Updated: Sep 3, 2020

By Doreen Caven

Image of Robin Givens

It is a rarity in our society for heterosexual women to be open about financially supporting their male partners, married or unmarried. It is rarely discussed openly by women to avoid conditioned negative perceptions of themselves, their male partner, and their relationship.

In a patriarchal society that places men in the position of breadwinner, heterosexual women often opt out of challenging this belief by assigning their male partner the role even when they don't live up to it.

The reluctance to disclose the true hierarchy of financial support, leads many heterosexual couples in these relationships to believe they are the minority.

The less women speak up about their contributions, the more controversial it is to digest, when a woman does. It appears a prideful claim for a woman to openly admit that she financially supports her home. Many listening perceive the admission of her reality as emasculating.

"A good woman knows not to let her male partner appear weaker than her."

The perceived superiority of men in a patriarchal society and in their relationship with women, is directly linked to their ability to financially provide. We acknowledge the societal claim of men as the main sources of financial provision to the extent that it disproportionately redistributes the bulk of child rearing and domestic work towards women. UN Women research data, indicates that women tend to spend around 2.5 times more time on unpaid care and domestic work than men. For many households around the world, the stereotype of men as the breadwinner is the main justification to excuse their minimal participation in child care and domestic work.

The value of unpaid care work cannot be glossed over as it regularly tends to be. A recent Oxfam study reported that unpaid care work done by women and girls has an economic value of $10.8 trillion per year, and benefits the global economy three times more than the entire technology industry. In homes around the world, women and girls unpaid labour subsidizes cares, sustains families, and often fills in for lack of social services, yet it is rarely seen as "work" because of the perception that it is a woman's duty.

Another benefit of this perception of men as primary breadwinners, is that it reflects in the higher salaries men receive in comparison to women. The wage gap exists from the belief that men are financial providers, and require larger salaries to care for their families.

However this does not reflect the reality of modern society.

According to the bureau of labor statistics, women make up the majority of the U.S workforce and account for most of consumer spending in households. Women being financially empowered is also an important economic driver globally, boosting productivity, economic diversification and GDP in their countries.

Despite the economic leaps women have made as equal financial contributors or breadwinners in their households, the wage disparity still applies globally. Women are paid less around the world, and in spite of their financial contributions, still bear the disproportionate burden of child care and domestic work in their homes.

Additionally, research from the Bright Horizons’ annual Modern Family Index found that the stereotypes of women as primary caregivers with a duty to their homes, drives the perception of working moms as less committed or less competent than other employees, which reflects in their wages.

So not only are women with families paid less than their male counterparts, there is a further wage cut penalty for being mothers, increasing per child. Married fathers in comparison experience a wage increase per child.

Society's perception of women as primary caregivers of their households (unpaid labour), directly contributes to the curtailing of our earning power (Lower wages, lack of job opportunities, legal job restrictions, motherhood wage penalty etc), while the perception of men as the bread winner, drives their earning power.

Knowing all these facts that weigh against women economically, how then can we NOT equally elevate women who labour to put food on the table of their households, and still perform more unpaid care? The woman breadwinner deserves a glorified acknowledgement for her longer hours of labour, and in a less sexist society, should justify an increase in her wages.

One of my married friend's is a successful entrepreneur, and the breadwinner of her family of three.

She bought the house her family lives in.

She supported her husband's second degree.

He started a business, she is the major investor.

He started a second one after the first one failed, she put up the money for it again.

And with all her financial contributions, does more unpaid care work in her home.

However no one is aware of how much work she is doing. Everyone praises him for how much he financially supports his family. Relatives and friends assume his business is booming, and so she often has to foot the bill of some of the family members he agrees to help.

Women bear the stress of being the breadwinner, without the benefit of the positive acknowledgment.

Unlike her husband, she does not receive the prayers and well wishes for helping her family. She is expected to hand over money meekly, fearing the confrontation that could ensue if

she put her foot down. She like many other successful women, fear the hovering accusation of emasculating their partners. They don't want to fit the "unnatural career woman" archetype of the arrogant wicked "unfeminine" woman, who is dominating her partner with her money.

For some women, the unconventional power dynamic is dangerous, with violence a hairbreadth away. Data from a survey from the Journal of marriage and family, indicated that women who are the financial breadwinners, have a substantial higher risk of spousal abuse especially if their spouses are unemployed.

Women are financial providers, and it is imperative that we make it normal for women to own their financial prowess in a heterosexual relationship. How unfair to live under an expectation to shrug off wins, and successes that are lauded and written into societal laws when men contribute the same or drastically less.

Silence only leaves room for inequality, violence, abuse and pain to thrive.

The humble woman archetype carved as essential to the continuance of patriarchy, feeds the silent female breadwinner. This mandated cloak of humility forced on the shoulders of women everywhere, keeps up perception that men are the major drivers of society, the hardworking go-getters who are the center of the hero's journey. Women are the humble sidekicks, there to support, inspire, provide care and meekly step aside right before the spotlight beams.

There is nothing shameful or unnatural about a woman being the breadwinner. We have always been major assets to our households, even when our contributions are unpaid. To preserve the hierarchal glory of men, women are expected to meekly turn over their crown and feign incapability, ignorance and inferiority. The more we persist in reinforcing these archaic heteronormative stereotypes that deny the financial contributions of women, the more women will evade speaking openly about their contributions, which resets the cycle of the overburdened, unacknowledged woman.

To resist or challenge the expectation to participate in discriminatory ideas sustain patriarchy is to risk misogynistic attacks which can turn very ugly. But our silence still does not protect us.

The female breadwinner gaining what she deserves, is worth the risk of inciting societal ire.

She deserves to feel important and valued for the work she is doing in her home.

She deserves to feel the community pride of helping and taking care of the people she loves.

She deserves the praise that we give men for doing the same, and even way less.

She doesn't deserve to feel guilty for being successful, and more successful than her male partner.

She shouldn't have to hide or reduce her accomplishments so that another person can bask in her well earned glory.

And most importantly, she deserves a society that recognizes her economic contributions as deserving of accolades not criticism, and the appropriate wages earned unskewed by sexism.

Never forget that patriarchy has done quite the job of not only stealing from women, it has skewed centuries of progress the world could have benefitted from our equal participation and contribution to not just the economy, but in guidance and leadership in all the sectors.