Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Interview with Filmmaker Izzy Chan: "Have we adjusted our expectations of what a man needs to bring to the table?"

Documentary filmmaker Izzy Chan has spent the last year following eight families in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and Nashville to document what she calls the "Big Flip": the increasingly common switch from "traditional" family life to a setup in which the wife is the breadwinner and the husband stays at home. The recent gender shifts in education and the workforce have been well-documented for years now, but our wider social expectations haven't changed as quickly. Chan pointed me to these statistics:

  • Husbands whose wives make more money are 61% less happy (University of Virginia, 2010).
  • Wives who are primary breadwinners are also significantly less happy about their family lives than other women (Cornell University, 2009).
  • Men are 5 times more likely to cheat when they’re financially dependent on their wives (American Sociological Association, 2010).
  • 51% of Americans think kids are better off with mom at home instead of at work. Only 8% think the same about kids at home with dad (Pew Research, 2013).

Her documentary, The Big Flip, aims to show the day-to-day experience behind these numbers. We spoke on the phone last week.

How did you get the idea for this documentary? Did your own household "flip"?

Yes! It happened to me when the economy tanked—I became the accidental breadwinner. And I really wasn’t expecting it to be difficult. I live in San Francisco, I’m good at my job, I enjoy my job, my community is progressive, I love my husband, he loves me. I was surprised at how things started creeping up in our relationship, these expectations and resentments.

And, my background is in research and strategy, so I started looking for studies on the topic. The numbers didn’t look good. Another statistic is that divorce is 40% more common in households where the woman brings in more than 60% of the family's income, and I was really disturbed by that. That’s where the idea for the documentary was born, because the numbers said a lot, but they weren’t helping. This situation is definitely not an impossible one, and I wanted to know—for those of us who are living this every day—what does work? How can families make these shifts better? How can we learn from our mistakes?

Am I wrong to locate the difficulty here in the unevenness of what we expect from men and women in family life? Is it not that society sees fatherhood as something performative and public, and motherhood as something that involves a ton of private, unseen work?

You know, I had a similar perspective to you when this happened. I was biased towards the idea that men just needed to step up. For me, my resentment wasn’t even in me having a problem supporting the family, but in me just expecting him to do more work. I’d have finished the dishes by now—why hasn't he? How come, if he’s looking for a job, he hasn’t sent out ten resumes today like I would have?

But, having spent a lot of time with other families who are experiencing the same thing—and this is not a final conclusion, but something I’m still thinking about—I think it’s actually as much if not more about how women have to shift their expectations. It’s still very hard for me to say that, because I understand what you’re saying—I never thought this could possibly be my problem.

What do you mean by shifted expectations?

There are several things. The simplest is letting go of control. A lot of the resentment comes from expecting your partner to do things exactly the way you would. Like, with the dishes—is it better to just sullenly wash everything when you’re exhausted, or just wait till the morning, when he’ll wash them, as he says?

Another example is to examine whether we’ve adjusted our expectations of what a man needs to bring to the table. I hear this from a lot of young women, that they assume they’ll work and support themselves, but need to be dating a guy who will stand on his own and have a good profession. It never crosses their mind that they might one day have to find happiness supporting someone. And subconsciously, we’ll think things like “Not my type” if a guy is unemployed, or not making any money. I mean, I didn’t like worrying about supporting my husband, to be honest. When his job was in trouble, I had to step up and accept that this was something I was going to have to change. I had to realize that there was a big gap between my being comfortable taking care of myself versus my being comfortable taking care of him.

Is it just hard for people to stay home, period? Especially if they have to do so either out of monetary or social constraints?

Well, there are lots of families who believe that a child’s better off with one parent at home, and plenty of parents who want to stay at home. I don’t think anyone is wrong or right in an individual case; I think the most important thing is understanding that whatever works within each family is fine. Not every situation is for everyone, obviously.

The important thing is recognizing the importance of figuring this out mutually. Finding a partner who shares your values—either that you both want to be fulfilled by work, or that you both think that one person should stay at home. Children are happiest when their parents are fulfilled, no matter what that entails. And families need to be able to do what works best for them without feeling guilty or judged. If you’re a man who’s happier staying at home—or a man who's learning to be happy while staying at home—your family and society should appreciate that.

What else helps families adjust when the breadwinners switch?

Talking about expectations. Even in a traditional family, talking about expectations is so important. And talking about money, too: I’ve observed that when a guy’s the one staying at home, he’ll be more cautious with the girl’s money. He’ll say things like, “Yeah, I wouldn’t have picked this, but it’s her money,” in a way that a stay-at-home mother accustomed to running the household budget wouldn’t necessarily do.

In a way, it points to how women in the past have embraced the true work involved in staying at home—they often more feel comfortable thinking of their husband’s money as their own than men do when the roles are reversed.

How conscious were you of class differences playing into this? I’ve always had trouble with the big articles on this subject for how much they neglect the privilege involved in a family that can make it work on one income, or how these issues often affect low-income families even more sharply.

