Are Providers Real Men? Are Real Men Providers?

I remember listening to an interview with Canadian author Margaret Atwood at a time when I was not sure what direction to take, what profession to pursue, what field to go into. What about being a writer? The occupation as such wasn’t at the forefront of my thoughts but more so the acknowledgement that this woman sounded like she knew who she was and was solid in her role and station in life; she had found her niche, her raison d’être, she had a proper profession – and she was respected, sought after and earned a living. Her job description gave her an activity and an identity; it was what she did and who she was.

I had tried many things and would try many more, take up many employs and fill various roles. Earning a living was important of course, but more so was the wish to put an end to the seemingly endless search for purpose and meaning in life. And finding a befitting professional role to fulfil would do the trick, I thought.

What did other people do? Even though I never felt directly discriminated against, a man’s role seemed to be more easily defined. I observed male friends drift into the role of supporting a partner and then a family and share their life and their resources with them – provide for them in other words.

And then there were questions that mothers would ask their dating teenagers. I observed this especially when I went to school in the US. If talking to a girl, they would ask what the boy’s dad did for a living. With teenagers, a mum might ask whether the young man was earning a living and question whether it was enough. I found that very strange at the time and remembering it now, it got me pondering:

  • Do men claim the role of provider or is it widely assumed to be a foregone conclusion?
  • Is provider the one and only one-size-fits-all job description for boys and men?

And there are more questions: if there is an expectation that men are the providers, when does it start and how do they get to hear about this job description?

  • Does the provider role come in the form of an invisibly woven thread in the cute blue baby boy jumpsuit?
  • When and how do boys and men become aware of this expectation?
  • Does anybody ask how they feel about this supposedly predestined role?

And further:

  • Do boys and men have a say or even a choice in the matter?
  • Do men like this role or do they think there is no other way, play along and make the best of it?
  • Do some men like to hide behind the provider role to get other people and, especially and over time, their partner off their back?

And more generally:

  • Are real men providers and the others are not?
  • Do men use the provider label as an excuse for some of their not so great behaviours?

Definitely more questions than answers here, and some very personal questions at that. But it doesn’t stop with the men of course, it concerns women just as much:

  • Do women stay with their male partner because he is a good provider?
  • Is the provider role an essential ingredient in turning a relationship into an arrangement rather than basing it on and building love?
  • Does this arrangement allow women a certain degree or even a whole bucket load of irresponsibility?

Overall, is it possible that the expectation that real men shoulder the responsibility of being providers is an imposition to put it mildly, if not a set of shackles and a huge burden? And what does this do to the men, the women and the relationship between men and women? What would life and relationships be like if the provider role for men was not a foregone conclusion?

For more on the subject:

Is there another way where responsibility, truth and self-care come first and providing is part of caring and a development, but never a foregone conclusion? This man talks about responsibility, self-care and truth and doesn’t even mention the provider role once: Are We Taking Responsibility for Our Own Lives?

On a woman’s perspective of how roles restrict and shackle us, you might like to read: The Roles We Hide In

For a great demonstration of what purpose and commitment brought to a man’s life and that being the provider by virtue of his pay is not the end all and be all – far from it: Gardening Leave? Meh.

By Gabriele Conrad, Goonellabah NSW



396 thoughts on “Are Providers Real Men? Are Real Men Providers?

  1. The questions you pose strip back the provider role that is so commonly and unquestionably assumed, to the ridiculousness that this is what we so tacitly accept. Men are not born providers and yet this is the sticker they tend to be labeled with from a young age. The casting of roles and definitions to men and women, boys and girls, denies us of our true expression and our true and unique qualities. And all importantly it removes the responsibility we all have to be and bring all of who we are – because this we cannot do when we become the functional role we let ourselves be labeled with.

  2. ‘Is the provider role an essential ingredient in turning a relationship into an arrangement rather than basing it on and building love?’ This is a great question and one that deserves pondering for the ways we manage to turn otherwise deeply loving relationships into mere arrangements in order to protect ourselves and stay in the comfort of known ways and the security this offers is huge.

    1. We are a very security based culture and money is part of that, but there is also the security of things staying the same and avoiding change. Seeing each other in a limited role based way doesn’t allow for what’s true to be chosen and lived, which would definitely bring change!

