Monday, December 4, 2023

Who is the man? – When wives are the family breadwinners

By Mpho Kuhlmann

“It was difficult at first. A man’s ego takes a huge knock when his significant other earns more than he does but we eventually found a way of dealing with it. He is my husband and I respect him.” Boitumelo Mokgosi who earns more than her husband is relating how their relationship went to hell and back.

With more and more Batswana women rising up the corporate ladder and making more money than their partners, the traditional relationship of the man as the provider and the women as a kept trophy has been stood on its head.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, Senior Sociology lecturer at the University says there are always going to be problems between men and women when it comes to who earns more. “Unfortunately, we live in a world where our income defines a lot about us. Men have been told they should be the breadwinners of their families for most of history. So they tend to feel less-than if their female partners earn more than them. Having a wife or girlfriend who earns more can have a debilitating effect on a man’s psyche and the relationship itself, some men care about their salary because they’re worried what will happen if their wife wants to stay home with the kids and they can’t afford to support their family. Many men also face pressure from their families about earning more than their respective wives and girlfriends.”

She says many of us would like to believe that a woman earning more than her male partner isn’t a big deal these days but it does however flip the traditional gender dynamics which still in some cases cause anxiety.

Women have come a long way since the days when parents wouldn’t take the girl-child to school. Today there are many educated women, not only are they educated, many have risen in their workplaces and businesses earning bigger incomes which sometimes outstrip what their husbands earn. This has consequently led to debates about what happens when the wife earns more. In many homes in Botswana today, the wives earn more and in some cases they are even the breadwinners. This has led to negative outcomes. Some husbands have become insecure, unnecessarily aggressive and even abusive. Some wives have become arrogant, irresponsible and very domineering. Many couples who did not manage this situation well have either divorced or separated.

Like Boitumelo’s family, some couples or find it hard to accept the fact that a woman can earn more than their spouse in a home and be able to live happily. Today, we are seeing what we call women emancipation; women are taking a lead in various aspects. They are providing where the man is not able to provide and you also find that women are getting better paying jobs than men or on the same level as men.

Although it still exists, the pay gap between men and women is narrower now than at about any time in the past and there are more and more opposite-sex couples in which the woman is the one bringing home the bacon. The problem with women earning more starts showing when the man starts to feel inferior. Marriages and relationships have trouble working in patriarchal societies where men are expected to be breadwinners and decision-makers, the wife is often called names and ridiculed for wearing the pants and the husband for playing second fiddle.

Most women work, and while attitudes have moved on (working women don’t expect to be ‘kept’, while men are happier to help out around the house and with childcare), people’s personal lives are still heavily defined by the experiences with which they grew up, our fathers largely derived their sense of identity from their ability to provide and protect, and our mothers from their family and domestic lives. The perception of those traditional roles runs deeply throughout society, Men tend to get inferior and look down on themselves if they get less than their wives in earnings but problems always arise if women try to take over the position of the man in the family and look down on the man for earning less.

Boitumelo Mokgosi who works at Vivo Energy Botswana and earns more than her significant other believes she has found a working formula: “A woman being able to earn more than their spouse should not destroy a relationship, marriage should be built on the principles of love. Once the couple has love for each other and their love is a driving factor for the marriage, money can never come in between. I earn more than my husband, it was difficult at first, and a man’s ego takes a huge knock when their significant other earns more than he does but we eventually found a way of dealing with it, he is my husband and I respect him” She says although there are cases where some women tend to misuse their position to demean their partners but a couple is supposed to build their relationship on love and money.

Olebile Moepeng who works at Exclusive Books in Gaborone says traditionalists have always believed that the man is the King of his castle. We all know that a throne comes with ability provide. To be the king, you have to be able to pay the price. When a man finds out that the woman has more money, there is usually a strain on the relationship because his confidence is dented significantly. I sometimes think that the lack of confidence is what causes some men to be physically and emotionally abusive.” She says people should acknowledge that even if we have reached a level of women emancipation, it shouldn’t in any way bring about irreconcilable differences either in a marriage or any other relationship.

Thabo Baaretsang a broker at Penrich Insurance Brokers in Gaborone believes that naturally, men think of themselves as providers, and find it difficult to come to terms with being the one being provided for. “I acknowledge that things have changed and women are now go getters. The natural human setting of things has changed but a man still remains the foundation of a home. He should command respect for even just being a man, we don’t have to earn more than our wives to earn that respect but some women think that if they earn more than us then they are kings.” He says if his partner earned more than him he would respect and praise her for her achievements, he is after all a modern man.


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