It’s true that most of these media stories have the upper-middle class narrative, and it's also definitely true that these issues cut across class lines. Blue-collar industries favor men, and so of course those families have been affected by the same flip, and even more strongly. And I think, absolutely, the strains on those families are different. You’ll have women carrying the load in the same way, but by working two or three jobs. For them, it is a lot more of a burden, and a different one.

I was conscious of class as I made this documentary. We’re filming a blue-collar family in Portland, but they don’t have children. It’s a little bit harder to find blue-collar families who are willing to let a film crew in their life, and I think it’s because they’re just busier—they are spending all their time making ends meet. They don’t have the mental space to let someone in to document their life.

Fewer lifestyle blogs in the working class community.


What would you tell women that haven’t had to experience any of this yet?

I’d say, consider that this might happen to you. Think consciously about what you consider an equal partnership. Do you define a date-worthy guy as someone who is as well-educated as you, or more? Someone who makes as much money as you or more? Would you be open to supporting someone? Would you have trouble respecting your partner in that situation?

And I wonder, for your readers: how do they feel about this? For those of them who graduated college into the recession, I wonder if some of them might have already had experience supporting a significant other, if their definitions of success in a partner have changed?

More information about the Big Flip documentary and project can be found here

60 Comments / Post A Comment


I’d say, consider that this might happen to you. Think consciously about what you consider an equal partnership. Do you define a date-worthy guy as someone who is as well-educated as you, or more? Someone who makes as much money as you or more? Would you be open to supporting someone? Would you have trouble respecting your partner in that situation?

This is powerful. Even on the Hairpin I've noticed (our almost entirely female) commenters taking for granted that it's acceptable to reject a (prospective or current) romantic partner for having poor job prospects--which is a reasonable attitude to have for a lot of reasons, but also very gendered. (Look at old "Ask a" columns.) Straight men tend to take for granted that they may have to support their partners. For many women this is a dealbreaker. I have a hard time imagining life as a breadwinner, and I'm a professional with a good income who believes that husbands should share equally in the housework. It's a hard thing to look in the face, and just another example of how hard it is for attitudes to truly change.


@Bookgerm I think that a lot of my expectations for a partner are the same as my husband's had been - someone educated, someone employed, someone able to support him/herself - but I definitely think that I would have an issue with dating someone who makes less money than I do. I'm a teacher, so that sets the bar pretty low, but I know my husband doesn't have an issue with the fact that I make less than he does. It's hard to admit that this is an issue... but it probably wouldn't be if I made more than I do now. Maybe, then, it's an expectation about the level of income I want between the two of us in order to comfortably support a family? I'm not sure.

My mother eventually made more money than my father, and his reaction was mostly, "Woohoo, more money!" which is probably how my husband would react if I, say, became superintendent and quadrupled my pay.


WOW!!!!:) Love it❤️@l


And subconsciously, we’ll think things like “Not my type” if a guy is unemployed, or not making any money.

This just just just isn't true. Quite aside from the am-I-right overreaching of the "we" here, I remember many a conversation ON THIS VERY HAIRPIN back in the ask-a days, people straight up saying that they did not want to date someone unemployed or "unambitious" (= poor and not ashamed). I find all this pretty gross but it is not subconscious. It is highly highly conscious on the part of those women who have those preferences. It may be wrong (and I think it is) but one thing it is not is women just confusedly not knowing what they're doing as if they lived in a New York Times article fog or something.

Would you be open to supporting someone?

But of course! Me and my cat and my hypothetical layabout husband will live like kings on my $19.22 an hour in this ninth most expensive city in this not inexpensive nation. He will have to understand that I am happy to keep him and let him sit home but the cat manages the budget, she is used to it.

anyhow I question the idea that if men and women grow up with different ideas of what they ought to offer and what they may reasonably demand from a heterosexual partner (and it's true they do), it is the womens' expectations that ought to undergo a global change. Perhaps it is not a good idea to continue reinforcing a paradigm of coupled life where an ideal marital unit consists of one independent and one economically dependent party, regardless of sex? the only answer to how to not starve in a dying economy ought not to be marry someone who will pay your rent.

RK Fire

@queenofbithynia I was also thinking a lot about this excerpt:

You know, I had a similar perspective to you when this happened. I was biased towards the idea that men just needed to step up. For me, my resentment wasn’t even in me having a problem supporting the family, but in me just expecting him to do more work. I’d have finished the dishes by now—why hasn't he? How come, if he’s looking for a job, he hasn’t sent out ten resumes today like I would have?

But, having spent a lot of time with other families who are experiencing the same thing—and this is not a final conclusion, but something I’m still thinking about—I think it’s actually as much if not more about how women have to shift their expectations. It’s still very hard for me to say that, because I understand what you’re saying—I never thought this could possibly be my problem.

I confronted a lot of this myself when my husband was un(/der)employed for a year and a half, and while I definitely would get frustrated that there were still dishes in the sink, I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with the implication that the onus is solely on women to shift our expectations in order to make the relationship work. I think that's something that both parties have to come to peace with in order to make any relationship work, much less one that gets as tense as one where a partner wants to be working and isn't.

