It’s a uniquely modern syndrome – the househusband. Humour aside, there are plenty of househusbands who have taken over the household and child minding duties as the wife’s career accelerates and she starts making twice or more than what he makes. New York Times recently reported that the majority of the Wall Street high achiever mothers have househusbands, without whom the women would not be able to do what they do. Apparently, according to TIME magazine, so do the ‘Suits’ type alpha females who rock the large law firms in New York. If they are partners and seniors, they are most likely to have househusbands who run errands, pick up children and take care of cooking and home chores.
So what’s wrong with that, you might ask. Granted, in Sri Lanka, where women do engage in high -powered careers, we are a little way off the househusband thing. Plus, we are lucky in that we often have extended families, a grandmother or an aunt to watch the kids and the home front so that the women can continue in their stellar careers. Either way, culturally, househusbands are not exactly a concept that rocks in this part of the world. A man is expected to work and bring home the bacon. Or the rice. But he has to go to work in the morning and come back home in the evening or whenever he finishes work. Even if it means work is just a computer in his den.
But it seems the high -powered women who prize their careers elsewhere do not feel much differently about gender specific roles, either. According to TIME, such women do not like to talk about their househusbands. It is embarrassing , or so it seems, when the woman doing the earning has to admit that it is really her husband who is handling the home front. Gender roles reversed? Unable to deal with it in the 21st century? Maybe.
It is to be assumed that if the wife has built a career that makes more money and offers more scope than what the husband is engaged in, then it must be that the family would make the decision to give her the support she needs while he chooses to handle the kids and the chores. But pragmatic as such a decision seems, the cultural shock apparently is a tad too much.
It does seem indeed that the power mums are not proud of their househusbands but embarrassed. Some are said to pretend their househusbands engage in other ‘work’ such as ‘consulting’. Is it that the equality of the sexes is fine in theory but in actual fact, the cultural definitions fit better ,more naturally than the ones we have created ourselves? Is politically correctness being stretched too far, being too tested when in conflict with gender defined roles that have come into place over centuries?
Like it or not, apparently the househusbands also feel uneasy about the status quo. When they have to mingle among mothers picking up kids and running errands, it is not always easy to be the instruments of cultural change even though it might seem edifying at the start.
It would also seem that as developed or progressive as the world may appear to be, somethings are always kept best in their traditional roles. It benefits the children too. The traditionally defined roles of the husband as the earner, supplemented by the wife, even though the roles may differ as far as income levels go, is still accepted as the model that works best.
On the other hand, it does take a very courageous and a mature man to be able to successfully fit into the role of a househusband. Courageous because in the eyes of his fellow men, he stands the possibility of being ridiculed; looked down upon in the eyes of family perhaps. He needs to be mature to handle the pressure of letting his wife be the numero uno in the financial department. On the whole, the reversal of culturally defined roles is never easy and will also continue to be a challenge, no matter which part of the world it is.
The other side of the coin is that a supportive husband is what makes a woman’s stellar career stellar. Whether busy in a career himself or a househusband, without the support of the man in her life, even the most powerful woman can find herself in a complicated situation. You maybe the most powerful woman career wise but you could also be the most miserable.
One is reminded of the unique role of Miranda Priestly, the all- powerful editor of the fictitious Runaway magazine, in the hugely successful “The Devil Wears Prada” movie. Although it is said that Miranda’s character was based on the actual Editor of US Vogue, the icy Ann Wintour, Meryl Streep did absolute justice to the role as an iconic woman whose glance could make or break a hundred careers. What stresses our point though is the scene in the movie when Miranda is told by her husband that he does not want to be a “Mr. Miranda Priestly” anymore ; unable to stay a mere bystander in their already tumultuous marriage, they eventually go for a divorce. That scene, to my mind, captures best the cultural shock associated with being a full time househusband.
It just isn’t what is done.