      1. Roles, images and expectations limit our potential by hindering the ever-evolving unfoldment to our true origins.

  3. I can’t help but wonder now what does it mean to be a provider, what are we providing? Financial is the obvious starting point, but we could certainly expand on this. I began to wonder at the question does a woman stay with her partner because he is the provider? Is it money, is it security, is it a picture or even comfort, or even a lack of evolution in the relationship. This is something for us all to ponder on what is it that we are providers of in our relationships?

    1. The way you’ve used the word “provide” here really conjures up images of arrangements, of needs being met, when it could be about what we bring to one another as beings and the joy of simply being ourselves together. Are we sharing who we are or providing things?

      1. We frequently let relationship deteriorate to the point of arrangements that are mainly based on function and getting things done and boxes ticked.

  4. I wonder if the cliche roles we assign to men and women are based on actual true and natural differences in men and women, but we have as in so many other areas of our life nudged our perception so far away from the real thing that it has become a life and an imposition.

    The love and nurturing that women provide is something to be cherished, and it does not mean they are incapable of doing anything else. Similarly the depth of care and tenderness men can naturally provide is something to be deeply appreciated, without pigeon-holing them into the trap of being ‘the’ provider in a relationship.

  5. Gabriele we can see others based on pictures, women are mothers for example and there to care for others, and men provide the money for the family, but in that we miss the true connection to the essence of the person. And those images we have may cause us to choose a life that doesn’t actually feel true for who we are.

    1. Totally Melinda. Pictures and Images are the blight of our lives. We use them to control life, to control others, so that we can navigate life and keep ‘safe’. But they do not keep us safe, in fact they keep us in peril – right out of the flow of life, which prevents health, growth, evolution, and joy.

      1. That is happening a lot isn’t it Lyndy, we go through the motions, performing the roles we believe are expected of us, putting how we feel secondary to the demands we feel placed on us. How many can say they are not affected by this and that have a deep understanding of themselves and what actually suits each person and their personality. Strip away the role and we have a much stronger relationship to health and wellbeing and actually offer more as a human being than being in a predetermined role be it provider or anything else that we mould to fit.

    2. So true Melinda. And these stereotypical pictures are fed to young ones, not only by family role models, but by books and education in schools from an early age. Meeting young ones and finding out what they truly feel in open discussion would be a good start in breaking down such distorted images, that no longer serve in today’s society.

  6. I feel the role of parents is so very important because children will observe and replicate what they see at home. We have an amazing opportunity to model an equal and shared responsibility for raising a family, working together as a couple and getting support from the community as required to make sure love is the common denominator.

  7. I think it’s interesting to question what true responsibility is here – I’m sure many would say that fulfilling a certain role is their responsibility, which I understand, but if we have an image of what that role entails we can put ourselves and others under a kind of duress to meet said picture rather than living and taking responsibility from a known quality inside of us…

  8. Interesting questions here, as women do we stay with men because they provide for us…do we look for men who will provide…what do they get out of this negotiation? Because this is relationship not based on love, but many of us will be familiar with making this choice ourselves or being aware of it in other relationships….This brings separation, not unity, how can it, when relationships become about transactions, what we can get out of another rather than what we bring ourselves…and I do not just mean financially.

    1. Could be that it is then not a relationship but an arrangement; an arrangement between two condescending adults who settle for comfort rather than deepen the love?

  9. As a woman it feels like allowing the men to play the role of providers within the family unit is an arrangement of convenience – it feels like men gain a sense of satisfaction in playing this role and that women can live irresponsibly. Living life in this way means a superficiality where neither one is required to build a relationship where true intimacy can blossom – and unless we allow a depth within our relationship we will not ever truly know the other person. In my experience it required a lot of holding back, as I knew I was not reaching my true potential as a woman – nor was I honouring my true essence or that of my partner.

  10. “Overall, is it possible that the expectation that real men shoulder the responsibility of being providers is an imposition to put it mildly, if not a set of shackles and a huge burden?” So true Gabriele. It is an imposition because it is like saying men are only good to do this in life but they are so much more. It also shows how our relationships are not true either as in my experience we carry the responsibility for the life my partner and I together, even though he earns at the moment the money as I am studying full time. We discuss things together and this works very beautiful. There is not roles or assumptions, more a working together.

  11. I have been slowly coming to appreciate that real men are those who honour their divine tenderness and sensitivity and care for themselves as well as others.

