there are many internal and external causes.  First, we live in a country that trumpets packaging and the quick thrill – everything is airbrushed, hyper-perfected and geared toward instant gratification.  Look at the housing crash in 2007-08.  People were encouraged to take interest-only loans to buy homes they couldn’t afford.  Who taught them that was a wise thing to do?  And why did they believe it?

Mainstream media, advertisers, even politicians teach us that everything in our society is attainable, available on demand and with no money down.  We are also taught that everything is disposable.  Trade in your car!  Trade in your wife while you’re at it and get the newer model.  What should a woman do then?  Live on the street?

How comforting does Mr. Erickson think it is for a woman to have to ask permission to buy a dress or to be beholden to her husband for an allowance or the roof over her head?  Self-reliance is a comfort, particularly when one in two marriages today ends in divorce.  That statistic is likewise not the fault of the working woman.

Another problem in the breakdown of the family is a breakdown in communication, which has nothing to do with gender.  Perhaps people need to take their heads out of their I-phones and have a conversation.  It is sexist in the extreme to presuppose that only women have an obligation to relate to their children on a personal level.  It is just as insulting to men to assume they don’t want to have more involvement in raising their children than slapping the dough down on the table at the end of the week.

“Responsibility” is not touted very much in a disposable society that lives on voyeurism via reality TV, and by glamorizing fame.  It is also worth noting that most of the advertisers, media and entertainment outlets putting these messages out are controlled by men.  Women are outnumbered in congress by nearly five to one – so who is responsible for the policies to which Mr. Williams allude that are destroying the family?

How about if we exalt the family unit – whether traditional or non-traditional — offering up examples of people in successful working relationships, and update our education system to reflect the realities of our economy and workforce today, instead of bemoaning the fact that women are no longer assuming a submissive, or, as Mr. Erickson puts it, “complementary” role.

Apparently more women in 2012 want to work than they did in 2007.  Are women in the workforce in greater numbers because they wish to find fulfillment in their careers, because one income is not enough, or because there is no one else upon whom they can rely to support them and their families?  I suspect it is a combination of all three.

As to Mr. Erickson’s contention of male societal dominance, I am not sure why anybody has to have the “last word” in the household.  True partnership means compromise and surrender – and that is required of both parties, not just the woman.  Otherwise, gender equality is likewise a fiction.

Even Warren Buffett recently made the argument to other men that women not only deserve a bigger seat at the table, but supporting that result would mean greater productivity and success for us as a society and a country.

Men and women are in this together.  We are not mortal enemies.  Let’s stop treating each other that way.


Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a shocking exposé of sexism and media bias, now available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon.  #1 on Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

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