Excerpt: Bringing Home the Bacon

ByABC News via logo
May 21, 2005, 2:46 PM

May 26, 2005 — -- "Bringing Home the Bacon" looks at why some men can deal with taking a back seat to their wives who earn more money, while others simply cannot relinquish the role as the primary breadwinner.

Here's an excerpt:

Paul was the kind of man Tom Wolfe would call a "master of the universe." He had a high-powered job in finance and worked long hours, sometimes seven days a week. He identified strongly with his role as provider, so although his wife, Ellen, had a low-paying job, he took care of most of their bills. While he made lots of money by most people's standards, he spent it lavishly, and he had dreams of living in real luxury, with a sprawling estate, lots of household help, and plenty of leisure time to enjoy it all. Then he lost his job.

That was two years ago, and Paul and Ellen have used up what little savings they had. Now they're trying to survive on Ellen's meager income. Paul's early attempts to find another job failed, and he has slipped into a depressive funk. He sleeps most of the day, and when he's not sleeping, he's often in a rage, his explosive anger the only thing that makes him feel powerful in what he sees as a hopeless, emasculating situation.

Then there's Steve. After scaling the corporate mountain for a number of years, he, too, had a high-powered finance job in his native Australia. Shortly after he married Kimberly, an American who also had a well-established career, they moved to the United States, and Steve left his hard-earned professional status behind. He started over in the States, though, and had begun building a thriving business in banking when Kimberly became pregnant. "We knew we didn't want our kids raised by nannies," Steve says now, several years later. They looked impartially at both their careers and agreed that hers probably had more upside potential. "Okay, I'll stay home," he said. "Kimberly didn't really want to give up her career," he recalls, "because it was really taking off, and I was willing to do it. I really love children, and although I felt a little anxious about leaving my job, this just seemed to make the most sense."

Why is one man incapacitated by the loss of a job and another, equally successful, man able to give it up willingly? Where does this male provider mentality come from, anyway? And how can 21st-century men who buy into the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" image ever reconcile themselves to playing a secondary role in the family financial hierarchy?

The Evolution of Men

Despite the fact that much of recorded history is an archive of men's thoughts and deeds (and far more of the latter), until recently not much attention was paid to masculinity itself, to how men define themselves as male or to what differentiates men from women. There are the shallow stereotypes -- men are macho and aggressive, they don't like to ask for directions -- but beyond the baritone voice, burly biceps, and five o'clock shadow, we know very little about who they are as a gender.

That seems to be changing. Thanks in part to the women's movement, which prompted deep and widespread analyses of the female condition, more experts of every stripe, from anthropologists to sociologists, are starting to look at the experience of being male, from prehistoric times to the present. With books as diverse as David Buss's "The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating," Michael Kimmel's "Manhood in America: A Cultural History," and Susan Faludi's "Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man," a portrait of men has begun to emerge that's far more complex and challenging than the stereotypes suggest.