  12. How many men have run away from these imposed expectations, possibly rebelling against these values only to be shamed for being a dead beat or something less than a man? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, comes to mind! There is a change in the wind that is coming from men that have played the game and boys that know there is a game, that are standing up and expressing who we all really are, I am one of many.

  13. I have been the provider of my own wellbeing from the beginning, and as a woman that has seemed the most natural thing in the world. I cannot even imagine asking someone to do that for me. There is in life a responsibility to care for ourselves, but if there were a time that I was not able to do that and someone (either man or woman) offered to assist, I would gladly accept for that is part of honouring myself.

    1. Beautifully said Heather – we are indeed responsible of honouring and caring for ourselves to the best of our ability, accepting support from others is a natural part of that.

  14. Interesting question asking what the boy’s dad does for a living … I remember this and I have also asked the same question. There is an expectation when the answer comes and our choices depend on that answer. I never looked at this closely enough to see that this is all about the man being able to provide for his wife or family. There is an untold pressure of the man having to hold down a ‘good job’ and if that does’t work then in some way he has failed to provide. No wonder there are so many men committing suicide or are depressed, I understand much more of where some of these pressures are coming from now and I can also see that they are all a part of everything, we have created society through beliefs such as this.

  15. How many of these societal ‘norms’ have we adopted and accepted without questioning thus far?… it is never too late to ask these questions and for us to live our life free of the expectation of roles and ideals of who we ‘should’ be and to embrace wholly who we deeply and truly ‘are’.

  16. ‘Definitely more questions than answers here’ – Great point, even though we may not at first have the answer, it is super important to start asking the questions – if we stay open the answers will unfold.

    1. It does start with asking the needed questions rather than putting up with what’s deemed ‘normal’ but has us trapped in living our lives on half empty

  17. It is often remarked on the longevity of old relationships/marriages, are these just convenient arrangements? Where there is a mutual, non-pushing the others buttons, where both can hide? The trade off for men being a provider is just settling into comfort and justify it being a provider, is almost a get out jail free card to coast through life. A relationship without love as its core, it will always just be a comfy chair to watch the world go by.

  18. What a brilliant exposure Gabriele, of a consciousness that has many of us hoodwinked and playing into the hands of certain ‘roles’, thinking that men are supposed to be one way and women are supposed to be another. We are far more than these roles and the pressure of performing our ‘duties’ is clearly not working for any of us. As you have also questioned, imagine the quality of relationships between us if we honoured who we are in essence first, and worked together to bring what was needed amongst us to truly live.

  19. It is a pure injustice to want men to be only providers and the amount of heart disease currently being experienced by men is a great indication of just how harming it is. We need to find another way to be with men and support them to just be themselves.

    1. The straitjackets we put each other and ourselves in make us sick, literally, our ideals and beliefs are killing us, slowly but surely.

      1. It feels like puppets being put in a frame, although there is no frame existing. But noone is telling the other, that the frame does not exist, because they can´t see the limitation as a limitation, because it became so normal to be in a frame. That´s why it is so important to have expressions like you offer here, that actually expose that this frame we said yes to, does not exist.

      2. The frame, the box, the prison cell are self-created and it can seem as though the key has been thrown away; in reality, it is our choice and our choice alone and when willing, we can simply walk out.

  20. Generations upon generations have reflected back to each other that the man is the provider and until we have a solid look at the relationships of the parents and the roles they play out, this role for the men will continue. It is interesting though to ponder on the questions asked and to feel that these ideals and beliefs of the man being the provider are so entrenched within society, along with the security of the women.

  21. There are so many ‘arrangements’ in our society that we have allowed to be taken for granted, and to be a part of our society… and the truth is … they have no place at all, if we are being true to ourselves.

  22. Like a dog who’s brought back a ball, I’ve felt so often in my life that I am jumping through hoops to make others happy. ‘Look at what I have done for you’ – I would seem to say, yet I can feel today that this was actually a very selfish way – driven by my own lack of self worth. All anyone ever needs to provide is the holding presence of true Love. Thank you Gabriele for providing this for me today with what you had to say.

  23. I had never pondered this question of the origin of ‘being the provider’? It’s almost like questioning the sex we were born as, its just one of those XY gene things that just happens! I have asked other men the question of where we the provider comes from, and you have to keep drilling back through time, but there is still no starting point. But, it is still an exposing question on our held, values and beliefs, that we have allowed ourselves to be saddled and ridden for life times and never questioning the origin. It’s a bit like believing the world is flat!