I did think a lot about this idea that I had about how he might see it as somehow more shameful that he had to take a greater share of the household chores than before, though. It didn't actually bother him, but I was a bit horrified to find that I was worried it would and would try to do just as much of the chores as before, anyway.


@RK Fire Yeah, it frustrates me because there is actually something in what she's saying, but she's not saying it. And that something is: the reason to not criticize a man's housekeeping isn't because you have to downgrade to accommodate boy standards or because men shouldn't take every bit as much initiative and pride in their maintenance of the domestic sphere as any housewife. It's because criticizing someone's workspace and giving them a performance review is what a boss does. & it's ok when a boss does it, because you work for them. but relating to a spouse as an employee to an employer is not pleasant.

so I mean I think the implication here is a modern wife should not make explicit what an old-style husband used to leave implicit, because it is in bad taste.

Quinn A@twitter

@queenofbithynia I think that what you've just said there about criticizing someone's workspace & giving them a performance review/relating to a spouse as an employee to an employer is brilliant and true, but I also think that one might have to remember that a home is not just a workspace. It's also shared living quarters. There was recently an article about single men changing their sheets, on average, six times a year, which I find insufficient to the point of being revolting. And it would have to be frustrating for a partner to either have to live with that because she doesn't want to treat the spouse she's supporting as an employee or to do it herself while working full-time and parenting during her time off and whatever else she does.


@Quinn A@twitter As a woman who dates men, I've thought about it a lot. I'm just going to talk about my experience here, with the idea being that I sort of think it's generalizable.

As a woman, for whatever reason, I'm very attached to my home as an expression and externalization of my identity. In some ways, more than my job. I would be sadder to not have a kitchen than an office, and I am a busy working professional lady with two degrees etc. But my home is who I am.

My boyfriend does not feel the same way. His home is where he is safe, but it is not who he is. He decorates and cleans and so on because he sort of has to to be socially acceptable, but his home does not define him at all in the same way mine does me.

When my home is messy or not beautiful or otherwise disordered, I feel deeply ill at ease. It bothers me very much.

As a working woman, I'm also used to being in control a lot of the time, and having the ability to boss people around and make the world what I think it should be. I'm a lawyer, trying to control situations is my job.

But it leaves us in this weird place, because I am controlling and emotionally situated in my home. So if my boyfriend and I made the (financially pragmatic) choice for him to stay home, I would be furious all the time because it wasn't me or my standards that was controlling the standard of a deeply personal externalization of selfhood. And he would struggle to get that. And it wouldn't be entirely fair, to have all that put on him.


@RNL I relate to this a lot, and I think the feelings you're describing could probably be generalized to a lot of women. I want to have a cleaner, more aesthetically pleasing home than my boyfriend does (which is not to say he doesn't care about those things - he just isn't willing to expend as much time and effort on them), but I have a hard time deciding what part of our differences are due to temperament and which are due to gendered expectations. For me, being the person in the relationship who cleans more (and asks him to clean) is really distressing, because I feel like it forces us into a traditional gender role dynamic that really, really sucks. But I'm also not willing to roll back my own standards too much.


@queenofbithynia I think that a lot of people have these subconscious reactions- for me it's not employment or earning power but education. I've got to say that I was a bit taken aback when the last guy I dated told me he hadn't even been to college. (er, Canadian college which is like... actually I'm not sure what the American equivalent would be. A two year diploma?) I mean, after some thought I was ok with it, but there was definitely that automatic knee jerk reaction.


@Mae @RNL This has been my experience with my husband as well - we both conceive of our home completely differently. It's not easy to change your expectations of how things will be at home when you move in with someone, let alone relinquish control completely (for one thing, because a lot of these women still seem to feel responsible for, if not in control of, the details of their homes and children's home lives). Which I think is what Chan is trying to point out. Not "women need to change and men don't," but "people need to be self-aware."


@Amphora I think you've made a really apt point: I think if I worked and my male beloved stayed at home I would really struggle with the fact that I felt responsible for the details of the home and children, but had to relinquish control over them to someone who did not see them in the same light, as having the same importance.

THAT's why it feels like being a boss. It's not right, but it does feel that way, because someone else is doing the work of something I ultimately feel responsible for. If it doesn't get done, or doesn't get done right, it's on me in a deeply personal and identity-driven way.


@Mae I have this exact same issue- I don't know if its the fact that I'm not 18 living in a 5 roommate slum house or if its just that I moved in with my boyfriend but I get these insane controlling urges when he leaves beer bottles by the bed or doesn't do the dishes. He is also a resident (doctor) and that makes our gender dynamic even more stressful - he works such long and strenuous hours-should I just be doing more housework? I work full time and make more money than he does right now, but I work from home- its so complicated. I am really excited about this documentary because I have so many mixed feelings about gender and earnings. My career is so important to me.

Quinn A@twitter

Is it just hard for people to stay home, period? Especially if they have to do so either out of monetary or social constraints?

Well, this was definitely true in my relationship. My partner was working, but because she started out as a casual worker, she wasn't getting a lot of hours in the fall when we moved in together. So I was, largely, supporting her financially. It wasn't a problem for me (though admittedly it maybe wasn't a problem because she was working and I knew she'd get full-time hours eventually), but it was really hard on her. She wants to work, same as I do.

