By now you may have heard that Erick Erickson, reacting to recent reports, shared his view that “more women being the primary or sole breadwinners in families is harmful to raising children.” While making a fairly non-controversial point that children brought up in stable households with a married mother and father tend to do better in life, he seems to have inadvertently triggered a flood of outrage — and not only from his usual detractors on the Left. The issue of who does the breadwinning might seem irrelevant, even to those who share Erickson’s (and my own) view that a married two-parent household is the preferential option.
Is it irrelevant, though?
While I think Erickson went a bit far afield in his discussion of male dominance in the animal kingdom, he hit at an essential truth of life, which is that — okay, brace yourselves — men and women are generally very different.
They have different motivations, different priorities, and different ways of understanding and engaging with the world. Part of what makes a man different is an imperative, articulated or not, to provide for his own. The act of providing tells him that he is essential in a way that words cannot. Women derive satisfaction from the security a man provides and men derive satisfaction from the act of providing that security. At the very least a man likes to feel useful.
Yes, I’m saying men are needy.
The other day on Twitter I decided to share a bit of personal history in response to the near-universal denouncement of Erickson and his views. I thought if I shared my story it might help illustrate the real problem men are having with female breadwinners.
“Men need expectations.”
“Men need expectations.”
Did you notice how my story began? My wife went right from college to a well-paying first job in her field of study. I did not. We married at 23, more than a year after my graduation. I was aimless, unmotivated, and frankly a bit of a louse.
Looking back, I’m not sure I would have married me. The fact that my wife went through with it and proceeded to disallow me of my complacency is perhaps a testament to her resolution to see all her projects through to completion. And I was not so far gone that I could ignore the niggling sense of inadequacy and shame I felt.
The essential matter isn’t about who is dominant.
It’s not simply about women surpassing men. This is about men faltering.
It’s about men falling behind to the point where they become a hindrance to women — and to themselves. It’s about men voluntarily taking themselves out of the mix, sometimes abandoning their responsibilities altogether. This perpetuates cultural, spiritual, and economic poverty. That is certainly bad for kids.
If men are going to do better, they need expectations placed on them. They need challenges. We need to discuss this in a way that builds men up and does not tear women down. How to pursue this in our cultural dialogue is a much broader topic.
Since women are an essential part of this conversation, and since there’s a real possibility I have failed to adequately consider every aspect of this topic, we will be posting another article this afternoon. Kristina Ribali (no slouch in the Working Women department) will be sharing her perspective on the challenges facing female breadwinners later today.