    1. Good point – assumed roles and held beliefs are reminiscent of the flat earth example, apparent givens that hide under the cloak of normalcy. Who said?

  24. Are we not all responsible to be providers in the sense of supporting and backing ourselves first and then it becomes an easy matter to be there for others.

  25. I love this questioning because it invites me to consider the beliefs I have grown up with and how they still play out in my relationship with life… an opportunity to dispense with entrenched ones about gender roles… thank you, Gabriele.

  26. The mere idea of provider is a clear sign of separation and arrangements between human beings. This my side of the deal, what is yours? Or this is what I do for you, what are you doing for me in return? When this mindset prevails, relationships have a ceiling based on the images associated with the roles we buy into.

    1. We limit ourselves and others considerably with these arrangements and tit for tat interactions. They feel like a straitjacket.

  27. Many questions, Gabriele. It feels that men being the provider is a role we had to play for lives because it was the traditional way a standard house hold was organized. A man works and a woman takes care of the house and the children. A woman could not even leave the house to work because the washing took 3 days.
    The momentum of these past lives are still alive in our lives today, obviously so. So the clue is to be aware of them and say: I choose a different way.

  28. I love the simplicity and the sharpness of your blog Gabriele. And the humour in it as well. A great exposure of how the innately quality of men, who love to care in a very loving way and with self-care first, got bastardized in a way that they are under pressure to fullfil this ideal and expectations of society.

  29. A classic case of not appreciating each other in the depth of who we are and what we bring for if we did we simply won’t have problems with men going into a provider role and defining themselves by it.

  30. .
    It is a great… and disturbing… image of the provider jumpsuit… They are for all sizes and all shapes for every man to be given one at birth… And of course with everything that comes with it… As you say

    1. I love the image of the jumpsuit; reminds me of a parachute and of free fall – free fall into an image and an expectation, a given that boys apparently have no control over.

    2. I just see people jumping into them and it being a ‘life-saver’ therefore getting out of the jumpsuit becomes a potentially life threatening decision. Who would choose to do that without considering the consequences fully from every minute angle?! The illusion though is that getting out of the jumpsuit is dangerous, it is a whole set up to keep the provider jumpsuit in play and capping the amazing potential of the child jumping in looking for safety.

      1. You’ve given a whole new meaning to the word ‘jumpsuit’ – a garment we don that defines us and that we do not dare discard lest we lose our assumed identity.

  31. As men and women we like to wear different hats with the purpose to feel like an individual, for if we were to let go of them, we would find that we are all the same when it comes to the love and sensitivity within.

    1. Gender is but another cloth we like to drape ourselves in, especially when it comes to stereotypes and assumed and unquestioned roles and expectations.

  32. If the man comes into the relationship with his ‘uniform’ of provider and the woman comes in with her ‘uniform’ of mother, girlfriend etc. Or if we expect from the other to ware and address us only from that role. Then we aren’t really connecting to that person which is what we actually want deep down.

    1. It is as if we relate to each other from the roles and expectations we have of another; feels more like a barren dessert than a true and vibrant relationship and connection.

  33. I have always found the culture of summing up a man by his pay grade or job description extremely distasteful. Matters of love should not be based purely on someone’s ability to bring home the bacon! However, even though I am happily married, if I was single, I would only be interested in dating someone that was committed to work and life. I love my work and couldn’t imagine being a stay at home Mum but in my last relationship I took on the providing role and that was too much pressure too. I think that when you are in a true relationship, as I am in now with my husband, it feels equal, not financially or time wise but energetically, you support each other and nobody feels like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

  34. Gabriele you have brilliantly exposed the many expectations and images society hold and accept as ‘normal’. To begin this questioning and challenge these long held beliefs is key to allowing men to express and honour their true feelings, as many men carry the burden of these roles and feel trapped in many ways that is having a huge impact on their health and wellbeing.

  35. Whatever idea we hold about ourselves that is not previously felt, discerned and accepted in this case by its loving quality, is an imposition that will condition our movements and life in male and female roles that doesn’t have to do with true maleness and femaleness.

    1. True – adopted roles without true discernment of whether they are true or not is liked putting on a straitjacket and then complaining that we can’t move so well.