That phase didn't last long at all for us, though. Now we're both working more than full-time, and that's difficult in a different way.

But yeah, I think it's probably just hard to stay home, but maybe harder when it's a man in a heterosexual relationship doing it because it's not the norm. The man-as-breadwinner ideal is still pervasive - and I imagine that it will stay that way at least until the wage gap is closed.


@Quinn A@twitter
"Is it just hard for people to stay home, period? Especially if they have to do so either out of monetary or social constraints?"

Maybe it's just because I've never had a job I particularly enjoy, but I have NO problem staying home / being unemployed. Let's see...I could spend 8+ hours a day on a dreary task at an office in which I have little investment, and with people I'm only marginally fond of; or I could stay home and read, sew, garden, walk around the city, bicycle, experiment in the kitchen, meet people of my choosing, build furniture, etc.

Um, I'm sure it's obvious by my phrasing which I'd choose.


@Quinn A@twitter I was unemployed for a long period of time (over a year!!!). Financially we were able to swing it, but emotionally....I was kind of a mess. I was depressed; I didn't know what I wanted to do but I did know that looking for jobs in my field filled me with dread; I gained 30 lbs; I started to panic about meeting new people (even though I'm very social) because I didn't know how to answer the ubiquitous (In NYC at least) "What do you do?"

My husband was a champ through all of this, but when I did finally figure out my life (which involved a career change and going back to school) and finally started to feel normal, we were both enormously relieved. Even when I was in school without a job it was so much better having a purpose in life.

Lily Rowan

@Bebe I do think it's potentially really different for a family/couple to make the decision for one person to stay home vs. being unemployed. (Although I know people who have decided to stay home with kids full-time and then still been really depressed when it came down to it.)


This notion that "Men have different ideas and women need to relax their expectations" is horrible. I suspect a woman who was home all day would have a hard time explaining to her working husband that the house was a mess and devoid of food when he got home from work because she just didn't get to any of that stuff all day.

When is it ever going to be okay for women to not spend all their time tippy toeing around male ego bullshit?

Quinn A@twitter

@City_Dater Yeah, and it seems like it's not even so much about the women, if the men are also more likely to be unhappy and cheating. Someone needs to step up in those situations, but I'm having a hard time seeing why it ought to be women.

Elitist and Dull

@Quinn A@twitter YES!

When I was that spouse, freshly laid-off and horribly depressed and with a wandering eye worse than EVER and sleeping in the living room, it was most definitely not my spouse's fault because of unrealistic expectations. If anything, my spouse was too patient, too forgiving.

Then again, I was the wife and he was the husband (and lucky for me, we still are those things). So I guess I understand what the husbands are saying, but not the author's contention that their situation is unique to husbands?


@City_Dater Yeahhhhh this kind of confuses me. Where's the documentary about how men need to be more understanding to their stay-at-home wives if the baseboards get a little dusty?
I'm not saying the filmmaker doesn't have some valid points, but I find the overall thesis - Ladies, quit bitching and be grateful, even if you're pulling more of the load earnings- AND housework-wise to be a little crazymaking. I mean, why couldn't the documentary be, hey guys, this is the reality of the world we're in, learn to adjust and realize that doing a load of whites doesn't mean you have to go bang your neighbor so that you feel manly again.
Or something, I'm unlikely to be in that situation, since ALONE FOREVER (just the way I like it. :))


@City_Dater I am a stay-at-home parent, and I am way messier/less troubled by mess than my husband, and yes, he had to adjust his expectations. He comes home to a messy house all the time. We have negotiated a situation now that works for both of us (which involved both of us making some adjustments). So it can go both ways, not always just the woman figuring out how to be more accommodating to the man. What is important in a situation with one parent working outside of the home and one in the home is that you come away feeling like both people are working equally hard. If a dude is sitting around playing video games, and that is why the house is a mess, that would suck and make me hugely resentful. If it was messy because he was so busy engaging with our children (sounds fun, but day in and day out it definitely becomes work), that is a different story.


@City_Dater I keep trying to write this reply and timing out because I'm not expressing it well. I think women do sometimes need to adjust expectations, and I'm as feminist as they come. Precisely because women are socialized to take so much responsibility for the state of relationships, houses and children, I think it can also turn into a need to be in control and setting a high bar, and that isn't inherently bad or good.

The women I know, and I'm including myself here, we extrapolate. A sock on the floor isn't just a sock on the floor. It's a whole symptom to diagnose a problem with. And I know good guys who are my friends and whose wives are my friend and the wives are really hard on them about chores, and I don't feel bad that they need to do the chores, but I do feel bad when one gets called out in a way that's mean or unfair.

Knowing that the world is out to screw you and that your partner never even has to worry about it, it messes with you and if you take it out on the partner in unwritten expectations as house manager it can be bad.

Josh is like Germany Ambitious and Misunderstood

breaking my hairpin comment fast to say i was JUST feeling/dealing with this today.

