I think ABC News has been following my comments around the blogosphere, because they're reporting on what I've been saying for months now: When Mom Becomes the Breadwinner: Recession's Economic Toll Is Causing Some Couples Marital Issues

I learned in my Women's Studies courses that, like most things in this world, unemployment and economic issues are gendered, and that the personal effects of these are easy to predict. Based on what we know from history (especially The Great Depression and war-time economies), the cycle goes a little something like this:

  • Men and women generally start off on unequal footing, with men making more than women
  • Economy starts to implode, companies need to lay people off in droves (or, in the case of war, men just go buh-bye)
  • In addition to laying people off, companies must now "restructure" - preferably by just reshuffling the people they have left and promoting them without significant raises
  • Men make more to start and are more likely to demand a raise if they get promoted, so men are the first to be fired
  • Women now becomes the head of household
  • Men get depressed, angry, upset, uneasy, etc. because 1) they've lost their job (already an emotional ordeal) and 2) they no longer fill the role society expects from them
  • Tension grows in the home
  • Women are likely still working some form of a "double-shift," many women start to pressure husbands to find a job, even when there aren't any
  • Couple gets divorced, or the men just disappear, or the men commit suicide, or some combination of the above

Seriously, examining this cycle made up about a third of my Women's History course one semester because some variation of this has happened several times throughout U.S. history.

This is yet another example of how sexism and gender roles hurt men and women alike. In my opinion, the heart of the matter is what I pointed out above: they no longer fill the role society expects from them. Losing a job for anybody is stressful, especially during tough economic times. And if your identity is closely linked to your job - as it so often is in the U.S. - that stress is magnified. But add to it the fact that men are still seen as traditional breadwinners and heads of household, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

So far in history, there hasn't been a solution for this cycle, and I'm not sure if there will be one now. My hope is that some good can come of this.

Maybe this time around, there will be more acceptance of seeing men in this role. Or perhaps if enough men embrace the role of stay-at-home father, the government will start paying attention to the needs of parents and focus on access to daycare, education, etc. Okay, those wishes are probably too ambitious, but there's no harm in dreaming.

(Cross-posted at The Feminist Underground.)


At Tue Mar 17, 09:00:00 AM ouyangdan said...

Not only are women paid less, but a lot of times the reports that more of them are working than men fails to recognize that women often work part time, or are underemployed to properly provide for their families. I don't think it is necessarily worse on the men in terms of work, it's just that no one pays attention to the work women are doing (in addition to the "second shift" many of them work).

At Tue Mar 17, 05:27:00 PM T. R Xands said...

This relates a little loosely to what we talked about today in my anthropology class about gender, especially the topic of women getting paid less for work across the board, not just higher tier work. We talked a little about the cycle you listed and I noticed, funnily enough (okay it isn't funny), it was mostly men that seemed to have problems grasping this (or at least were vocal about it). This is just popping up all over the place for me, lately...

At Mon Mar 30, 09:36:00 AM LindsayJ said...

Keep in mind that this not only leads to marital tension but greatly increases the risk of domestic violence.


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