  36. I get a sense that we have all fallen into the roles society has laid out for us before we realise that perhaps it was not what we wanted. The tension and lack of true purpose builds until we do something about it or find ourselves with poor mental or physical health. There is no shuffling along making do, that choice has deep consequences.

  37. I think it’s very needed for us to be open to seeing what ‘job descriptions’ we have labelled men and women with, perhaps even unconsciously so and be willing to question if they really sit true with us or not…

  38. It makes me ponder on the reflection a woman lives by when she chooses to align to love and take responsibility for herself. It changes a relationship where there’s equality in the relationship. It also disturbs the woman who is not choosing love as they can sense truth but choose to ignore it.

  39. I wonder if it is due to this role instilled in boys from young that I sometimes observe that when relationships change from women earning the larger income to then the husband earning the higher income. It seems when this change takes place a false security, sense of worth is bolstered in the man and he sometimes starts to feel like he owns the household/family as he provides…. It has only been a few different relationships I have observed this so this may not be a common thing, it would be interesting to hear if anyone else had observed situations such as these and what kind of outcomes they observed…..

  40. Some great questions in your article Gabriele. I especially like “is it possible that the expectation that real men shoulder the responsibility of being providers is an imposition to put it mildly, if not a set of shackles and a huge burden? And what does this do to the men, the women and the relationship between men and women? ” So worth pondering on.

  41. I think the roles we fall into are not obvious till you are in them and feeling a little lost! The constant search for meaning, committing to life and offering service is easier to balance if we are conscious of the ideals and beliefs that sit, subtly or not subtly in society and our communities.

  42. Where I live the old role-system is still very strong and a great example of how this caters for arrangements rather than loving relationships. Many women feel trapped in their marriages that are not working because they do not actually have an income for themselves and simply can’t afford to end the marriage. Both parties are responsible for this situation and a great start would be to ask sthe questions you pose Gabriele, so the old way of being can start to shift.

    1. It’s a good observation – people feel trapped but let’s not forget that we are responsible for the traps we find ourselves in and thus, change is always possible. And it invariably starts with honesty.

  43. We are so part and parcel of the problem as well as the solution. The expectation of the man’s role as a provider is there in the fabric of our society. I imagine different generations might see it differently but I can also feel the intergenerational effect of those expectations and burdens that cannot be ignored. So rather than step away from being committed and responsible in life, perhaps it is about not having sweeping catch-all expectations that feel like burdens?

  44. One of the crucial questions is, are the men identified in the role as provider and do they use it as an excuse not to connect to the wife and children, or to say that they deserve a drink after a long day? In all of this it feels like the vital and living component is the connection to oneself and one’s inner-heart and so open to be doing what is loving, and what is needed.

  45. I find it amazing how much my writing has developed just by working on my expression in the little moments. I can now churn out several thousand word pieces where as I used to struggle to put together a few hundred words!

  46. Children are great at the stop moment questions and comments that often let us see the ridiculousness of what we might have been adopting for years. I love conversations such as this blog that similarly invite us to reconsider our widespread beliefs.

  47. When a partner and I moved in together after university and I started my first job, he was still studying. So I was the provider and in a way I loved the feeling of it at the time. I thought it gave me a certain ‘power, authority, control and independency’ that made me feel ‘safe’. All it provided was a role I could hide behind and identify with, so actually a complete illusion.

  48. I set myself up in a similar position many years ago and kept trying to outdo myself, took on ever more and plotted and schemed what else I could usurp.
    When I woke up I realised that it had not been what my partner had ever wanted and that the whole exhausting exercise was about control and the enforcement of my way and my way alone.

  49. ‘Men are providers’ – this clearly forms a gigantic jigsaw of a belief system much of the society is founded on. It goes so well with a belief that women are as less than men, expected to be submissive. I wonder if there might have been some truth that got lost over the years somewhere. Maybe there are certain roles that are more suited to each gender, defined, not by an image, but by the quality of our natural make-up, and in connection to and recognition of the true quality each gender held, there might have been mutual appreciation therefore responsibility taken upon?

    1. There are roles that suit different natural talents but maybe they are not gender specific? It could be said that being a warrior or soldier used to be a male role but then again, does going to war really fit with what we truly are – gentle, harmonious, loving, supportive. etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s