Context: im from a poor family (whom, due to finances I now live with) and have no degree and lost my job at the beginning of the summer. due to lack of said degree its been hard to find a job in boston and where i currently live there isnt many employment opportunities. she grew up in a solid middle class family, has a degree and had it paid for by her parents and just started a full time job that is more or less a career.

shes been very supportive but as of late i can feel tension starting to bubble over regarding my lack of employment and how my family operates and how i interact with them (i loaned my mom all my cash on hand this morning so she could get cigarettes, leaving me broke. gf was very upset about this, but she doesnt understand what its like to have no money for anything all the time).
whenever im over her house i offer to clean (shes kind of messy) and cook dinner bc i feel like without money i cant contribute anything of worth to our relationship, and it still feel like it not enough.

i wouldnt say that anything we've feeling is strictly due to gender (tho i do at times feel inadequate that i cant, say, pay for dinner for her if we're out) but more of class and hating the idea that im someone's burden and that im in a 'lesser' or dependent position than anyone bc of my lack of means.


@Josh is like Germany Ambitious and Misunderstood Wow, I really identify a lot with your experience, although mine is somewhat different in the details. My partner was unemployed for quite a while (I had a full-time job), and seemingly *couldn't* find a job, and I remember feeling resentful at times when I would come home and find him playing video games rather than doing laundry or something. He did do things around the house, but somehow I only saw the negatives at that time. And he very much felt inadequate in our relationship. The major difference was that he comes from a very privileged background, while mine is much more working class, so I was the one expecting him to work harder, because that was what I would do, etc.
Our situation completely flipped the next year, and suddenly he was employed while I was not. And I finally realized what he had been dealing with, and how completely shit-tastic that whole time period had been for both of us. He *had* been working hard (both around the house and at finding a job), just like I was while home.
So I agree it's not a gendered thing, and I totally see where you're coming from.


"Would you be open to supporting someone?"

I'm open to supporting myself, but I'm still not able to do even that. I wish I lived in the world where supporting another person was even a possibility.

I think these are valuable questions being asked here, but there's more to it than gender or even class: I'm disabled, and those who are dealing with this issue might learn a lot about coming to grips with being dependent on other people and societal expectations about what people can/should do for themselves if they talked to some people with disabilities.


[Straight guy with job here] I think people also need to remember that unemployment is incredibly depressing for lots of people -- Lord knows that I've been through periods of that too -- and maybe even rougher for men, because even nowadays in our culture Job = Self-Worth/Sex Appeal. (How many male pop-culture sex symbols _don't_ have power jobs?) The unemployed guys who don't wash dishes are probably not lazy, they're miserable and depressed; doesn't really help in the short-term, I guess, but it's true.


@b3k Very very true. I supported a boyfriend for a while during his unemployment, and I felt so bad for resenting him during that period once I was clear of it and hindsight helped me realize how effing depressed he must have been. Depression probably made it harder for him to talk about it with me so that would could realize it was depression and work on it. Dang ol' depression.


@b3k People who feel sorry for themselves for having to lower themselves to allow someone who loves them to take care of them, buy them food and pay their rent should bear in mind that to a person with no spouse to cushion their fall with a soft pile of money, this is just so much complaining that one's diamond shoes are too tight.

If you think it is miserable and depressing to be unemployed with a wife to take care of you, there is always the option of being destitute all on your own. Single people do it every day. Single women do it.

Although naturally it is easy for us, because when we are having the electricity turned off and the eviction notice served, we are still feeling super sexy, because hunger, fear, powerlessness and degradation do not affect our feminine self-worth. Or so men tell me.

How many male pop-culture sex symbols _don't_ have power jobs

Pop culture is a mirror, yes. I expect it is also harder on a man not to be a vampire or a werewolf these days -- women just don't understand. For them, it's a fun luxury to be a creature of the night but for a dude you cannot even get a date if you are just a boring old human, right?


@queenofbithynia You make good points, but I think you're being a bit unfair.

Depressing things are depressing, and I don't think we get to tell people who are depressed that their situation isn't sufficiently depressing to qualify. I mean, we don't tell women with post-partum depression to buck up because women who can't have babies would kill to be in their position.

Men remain the structurally dominant gender. But that doesn't mean that it's easy to be an individual man. Sometimes I think it can make it harder, in some ways. Men, just like women, deserve our compassion and understanding.


@RNL re: making good points but being unfair: story of my life! But I think I am being mostly fair here, if mean. The person I was responding to made the classic error of assuming that because only men's dignity and fearfully precarious sense of adulthood and pride and social importance are acknowledged and reinforced by the culture at large, men are the only people who have those things, and men suffer more by losing them. That isn't true and it's a direct insult to women to say that -- as people do, every time some aspect of the human condition comes up that's common to men and women alike, someone says, yes, men and women both experience this but it's harder for men. It isn't true. They say it about unemployment, about sexual violence, about relative economic inferiority, about any number of things. The argument is always that even if men and women suffer the same affront, men's shame always outweighs women's -- women's shame is not even admitted to exist, sometimes. It makes me really angry.

