by Dr Admiral Ncube
Money is notoriously contentious yet necessary!
But for a man, the expectation and the pressure to be the provider is overwhelming. The concept of financial security is inextricably tied to manhood adds to the pressure to be a financially successful man. No wonder men either abuse the system or feel like a failure for not being able to live up to society’s expectations of them.
With COVID-19 disrupting almost every aspect of our lives, job and income losses have further compounded the plight of men. There are fewer career jobs or “side hustles” that have built-in financial security, yet the expectation on men to provide against all odds is unrelenting. Religion and culture are invoked as the premise upon which man’s duty to provide is non-negotiable.
That man is the head and the woman his helper/assistant, is a privilege that comes with the burden to be financially successful. In churches, the message is that whatever contribution a woman can make, the duty of a man to provide cannot be abdicated. It is such ideas and their implications of gender relations that this article seeks to explore. Specifically, how does the tying of money and being a man affect relationships between men and women?
A Man and Money
In a world where the push for equality is seeing more women having access to education and employment opportunities, the concept of a man being the provider is being challenged. Women are increasingly competing with men and in some cases outshining them. For men who view it as their religious and moral duty to be the “providers”, the idea of a woman taking over this role is discomforting.
Coupled with societal pressures, it threatens their whole concept of manhood as they see that one thing they regarded as definitive to who they are being taken away. For men whose perception of masculinity is tied to how much they provide financially such an arrangement is damaging in many ways. Not only does it create insecurity, but it also becomes a source of conflict in relationships for men socialized to always be ahead. Disagreements and conflicts that could have been resolved amicably result in a breakdown of relationships. Allegations of disrespect and arrogance are associated with a woman’s financial independence.
For many, a man, relating to a woman who does not look to them financially is a huge ask. It is money that is accused of influencing her questions, her decisions, and her behaviour towards the man. On the other hand, family and friends in subtle ways question his manhood which further damages his ego.
The new dilemma for men is how to relate to a woman who is financially successful and independent. When the very thing that was definitive to us as men has been taken away, when that which empowered us and gave us control no longer exists, the question “What does it mean to be a man?”, requires fresh thinking.
The Woman’s Dilemma
On the other hand, for the woman who also grew up looking at a man as the provider, there is the struggle with how to manage the freedom that comes with financial security outside a man. How should she relate to a man who depends on her or a man who she doesn’t depend on financially? How can a man who is her dependant, be her head at the same time? How does she assert her individuality without being misconstrued as disrespectful? Shall she pander to his ego and insecurity by handing over the money to him?
The advent of “stay-at-home” fathers also compounds the situation as men are being pushed into nurturing roles which traditionally were left to women. As she comes back home, religion and culture dictate that she treats her husband as the “head” but on the other hand he is dependent on her. To retain some semblance of control, he will expect her to “serve him” in ways that reaffirm his headship. If that does not happen, aggressive or subliminal messages on disrespect often lead to toxicity as a submission is coerced.
Christianity has not been helpful; instead of preparing young men and women for this new reality, it has, in denial of the new reality, further entrenched concepts of manhood that fuel abuse and a toxic form of submission. Stay-at-home fathers or unemployed men that are dependent on their partners and spouses are looked down upon instead of being celebrated. Messages that portray such a man as a failure further confuse the woman on how to deal with the dependent man she loves.
A man is called upon to see a woman as competition and his success is confirmed by the extent to which she submits to his leadership and consequently depends on him. This obsession with the submission will see a man being uncomfortable with women who excel and are intellectually gifted. Instead of harnessing her gifts and energy, she is forced into silence and passivity so that the man does not feel disrespected or his position threatened in any way.
That women are worthy of God’s trust on an equal basis with men is indisputable but this is not to say they are the same – they are equal but different. However, since the Bible is largely limited on particular duties or roles prescribed for men and women because they are either male or female, father or mother, the differences between men and women should be less limiting.
In some churches, while preaching equality there is a suggestion that Eve was given to Adam as his assistant and subordinate and not his equal. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to co-create a future, insecure men see the elevation of women as a threat and source of instability. They would rather perpetuate notions of male headship that imply that a woman cannot or should not be anything more, anything else, or anything other than a bearer and nurturer of children. Such views make a woman a slave of her anatomy – not a human being created in the image of God, with infinite possibilities. Unfortunately, the obsession around the provider role of men and the dependent role of women instead of inculcating a sense of partnership has reinforced sex packaged roles with an assumption that both men and women are prisoners of their sexes.
Our pulpits are replete with toxic sermons that portray men as sources of wisdom, faith, and strength while degenerating women as sin agents, victims, dependants, and temptresses. Women of valour are ignored as messages reduce them to junior partners whose role is to assist men rather than excel themselves. The woman in Proverbs 31 is seen as an exception with meekness and patience being extolled as virtues for a godly woman. In fact, Adam never felt threatened when Eve picked fruit or trained the vines nor did he regard Eve as unfeminine when she was roaming about the garden and studying biology with him.
It is surprising that some men refer to home duties and child care duties by women as nobler but they shy away from the same as if they are demeaning. If indeed men think of women as capable, or at least equal in possibility as men in intelligence, ambition, or ability, then their perceptions of manhood should not be tied to money or certain duties in the home. Unless of course, they see her dependence on a man as weakness and inferiority which explains the discomfort and insecurity that erupts when roles are reversed.
Whenever equality is discussed with women being elevated, there is a fear inherent in many cultures that this will lead to emasculation. Men feel that this is a move towards disempowering them from their “God-given position”. Equality is seen as a threat to men and society instead of a mutually beneficial arrangement where both parties thrive without hindrance.
As long as there is an emphasis and expectation on men to provide financial security in a relationship, all forms of abuse will find expression. No wonder the “sugar daddy” phenomenon continues to be pervasive in our societies with young ladies being taken advantage of by richer men. On the other hand, men use the same financial power to manipulate and coerce women for selfish ends. I have seen some men associating arrogance and disrespect in a woman to her financial independence. Not only does it expose their inability to use money as a tool to control women, but it also reveals a notion of masculinity that thrives on manipulation through money. They would rather have the money themselves and keep the woman in a continuous dependent and helpless state.
If both men and women are equal, no one has the sole responsibility of “providing” or is mandated to stay at home and take care of the children. If circumstances dictate that the man earns less or stays at home, this should not take away his sense of being a man. Rigidity to societal expectations and compliance with outdated cultural practices are the greatest obstacle to progress. Candid conversations are needed on degenderizing money and exploring opportunities to elevate our sisters, mothers, and daughters to fulfil their God-given potential.
It is high time that money is disentangled from manhood, accepting that times have changed. Let our thinking and attitudes evolve to place emphasis on male and female being one flesh – a team in the truest sense. In the cooperative venture, who brings in money should cease to be a preoccupation but a shared responsibility with both co-creating financial security. As equals, women should move away from looking at men as custodians of their financial security but with boldness to pursue lofty ambitions that include making money. If indeed the spirit of the often-quoted Ephesians 5 is upheld, money will not be used to entrench despotic authority, ego trips, or last words. Both men and women will be guided by the underlying principle in Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another in reverence to Christ.”
Dr. Admiral Ncube encourages us to think more deeply about issues impacting the relationships between men and women. He is a Zimbabwean Development Professional based in Gaborone, Botswana. He is married to Margaret and is a father of 3 boys. Dr. Ncube has had the privilege of working in the development sector in Asia, Middle East and Africa, with over 15 years of experience.