All This Talk of Traditional Male Provider Roles is Giving Me a Headache

Across the internet, articles exist either defending or condemning the traditional male “provider role.” I’m going to try to address the issue objectively (though that’s what they all say, I’m sure).

One article I just read defends it, but notes a common critique:
“[The provider role] delineated relationships within a marriage and family in a way that added to the legal, religious, and other advantages men had over women.
The wife of a more successful provider became for all intents and purposes a parasite, with little to do except indulge or pamper herself. The psychology of such dependence could become all but crippling.”

Financial dependence can indeed lead to social dependence, or something like it. Of course, this isn’t just true of man-and-wife relationships, and there are some cases where men are more dependent on women financially (at the very least, a man can end up with a debilitating illness, or something like that). Still, I can see this critique having meaning.

I have known women (my grandmother, for instance), who basically did the housewife thing. She seemed to make it work, but I’m sure there were downsides to it, especially after her husband died. While I can’t exactly say what such a person goes through, I will say she was not merely a “parasite.” She actually did important work, and did it well.

Similarly, if there’s a stay-at-home-dad who does a good job, there’s nothing really wrong with that. In fact, provided there’s no substantial abuse going on in the household, it’s not really anyone’s business anyway what sort of living arrangement couples have. I’m by no means a “traditionalist,” but if people go down that road and it works out for them, then that’s great. I know some modern women who do that and they seem alright. Of course, most modern women do have jobs, and often have families as well, and they can make the situation work out.

Simultaneously, there are definitely plenty of single, struggling moms who would love nothing more than the storybook version of a man — someone who will fall in love with them and provide additional security. While that can happen, it doesn’t seem like the age we’re in exactly, and I don’t see that trend reversing. If anything, relationships between the genders seem more polarized, at least with how the media presents it. The divorce rate is pretty high, and plenty of relationships seem to not last.

However, my question is: How much does this have to do with roles exactly? Can’t it sometimes just be that people lack chemistry, or the chemistry degrades over time? Can’t it sometimes be monogamy, and the guilt and shame so often needlessly imposed on people who occasionally sleep around (sorry, but I’m not a huge proponent of monogamy for either sex)? Of course, another key aspect is financial stress, the biggest killer of relationships (and which, apparently, can sometimes lead to emotional and even physical abuse).

It seems a whole lot of things aren’t just about specific gender roles, and that people have always defied those at certain times in history. Perhaps the biggest lesson here is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for some won’t work for others. So, when you break it all down, the most important thing is communication and honesty. Say what you want, and don’t get too bogged down by emotions.

Deal of the Century

Here’s what I propose: By and large, people should just be themselves, and look for what they want in relationships. You don’t have to get all your expectations from those around you, or cater to “roles” all the time. Are there some valid roles? Probably, but what makes them valid is likely that there’s some flexibility. The simple fact is, if you don’t fit in the mold, it’s because it wasn’t made especially with you in mind. Similarly, your interests, needs and wants may not always reflect those of people around you. So long as you’re not devastating the whole neighborhood, others should just cope with your own shortcomings.

Basically, what I propose is the “live-and-let-live” ideal I’ve talked about before. If people do that, I don’t think we really need to debate our roles, because we can sort of give them to ourselves, rather than just accept whatever cultural ideals come down the pike.

Doesn’t this sort of make sense? Also, isn’t there something kind of “American” about the idea? I hear a great deal about freedom over here, but I doubt we’re free as can be, and part of that is this ridiculous clash of “traditionalism” versus “modernity.” Well, I think we can have a little bit of both and still do fine.

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