"Being the breadwinner is a man’s responsibility"
The history of men being providers is not only part of human evolution but also a strong aspect of Desi culture.
With masculinity taking centre in the conversation of men being providers, Desi men have typically taken on the breadwinner role within a family unit.
Whether this includes extended family homes with multiple generations or a nuclear family unit, a male is usually the head of the household and takes care of ‘providing’ for his family.
This works alongside women who have traditionally taken care of the home and the emotional needs of all those inside it.
However, the depiction of a traditional family is changing – with a rise in single-parent households, same-sex relationships, live-in partnerships and lone living becoming more common in society.
Moreover, women now have more opportunities to enter the workforce and live an independent lifestyle without leaning on a spouse or partner to rely on.
Is a ‘Male Provider’ More Desirable?
What degree of truth does the popular myth that women exclusively desire men who are providers?
About as accurate as the assertion that men are interested in attractive women.
There is some general support for it from an evolutionary psychology standpoint, but all you need to do is look at any gathering of people to see all kinds of diverse couples partnered up, with varied sizes, shapes, and levels of beauty.
The truth is that the story has an interesting twist and is far more intricate than the conventional narrative.
Men are considerably more likely than women to think males must be excellent providers.
A study from the Pew Research Center in 2017 on the importance of men as financial providers found many people do expect men to be the main providers in a household.
“Roughly seven-in-ten adults (71%) say it is very important for a man to be able to support a family financially to be a good husband or partner.
According to the research, by comparison, 32% say it’s very important for a woman to do the same to be a good wife or partner.
“Men are especially likely to place a greater emphasis on their role as financial providers (emphasis mine).
“While a nearly equal share of men and women say a man needs to be able to provide for his family to be a good husband or partner (72% and 71%, respectively), men are less likely than women to say the same about women.
“Just a quarter of men say this is very important for a woman to be a good wife or partner, compared with 39% of women.
“However, the importance of being the financial provider ranks behind being caring and compassionate when it comes to being a good spouse or partner, in the public’s estimation.
“Overwhelming majorities say it is very important for men (86%) and women (90%) to have these qualities to be good spouses or partners.”
Hence, the majority of Desi women would anticipate that a man will be a good provider in addition to being a good companion,
Interestingly, the majority of Desi men also anticipate this of their male counterparts.
A Pakistani Law student from Aston University expressed how her partner’s ‘provider’ instinct as the eldest son in his family was a desirable factor that came into consideration when she chose to pursue a relationship with him.
“It’s attractive when a man takes the lead but is also emotionally intelligent enough to take care of a woman’s needs.
“He has a lot of responsibility at home which I will always respect about him.
“He works extremely hard but still puts me first.”
An overwhelming majority of this ideal of men as ‘providers’ can be forged down to patriarchy at play within Desi communities
Patriarchy is evident when a man feels pressured by society to provide well for his family, without complaint or justification.
On many occasions, a man will be rejected for a marriage proposal from a Desi family if he isn’t in a desirable financial position or lacks ‘provider’ characteristics such as independence, authority, and responsibility.
This pressure to be a provider can therefore encourage Desi men to over-exert themselves in trying to prove their manhood as they have seen in generations of men before them.
Do Desi Men think They’re Better Providers?
Despite the pressures Desi men today will face in providing for their families, many of them are advocates of the setup.
A British Bengali Healthcare worker, aged 23 emphasised the purpose of being a provider.
“It might be controversial to say but my purpose in life is to provide for and protect my family.
“Not only to my own family but the extended family too, which should translate into society.
“As a man, it’s my duty to role model good values and morals to my future children and wife, and provide financing to take care of them.”
The healthcare worker went on to discuss his ideal vision of a family setup.
“My wife can work if she wants to, but ideally I wouldn’t want to place any financial burden on her so she doesn’t have to work.
“But, being the breadwinner is a man’s responsibility and I wouldn’t allow my future wife to contribute to any of the finances.
“That being said, it’s dependent on individual circumstances, some men might be okay with splitting finances with a woman – for me, it’s just a foreign concept.”
It is not uncommon for Desi men to purposefully live to provide for their current and future families.
In South Asia, regardless of social class or status of wealth, men have taken on the breadwinner role in business, agriculture, transport, and many other sectors.
The traditional gender roles are prevalent in the sub-continent to this day in comparison to Western regions such as the US and the U.K.
With women taking care of the home and emotional needs of the family, men fulfill the role of providing financial responsibility.
This concept is also seen in generations of South Asian diaspora who migrated to the US and the UK in the 50s onwards.
South Asian men took the responsibility of taking on largely physical manual labour, whilst women took care of the household.
Despite the adversities many of these men faced whilst assimilating to a new life and creating a new home miles away from their norm, they persevered and continued to work hard – thus strengthening the argument of Desi men as providers.
An account from Surjit Singh on his experience of racism whilst migrating from India detailed the struggle he went through in Britain.
“I was treated differently because I was Asian and I had come from India.”
“There was an element of a few language problems as well, no doubt about that, but still, I could do quite a lot of jobs better than other people, but I wasn’t given the chance to do it.