I am not making light of depression and anxiety and fear when the happen to men. I think that it is just as scary to be an unemployed man as it is to be an unemployed woman, and that's pretty scary, even if you're married. But fear and humiliation and powerlessness are not worse for men than for women and I feel really strongly about that. It's true they're talked about in the culture as mattering more for men -- emasculation is a word and everything -- but that is a sign of men's concerns being taken seriously and women's being ignored, not of women's not existing.


@queenofbithynia I will just say: thumbs up.

lucy snowe

I felt very proud to be our primary breadwinner, back when I was. It was a title that seemed to give my life meaning, even if the work wasn't quite what I'd hoped. And for a couple years, my work was fulfilling and I was making significantly more than my partner. Life was skittles and beer!

in that later period, my partner was also doing work he found compelling, so there was none of the dissatisfaction, or low self- regard, he experienced when I was earning and he just wasn't.

Career reverses, health problems, and then a baby, and I'm home while he works. I've always wanted to stay home with my child if I could, and I think I've been very lucky to have been able to do so, but not earning any money does make me feel worthless sometimes, even though I and my partner value the work I do. So, I've started working part- time, which has helped a lot. and I'm looking into daycare for past of the week so I can get an internship in a line of work I'm interested in.

because it's also occurred to me that should anything happen to him, our to our relationship, I'd have no way of supporting myself or my son. I'd have to move back with my parents. I'd lose my mind again, get locked in a psych ward, and never see my son again.

No, being dependent on a partner doesn't lead to negative thought spirals.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

Just like some people are good leaders and some are good followers (I'm OK at leading but kickass at being a follower/teammate), it takes fulfilling various roles to know where we fit in life. Some people are comfortable at home, regardless of gender or what society says they should feel. And some aren't. No one should be forced into a role they hate - this is why communication is key - but no one should whine and bemoan a role they've never honestly tried. That is what I think about this.


@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose but the statistics do indicate that it's gendered, don't they?

I mean, I agree with you in an ideal world, but I think gender socialization really does make a huge difference here.


It definitely does. I, too, am better as a first mate than as a captain, but I still struggle with accepting that because of the persistent fear that it may not be true, that I may just be capitulating to lady-socialization that says I can't lead. The gender ideas follow you around and complicate shit.

Lily Rowan

@BattyRabbit Ugh, yes. Not so related to this post, but yes. I feel like I ought to be driving toward being A Leader, but actually, I am a kick-ass #2, and would rather be there. Is it because I'm a lady that I'd rather build deeper relationships internally than be the external face? Maybe, maybe not!


@Lily Rowan I don't have much to say except that I'm a pretty cis/gender normative lady, and I'm a TERRIBLE follower/pretty good leader. I'm less "put me in coach" and more "give me your job, coach".

Plant Fire

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose But why are we assuming that working outside the home and supporting a spouse is for leaders and staying at home and maintaining the house is for followers? I think it's typically that way because that's the model that's presented to us but I don't think it needs to be that way, people who work outside the home can just as easily be a first mate to the captain in the home. And some people prefer to be on a fairly equal team where you do and make things together, rather than one decision maker with a supporting partner.

chickpeas akimbo

"Would you be open to supporting someone?"

Hahaha. No.

I mean, I've thought about it a lot. It's not that I haven't thought about it. The answer is still "no." Others may manage their lives and relationships differently, and that is fine. But for me, the answer is no, absolutely not.


@chickpeas akimbo
Isn't the question phrased weirdly, though?

Usually the idea is that one person stays home to care for children, and then they are doing child care, this task that otherwise you'd have to pay for someone to do. In that case, you're not really "supporting" them; you're dividing up the big pie of householdresponsibilities into a specific configuration, and you're all supporting each other.

In the other scenario, one person is temporarily unemployed and is looking for work, I guess. But to me that comes under the heading of "temporary reverses that you support each other in," like death and lay offs, not "I support you." I.e. if it's a longterm relationship, you'll be taking turns in this. So again, it's mutual, not one person just supporting the other one.

The way the question got phrased here seems sensationalist.


@chickpeas akimbo Would you be open to being supported?

I'm genuinely curious. To me, the answer is a vehement no, absolutely not.


@chickpeas akimbo I think you're right that family configuration matters here. I "support" people, but not my partner. I do make more money than he does, but not by a lot. When we're at home, we both care for my daughter, but when we're at work, my mother cares for her. My mother lives with us and we pay for her living expenses because, for a huge host of reasons, she can't work outside the home. I grew up in a very poor family, and this is what happens when someone transcends poverty and can live a little more comfortably--you "support" the ones who'd be living in poverty otherwise. My mother often feels depressed that her child is taking care of her, and I go to great pains to remind her that she's often taking care of my child. We take care of each other. It's hard, but worthwhile.

I understand that the documentary looks at partnered relationships, but "supporting" someone can mean so much more than that.

chickpeas akimbo

@RNL nope, not comfortable with that at all, though I'm not so naive to think that I'll never get hit by a bus or struck by a horrible disease and need someone to support me (partner or family.) But as I am currently able-bodied, able-brained, and employable/employed, the very thought gives me the all-overs.

