Throughout most of human history, men hunted and gathered, literally bringing home the food.
Over time, the male role in a family setting evolved and became defined by a man having a job that pays him enough to buy all the things the family needs.
With the changing times however, an increasing number of men are failing to support their families. One of the many reasons that underpin men’s failure to support their families could be attributed to their failure to find jobs as more women have flooded the job market.
This has in itself created a situation where there are more working women while more men continue falling behind.
With many women working for pay, and their earnings being so vital to the economic wellbeing of their families, the fairer sex is becoming a crucial economic actor for her family, local community and the overall economy.
Michael Muyanja, a dentist, says with such dynamics in play, it is hard for one to think that men can continue being the sole family providers.
“We are seeing more girls going to school today; so, unlike in the past where almost all the jobs were only for the men ‒ who were the most educated, ‒ that has changed today,” Muyanja says.
The father of four reiterates that for the last 10 years, he has been earning almost as much as his wife, who is a general doctor.
“I know I can provide for my family, but it would strain me,” says Muyanja, adding that his wife’s support has been so helpful. “I can’t brag about being a sole breadwinner,” laughs Muyanja.
Muyanja’s family situation is just but one of the cases of families that have been hit by the evolving family dynamics that have shifted gender roles, and thereby the breadwinner role.
An article titled ‘US women on the rise as breadwinners’ in the New York Times, suggests that the figures of women solely fending for their families have been steadily increasing since 1960 to date. In the same breath, statistics of women who earn more than their partners are also on the rise.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of census and polling data in the USA, four in 10 American households with children under the age of 18 include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family.
While some men like Muyanja are co-breadwinners for their families, other men are finding challenges when it comes to providing even the most basic things for their families in the face of unemployment, amidst other challenges.
A single mother of one, who only identified herself as Nansamba, concurs with Muyanja. She maintains that the changing times have switched gender roles.
“Men are by no means the sole breadwinners,” Nansamba interjects without letting me complete my question.
According to her, today’s women are financially empowered and they too are supporting their families, despite the fact that there are men in those households.
“Women are no longer just child-bearers. They are now partners and financial contributors in the family,” Nansamba says.
She notes that many women today are paying school fees, maintaining homes and even buying land and building homes, only for men to take all the credit, even in instances where they have been mere spectators.
“Our society is still locked up in the old mentality of thinking men are the financial providers,” Nansamba says. “But there are many women out there who are running homes while their husbands do almost nothing.”
CAN MEN SURVIVE THIS?
As earlier noted, women’s presence in the work force means that there are now fewer jobs left to the male folk since women are determined to earn their space in the job market through acquiring all the necessary education, skills and working as relentlessly as their male counterparts.
Sadly, this phenomenon has had negative implications for men, who give up together, Nansamba notes, due to their egos, making them feel less of men when their partners are providing everything for the family.
Today’s woman, Nansamba says, will not throw a tantrum over a man not providing. She will go ahead and provide, simply because she has the ability to do so. She further notes that men, on the other hand, have not been empowered to put up with such a woman.
“While women have embraced the hard financial times and chosen to win the bread, men are still operating in the out-dated mode of thinking they can still be sole providers,” Nansamba says, adding that it is okay for a man to want to be the sole breadwinner, but it is increasingly impossible and men should get used to the shift in gender roles.
Mawejje, a police officer, maintains that, to some extent, men are still breadwinners, but is quick to note that it is a dying trend and men should, therefore, embrace the situation.
“We are not sending our daughters to school to become housewives,” observes the father of two.
While some men The Observer talked to cited the loss of one’s masculinity as one of the cons that come with this trend, Mawejje holds a different view.
“Marriage boils down to understanding. And having a stay-home wife does not make you the most masculine of men, yet she could help out with a few things,” Mawejje points out.
Mawejje insists that the earlier men get used to the fact that they cannot all be sole providers, the better it is for them because women are not relenting from hitting the jungle.
ABANDONING EMPOWERED WIFE
In agreement with Mawejje, Nansamba reiterates that there is need for restructuring society’s perceptions and expectations in regard to gender roles as far as breadwinning is concerned.
While the trend is frowned upon in Africa, Nansamba maintains that it is real and many men have been caught up in egoistic tendencies that have made them make regrettable mistakes in the name of struggling to become the sole breadwinners and retaining their masculinity.
While some men have turned violent, others have abandoned their empowered wives along with their children and wandered off in search of less empowered women who make them feel like real men.
Fredrick Masaba, a teacher, went to such lengths in the vain hope of retaining his manhood. The mother of their three children had always been a housewife while Masaba enjoyed bringing home the bacon.
As their children grew older, his wife realized she had to join the labour force, since she was also a university graduate, but Masaba did not welcome the new development. His wife, however, bearing the future in mind, went ahead with job hunting until she got herself a job with a non-government organization.
Devastated by his wife earning almost twice as much as he was, Masaba walked out on his wife and children in favour of an uneducated girl that his brother handpicked for him from their village.
Today, Masaba is the sole breadwinner for his wife and their seven children.
“The children are too many,” says Masaba. “I have tried to put up several small businesses for her so that she can also support the family but she has failed to run them.”
Masaba regrets leaving his first wife in an attempt to become a sole breadwinner as a way of retaining his masculinity.
When his wife started working, Masaba was afraid that she was competing against him and the fact that she was earning more than him only made matters worse.
However, it has taken almost 15 years for Masaba to realize that most women are not breadwinners out of choice but, rather, out of necessity. He also notes that there is no shame in a man not being able to fend for his family as much as he would like. To him, men can handle this breadwinner shift by having an open mind.
As the world strives for gender parity, gender roles are being redefined, thereby creating a need for a mindset change, according to Nansamba. She remarks that men and women should be able to coexist harmoniously regardless of who takes home the bacon.