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



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

  1. As a man I love to care, that´s natural, but I don´t like to be expected to perform a role, especially when it means to carry the irresponsibility or complacency of someone else or fit into a picture that is imposed upon me. The instant reaction is NO. My reaction may be understandable but is also part of the whole set-up and contributes to a dynamic that sustains it hence the importance to expose ‘images’ like men=provider, women=mother etc so that we can set ourselves free from the expectation and the inbuilt reaction.

  2. Gabriele, thanks for asking these very important questions. It would be interesting to pose them to a group of men and hear their responses. There are so many limiting roles that we accept without question, so this blog is a great place to start the conversation.

  3. I’ve never expected a man to be the provider for me. I have always paid my own way. The one time I found myself in a relationship that meant I didn’t have to work I felt totally dis-empowered. I’m sure there are relationships that work this way especially when there are children involved, but for me it didn’t feel true. My vitality comes from taking full responsibility for my own life, and this includes my finances.

  4. It is a beautiful thing to see say in a couple where they have both been really true to themselves and what they feel is their true role, knowing that they are already enough in the first instance. It is not about being idle which is what may put us off this sometimes, just true to ourselves as to how we best serve.

  5. I find it interesting how many of us take on the different roles in life without a question or as much as contemplating if this really is a true way forward for each us or not.

  6. Taking on ‘the provider’ as a role places men in a false structure that dictates what is required, leaving no room for a man’s caring qualities to naturally emerge.

  7. . I would love to hear from some men about when they first became aware of the imposition of the provider role. I am thinking back to what was verbally shared in my house about men being providers and can’t recall anything in particular. However I did observe the dutiful going off to work despite not liking the work they do of some dads, but they would never consider leaving as they had to provide for their families. Perhaps it is more these non verbal cues that affect our boys.

  8. So many great questions Gabriele, I do feel that we as women put unrealistic pressures on men to ‘be’ the provider. That is historically how society has outplayed the gender roles and it has a lot to answer for. Men from a young age are made to feel that it is their role and they can feel less than if they are not able to do so.

  9. Reading this blog helped me feel just how much we sell ourselves short by thinking that being a provider for the family, and ‘having’ kids (as if they are a commodity or something) somehow equates to a successful life when there is so much more available for us to live by with true purpose. There is a big trap in thinking that having a secure and comfortable life, with all the distractions of food, drink and entertainment is a worthy goal in life, when instead we could be accepting and appreciating ourselves for who we are without the need to identify with ANY roles such as the ‘provider’ and deepen our self care and love to then share THAT with the world.

  10. Throughout my life I understood that the role of the man was to provide, they are to take care of everything that a family needs and wants. It’s quite shocking really to consider the huge weight and burden that means for everyone. The more I live life from a point of deep care and love the more I see the picture of a provider I held is false at best but at worst it has crippled our society.

  11. Any household has to have the money to pay what is required to live. Although, it is ‘normal’, it is written nowhere, however, that any person in particular (or gender) has to be the earning source. What we have to be aware is that this piece of ‘normality’ goes hand in hand with other ones regarding ir/responsibility (that plays out in so many ways and at so many levels). So, the main point is our relationship with what is accepted as ‘normal’, how much we align to it or not? How much we hide behind it or not? How much we use it to play games to our own short-term convenience? How much does it truly work for us or not? What is in the package of ‘normal’ we have said yes to it? To what extent does it truly help us to support ourselves and to evolve?

  12. I didn’t really consider this before Gabriele and that’s why it is great you wrote about it as the provider role for men is something in society that is so normal and almost expected. Reading your article made me ponder if there is another way and how it would be great to talk about this with my partner and how he feels about this. There is nothing wrong with working for service of humanity and therefore earning money and supporting the family to live, yet it is as soon as it becomes a role and expectation that it becomes unnatural.

  13. Men and women have had the short end of the stick for the roles we are expected to fulfil before there were sticks, almost. It is well past time for us all to become the fullness of what we are and appreciate what we bring to the world!

    1. Steve, this is passing the baton or should I say stick, because we all have a glorious role to play as Sons of God! Or could it be our fullness as a Soul on earth is what we will “bring to the world” and our time is now?

  14. When we attach to a picture of how we think men or women should behave then it’s like we’re rigidly imposing something on ourselves and others rather than being open to feeling what is true for any one person…

  15. We have been brought up to think we must develop a career that will deliver life long stimulation, status, fulfilment and security and yet we forget that it is our quality that we live is far more important than what we do.

  16. For men, being the provider plays out in many ways- we have learnt to wear many hats more than what we realise and it is only through the reconnection to the tenderness in our bodies and honesty that we can expose and dispel something that is so ingrained within us and not from truth.

  17. There are many ideals we have in life that are seemingly never questioned, and for men to provide for their women and family is one of them. In the flow of life, the person or persons who care for the family might be someone different at different times, and more importantly the care for all together is a shared responsibility.

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