I believe very strongly that women need to have their own money, their own careers, and their own lives, and -- so far as it is possible -- be capable of supporting themselves. I'm not talking, you know, champagne every night and summers in France; I'm talking "food, clothes, shelter."


@harebell I think this whole thing is framed oddly, and maybe disingenuously. Un/underemployed men are unhappy? No shit! It would be much more revealing to look men who choose to be stay at home dads, or men in low paying careers they feel fulfilled by. It's not as if women who get laid off or fired are dancing in the streets.


So I haven't finished the article yet, but how do us childrfree folks do statistically? I feel like the trailer imagines a world where caring for the home is synonymous with childrearing. I don't have kids and never will.

I make more money than Mr. Blueblazes. It was roughly double for the past couple years. Now he is unemployed so the ratio is even higher. We can live comfortably on my salary alone.

I KNOW this bothers him. It bothered him when he had a job and it bothers him even more now. For me, it is a non-issue. So far, at least, he is doing a great job on all the housework stuff that I used to do in addition to my paid work. I would have no problem with him staying home and doing laundry/dishes/pet care/projects forever. It is SO NICE to come home from work and know that I don't have to put in the second shift.

I have tried to communicate this, but for him it feels like a failure to "only" take care of the home (and he says so, often). It makes me sad to think that if our positions were reversed, I would know that he doesn't believe that caring for a household is a sufficient contribution. Or, if it is enough of a contribution when when *I* do it but not when *he* does it, he is reinforcing a double standard that I believed my enlightened, feminist husband had moved past.

lucy snowe

@blueblazes Well. He wouldn't be the first person who got a sense of personal worth from doing paid work. That might not have anything to do with how he'd see you in a similar role, and it might not be a gendered issue, either-- just how he sees himself, versus how he would see anyone else, male or female.

He might be lonely. Loneliness can lead to all sorts of negative thinking. I wonder if there are meetups near you (or if he could start one) around an interest, or maybe just for professional networking. Might help?

cordovan sofa

I'm a female breadwinner married to a man who is currently entirely financially dependent on me, and who I will likely always out-earn; I have more degrees than he does AND have been in the "real" workforce more than a decade longer than he has (i.e. not minimum wage dead-end jobs). He's not dumber than me or less ambitious. I grew up rich and he grew up poor. It affected our access to education and our job prospects. In situations where one of us has to stay home and one of us has to work full time or more than full time, I'm pretty much always going to make more sense as the worker.

The biggest adjustment for me hasn't been rethinking manliness (a lot of my previous relationships have been with women) or how tidy my house needs to be (which isn't a big part of my identity), but in realizing I can't fight the same way when we argue. I have to remember that no matter how angry I am in a given moment, if I say something like "well maybe I should just leave!" or storm out of the room or anything like that, I am a not asserting my independence in a positive way - I am threatening his ability to eat next month. I have to make sure to say "I don't want to talk to you about this RIGHT NOW" because "I don't want to talk to you" without the "right now" comes off as "I get my way or else you're homeless."


@cordovan sofa Wow. Thanks for this. This made my eyes pop wide open, because OF COURSE (and it made me see my own history, in which my dude was unemployed and depressed for two years and I was sometimes/often a shit about it, in a cold light). And it ties right in with both @queenofbithynia's remarks (on fear and desperation not being worse for men) and @lucy snowe's own experience. You realized this and work to not do it, which is honorable and admirable. But now I'm also thinking about abusive breadwinners -- men and probably some women -- who deliberately invoke this as part of the trap, and how that possibility is built into one person being dependent on another, even though plenty of breadwinners would have no desire to invoke it intentionally or even be aware that it could be used as a means of control. And how that's normalized, even, in some ways, when the "supporting" partner is a man and the dependent partner is a woman.


@cordovan sofa -- Yes, I definitely second what you say. I am in a pretty similar situation. Once, during a semi-"play" fight, I shouted "I should just kick you out now!" And that was the VERY last time I ever made that mistake. My partner has been homeless before, so you're right. I wasn't asserting my independence, I was threatening his personal safety and support. Our backgrounds (privilege, ivy league vs. poverty, foster care, and homelessness) are harder to navigate than the differences in the amount we can contribute to our shared credit card every month. Partnership across class lines seems to be so rare, especially for women to "marry down". I hate that phrase just like I hate the concept that I am lowering my standards to marry someone without my fancy-pants degree. My partner treats me better than all my past relationships combined--so I would have considered it lowering my standards to stay with someone only because of their status/privilege/culturally-defined success.

cordovan sofa

@bamboozeled, exactly. I feel incredibly fortunate to be with this person. Part of what made me blind to it at first is that I'm used to thinking of a family as an economic unit; I know full well I couldn't work the kind of hours I work without a "wife" at home, not and maintain a life outside of work. I make money so that our household can exist; my partner makes our househould exist. But we're also living in a system where income gets used as a shorthand for worth, and where basic things like the ability to get dental care or legal representation depend on the person whose name is on the check, and it can be invisible that they're paying him as well as me every time they send that check.

