by Michaela Stephens
Recently I was reading an article on another blog geared towards women. The article discussed gender norms, specifically in communities of color. The big center of the debate was referring to men as the head of the household. The argument was deciding whether or not usage of this term was antiquated in today’s climate, or whether it was still relevant. As I was perusing the article, and subsequent replies, I saw this comment:
“The term (head of the household), has always come off to me as a way to keep a man happy while letting him off the hook. Feeding his ego in a way that a real partnership should not require. It’s as if black women are so happy to have a man around that they’ll play at being submissive so men still feel needed, just because they’re so often told they’re not. I do not want that for myself…”
The comment got me thinking, I mean really, really thinking.
While I don’t agree with all of it, I think that the commenter was onto something here. Growing up with a single mother, but raised in a traditional southern town via a church community, I find myself debating referring to men as head of the household. Part of me feels like, well if I call him that, what’s it hurting? The other part of me feels like, but why is it that the only qualifier to be head of the household is reproductive organs? I mean, that’s it?
Here’s my perspective: I don’t hear about the head of the household tome in non-minority communities nearly as much as I do in minority communities, and I don’t think it’s coincidental either. Black men are consistently marginalized and degraded by society on a regular basis. So in some ways it seems like the head of the household title is a way for us to make men feel like, “Well, okay white America doesn’t like you, but guess what you are head of this family, and you are appreciated here. Regardless of what the media, society tells you every day, you MEAN SOMETHING.”
In some ways, it seems like yet another Band-Aid that the Black community puts over a gaping wound. Let’s make our brothers feel better about them, by continuing to push this title, without really addressing other options or ways to reduce the feelings of inadequacy.
I mean, I get it. Calling a man head of the household gives him pride in his family. It is supposed to be his spiritual role in a Christian household. Judging by the growing and disproportionate number of single mothers out there, this ideal of men being the cornerstone of their families seems to be a necessity now more than ever. So honestly, what is the harm in bestowing this title upon our men? Black men should MOST DEFINITELY be uplifted on a regular basis and if this makes them feel good, well, than what’s the harm?
However, on other side, I’ve heard plenty of Black women say that the trick is to make a Black man feel like he’s head of the household, when really we running things in the background. Well, for all of that then why even give him the title if you truly don’t believe it? That just seems kind of condescending. This is the part where I think that commenter hit the ball of out of the part. It’s almost patronizing and, on a basic level, comes off as pandering.
I’ve also seen the negative effects of this whole “you are the main provider” standard on Black men as well. How many black men do I know personally who have felt extreme pressure because they have been told by their wives, family, church community that they should be providers, and that’s their role? I know way too many to count. I’ve had male friends and family members almost go into depressive states because they felt like somehow they fell short of their role as men in their family because they were unable to find employment, or meet a certain yearly figure with their salaries.
Now the above could also be because there is more than above average pressure on them to live up to this ideal black man standard, and not to fall into becoming a negative statistic and stereotype. (You know, no job, in jail, five different baby mamas but no ring, et al.) Unfortunately, I see a lot of my fellow sisters applying this pressure on a very regular basis. The other reason why men feel this pressure is because over the years, they have been given a very narrow standard as to what “provider” actually truly means. Basically, Black men could also be putting these incredibly high standards on themselves. No outside pressure needed.
My idea is that as wives should take some of the impetus off our husbands. I don’t think I need to tell my husband that he’s head of the household in order to make him feel like he makes a huge contribution to our family. My husband also doesn’t need to have the title head of the household title to know he’s THAT DUDE. I also feel like it’s unfair of me as his wife, to expect him to be the main provider, or the main person keeping the family together. Where do I come in here? I don’t think it’s fair for me to expect for my husband to scrimp, hustle, and take on all of these extra duties for the sake of his “man role” while I chill idly by. I believe in partnership. In the words of rapper Fabulous, “She tryna match my fly.” I believe in both of us striving equally to attain goals for our family.
That’s not to say that most women are just sitting back with their feet up and giving their husbands the bulk of the load. I’ve just observed lots of women who do sit back, and then they wonder why their husbands are suffering depression and extreme exhaustion. Or why there’s simmering resentment and tension in their marriages.
Also, I think the term provider definitely needs a modern upgrade, or remix. I think traditionally, provider has been relegated to a more financial role, than anything. Providing comes in different forms. Providing can be emotional. It can be taking care of the kids, giving a back rub at the end of a long day. I believe we both should provide.
So what do you think? Here are a few questions to start:
1.) How do you view the statement head of the household? Do you view your husband as head of the household? Why?
2.) What does provider mean to you? What does this encompass?
3.) Do you think that there’s an unfair amount of pressure on men to be to the main providers?
Michaela Stephens is the owner and head instructor of Metropolitan Swim Instruction.
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