Can men handle successful women?
They do have a little problem, let’s admit it. Especially in a society such as ours, a woman’s success, if it trumps the man’s, does not bode very well for their relationship.
Every year, several men's magazines bring out their Annual "Desirable" Lists. These will invariably include supermodels, Hollywood starlets, billionaire heiresses and sports stars. All very well dressed, beautiful and desirable.
They have everything a man could possibly want. I'd like to be married to Salma Hayek, thinks one marketing manager. It would be so wonderful to have a family with Kareena Kapoor, thinks an IT professional.
Spare a minute to think about how many of these desirable women have "everyday/non celebrity" husbands/partners. Chances might really be 1 in a 100.
Let's move on to the real world. This man meets a smart, funny, beautiful woman with a great job. She could be the one, he thinks. She has the brains, the looks and a fat paycheck!
“Fat paycheck? That's great..... But wait. How fat? More than mine? No, that won't do.” That is a prevalent thought in many a man’s mind.
In the 1999 Romantic Comedy, Notting Hill, Will Tacker played by dreamy-eyed Hugh Grant falls for the famous Hollywood actress Anna Scott. Does the middle-class frumpy book store owner who shares his flat with an eccentric Welsh roommate stand a chance with the lovely leading lady of Hollywood? Surprisingly, things work out for them, even though the leading man has a nervous attack about his glamorous girlfriend’s success and money. Switch to the Sex and the City episode in which Miranda tries to pay for her boyfriend Steve's expensive suit - which he clearly cannot afford. Amidst rummaging in his pocket for change and offering three different credit cards and bits of loose cash, Steve loses his temper and shouts at his girlfriend for trying to show off her wealth. When all the poor girl was trying to do was buy him the suit because he liked it.
Notting Hill, of course, is a movie. It is meant to promote escapism. The Miranda and Steve story, however, is far closer to the truth. Especially for us in India, does the former apply? Would a movie star marry a small business owner? Would a successful women entrepreneur marry a stay at home husband? Would a man be able to be comfortable with his wife earning more than him? In a patriarchal society such as ours, unfortunately, a woman earning more is considered emasculating for a man. More often than not, he is unable to come to terms with the fact completely even though this extra earning might add to their material comforts.
In India, such attitudes are encouraged and promoted and the mindset is fixed in a certain direction. Stay at home husbands are frowned upon and ridiculed. And no man can be happy being the stay at home partner – such is the mental conditioning. The kitchen is no place for a man, they must be thinking.
The male ego is extremely fragile and this is all the more true for the Indian male. They must be the bread-winner, must provide for their families and swing a cricket bat at whoever disrespects his loved ones. Men still are expected to pick up the check on a first date. The man of the house sits at the top of the table irrespective of how much he earns. They teach their kids to take up outdoor sports and bully the opposition and play the aggressor. The ultimate prize for any alpha male is always financial.
Having the woman earn more often leads to a deflated ego, depression and general bitterness. So how does a man handle a successful woman? It's a two way street.
Is it not possible that a woman also contributes to this way of thinking? Women tend to channel their insecurity about never finding a man to bank upon as a reason to be go-getters, so they never have to depend on a male partner to provide for them. They train themselves to be "superwomen" who drive their own cars, cook their own food, buy their own rings and adopt children on their own. With this attitude creeping in, women tend to alienate the men who want a relationship and are willing to commit. Women shouldn't come home and treat their partner like the rest of the world. In the dog-eat-dog world outside, she needs to constantly prove her financial strength and her corporate stature. That can’t be easy, but it needs to be done. But we don’t have to prove anything to our husbands. No man wants to feel like an employee or a co-worker.
So let’s not take the ultra feminist stance – that won’t help the already egoistic Indian male to cope with the fact that his wife/girlfriend is more successful than him.
Flaunt your success by all means but don’t belittle your spouse for being less successful in any way – even in jest. For a man, the key is to be open minded and be strong. If your relationship is based on a strong foundation of love and commitment, the pay check should not matter. You are a team. You go out, you buy things, you party, and you invest. You do all this together. When you feel smaller in any way, talk about it. When you feel low, express it.
Differences in salaries should not be a hindrance when it comes to relationships. Men need to let go of their egos and women need to make their men feel special.
This is an age-old debate and there are no definite sides to take. There are some matured and settled men who have no problems with their wives being more successful and moneyed. And then there are men who will feel threatened by their wives earning more. Whichever it is, it is up to the couple to reason and rationalise and weigh the pros of the wife’s extra income. We say pros because extra money can be beneficial – whoever earns it! India is now a place where women entrepreneurs are making it big in many spheres, professionally, and men should realise that this is a very good thing.
And if you thought life with a successful woman was hard, spare a thought for Stedman Graham, Oprah's partner since 1986.