Fry Fry A Hen

I never thought I’d write this on the Hairpin, but I find this whole thread weirdly regressive. My dad has a PhD, my mom has an MD. I can remember when they both worked, barely. When we were little kids, together they made the decision that my mom would work her MD hours and my dad would “work from home”—i.e. mostly be a SAHD and manage the family fortunes through investments. So he was contributing financially, certainly far more than enough to pay for the “cleaning ladies” who came in once a week to pick up after us. He also was a weekday cook, chauffeur, soccer coach, handy man, Director in Charge of Fun, etc.

My mother was always very clear that the fact that dad was at home made her life immeasurably easier, and our family life immeasurably better, and that she valued that. Besides all the practical things, it liberated her from (most of) the guilt that comes with missing school plays and track meets because she was on call.

Obviously this is a very privileged household. Money was never an issue. But if money isn’t an issue, why should who is supporting/being supported have any bearing on the marriage at all? As the children of the household, we gained a lot from having a parent at home. As the adults of the household, they would have gained . . . what, exactly, from having more money than they needed? My parents’ partnership is the strongest I know.

This is going to shortly play out in my own household. My husband is graduating from medical school. I am pregnant and working fulltime. I will probably continue to work fulltime through his residency (4-5 more years, during which our salaries will be about equal), but when, someday, we have a few more kids, and then move so he can get his first “real” job, and he begins to out-earn me by a factor of 8, what will be the point of my applying to new jobs in a new city? This is not a rhetorical question—I really do wonder what we will decide. I know about the possibility of divorce and so forth. But I love and trust my husband. And I’m not in love with my job, and it’s not the kind of thing you can do part-time, and while daycare is full-day, first grade lets out at 3:00. And he’ll be working 60+ hour weeks. And we won’t need the money.

Perhaps it’s just the age of this particular commentariat. I think the Pin has been skewing younger and younger. I agree, two single people living together with no kids should probably both have jobs, or be trying to both have jobs (or avocations through which they can support themselves.) So when you’re dating, yes, be looking for someone with employment prospects. But in older families, many of us will be cutting back, if not abandoning employment entirely at some point, and I hope for everyone’s sake that that number will include men like my father, and that their partners will support and value their contributions like my mother does.

tl;dr My dad was a SAHD and it turned out great!


@Fry Fry A Hen I work a corporate job while my husband stays at home with our young daughter. I think he's a fantastic father, and it's marvelous that our daughter has someone to attend all her school events, not to mention supply the emergency bundt cake when it's bake sale day and no one remembers. I have to say, though, that I wasn't prepared to be the sole source of the family's money. It's an enormous amount of responsibility. If something happens to me and I'm unable to work, my husband would not be able to bridge us until I could work again (he was musician prior to being a stay at home parent). And, if I want to change jobs or escape my current one? Not an option without compromising some really important things, like our mortgage. So, I would say that for me, having both partners working is less about having more money than it is about having more options.


Wow you guys, these are some amazing comments. Thanks so much to all of you who shared!


This interview made me feel uncomfortable partly because of the prescriptive tone - like, "if you do these things, your stay-at-home man won't cheat on you." It's an interesting topic though, and close to my heart since I out-earn my boyfriend by a factor of four. But every person and relationship and financial situation is different, and I get the impression that there are some questionable assumptions about causation in here somewhere.


Hi there.

House husband here. I have zero issues with it.
a) I hated office work
b) I don't have the 'pack mentality' of most men
c) I'm not American. Where I'm from (Australasia) this is perfectly normal, especially in the creative industries. Every musician/artist/actor/director I know back home has a successful corporate wife, and 90% (literally 9 out of the 10 I could think of) have been married over a decade. This I think is more because we have a more even balance in general between the genders. Here in the US, this situation results in hilariously middle-class docos (as above) and bad sitcoms.
d) The kids will be just fine, honest.


In most circumstances when there is a two adult with children family, it seems most reasonable to think of the family unit's main task as child rearing. If one parent earns money, and one parent works in the home, wouldn't the stay at home parent be the CEO?


Reading these kinds of trend pieces always makes me laugh a little, my family was doing this before it was cool! My dad worked part-time and raised me and my sister while my mom was doing her Sr. attorney thing. They both had the same level of education, my dad just preferred spending more time with us and we had enough money to make that all work out. He didn't seem to mind it, but then, we had a housekeeper who came through and did most of the grunt work (although he still cooked).

I would be fine with a similar situation for myself, but I think there's a difference between being in a relationship where one person chooses that role versus where its forced on them. Like the housewives of yesterday, modern underemployed men are finding out that being forced into that role (with less cultural cache) can suck for all sorts of reasons.


Chiming in very late, but I'm a thirtysomething woman in a long-term (but unmarried) relationship, and I've been the sole breadwinner for a couple of years now. I've always made more than him, and at a certain point he started having major problems with repetitive strain injuries, which were exacerbated by his office job. He quit and since then he's stayed home. We don't have kids, and our house is pretty easy to take care of, so he doesn't really fit the "stay at home husband" model.

I think I can honestly say we're both pretty content with the situation. I obviously wish he didn't have the pain issues he has, for his sake, and if anything happened to me he'd be in a tough situation. But I don't think either of us is hiding festering piles of resentment.

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