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?
- 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