“I felt that I was discriminated against quite a lot, and that was because I trained about six foremen while I was a chargehand, and I wasn’t given the job of foreman.
“When I questioned that, then I was promised that I would be given a job as foreman come the next vacancy.
“But unfortunately I fell ill and went to the hospital, and to my surprise, I got a letter from the management saying that they cannot afford my absence from the department.”
Whilst appreciating the strength of Desi communities, has the struggle of being providers experienced by Desi men historically created a high standard to live up to for Desi men today?
What do Desi Men Think about Female Providers?
Traditional gender role norms date back centuries ago and intersect across many cultures, but is this idea now antiquated?
As tradition dictates, is it a man who should be providing for his woman and his family – but would Desi men consider the possibility of their wives or female family members providing for the family?
Women in the South Asian subcontinent have been taught for decades that they must submit to the male members of their families since they are the ones who supply them with the needs of existence.
Similarly, males are also taught from a young age that they must control the women in their lives since they lack the maturity and financial independence to take care of themselves.
Our society formerly prohibited women from leaving the house, and it was standard for them to live under a man’s shadow.
Without formal education or employment, women were economically reliant and robbed of the agency that a salary provides.
Hence, until a woman was able to support herself, the cycle of providing for her began with her father and continued with her husband and later son.
To this day, this practice is common.
One does, however, ask if men have a right to have power over women’s lives.
Or is it our ingrained belief that this is how things should be?
Our conditioning hasn’t altered throughout the years, though.
Not only do women lack confidence in their judgement, but they also naturally seek the advice of the males in their life.
Men, on the other hand, frequently think it is okay to advise women on what to do with their lives.
A simple suggestion to dress appropriately or to avoid going out with a certain male acquaintance eventually develops into a command, which, if disobeyed, affects the male ego.
There have been several instances where a woman has died at the hands of male family members, a lover, or a spouse.
A prevalent case in his matter is honour killings carried out in India and Pakistan if a woman doesn’t comply with expectations set out by her family.
Such expectations typically originate from gender role norms, for example, if a woman chooses to have a boyfriend outside of marriage, she may be shunned.
However, things are taking a positive turn in the right direction.
One Pakistani husband and wife shared their perspective on balancing the financial burden in their household as parents to a 6-month-old daughter.
“We both worked before getting married, so why would one of us stop working now we’re married?”
The husband shared his perspective:
“I am blessed to make enough money for all of us, and then some.
“But she has worked her way up into a management position after working since 16, it would be unfair to expect to drop everything because we got married and now have a child.”
The wife added that her life aspirations aren’t solely career driven:
“I don’t wish to work forever.
“Whilst I have some youth left, I want to work as hard as possible and soon go on a part-time basis.
“I love being a mother, it’s my lifelong goal, but work provides me security which I believe all women should prioritise.
“You shouldn’t heavily rely on a man for everything because they can one day decide to leave you behind and take away the home you worked hard to build.”
Many Desi men in the UK and US now actively search for partners with strong work ethics and career-driven ambitions to match their lifestyles.
Therefore, the burden of ‘providing’ is shared by both parties in a couple.
Do Desi Women Face Barriers to Provide?
It is not uncommon knowledge that women now take prominent positions in employment, education rankings, and senior positions in business with many women taking a stand alongside their husbands in business.
However, a significant percentage of women in South Asian countries are underrepresented in the workforce.
Does the notion that men are better providers contribute to this finding?
The India Development Report from the World Bank in 2017 shed light on the decline of female participation as providers in employment.
According to the research, the nation has one of the lowest rates of female labour force participation in the world, coming in at number 120 out of 131 nations for which data was available.
Worryingly, it went on to say that while there hasn’t been much employment growth overall, males have been snatching up the majority of the new positions because of social conventions.
And that’s not all—even though 42% of women hold PhD degrees, their participation rate has been declining since 2005.
According to Census data, women graduated at a rate of 116% higher between 2001 and 2011 than males did at a rate of 65%.
Despite having such high levels of education and decreasing fertility rates, women still don’t seem to be represented in the official sector.
Rohini Pande, a Harvard University professor of public policy and co-director of the Evidence for Policy Project, and her team’s research illuminates the importance of having more women in the workforce.
She thinks that having a job, and the control it gives you over your resources, reduces domestic violence rates and empowers women to make more household decisions.
“And an economy where all the ablest citizens can enter the labour force is more efficient and grows faster.”
Her research of data from India’s labour surveys reveals that more than a third of women who spend most of their time doing domestic household chores want a job.
However, they’re unable to obtain one or are not permitted to do so because of social restrictions.
She reasons this argument due to the “persistence of India’s traditional gender norms, which seek to ensure “purity” of women by protecting them from men other than their husbands and restrict mobility outside their homes”.
Due to the long cultural history and traditions that support gender roles and what is expected of males, being a provider may come naturally to Desi men.
But, this has no bearing on the calibre of the provision they will provide if given the opportunity.
In spite of this, males tend to be viewed as “better” since they are more socially recognised as providers.
Others claim that the logic vs. emotion debate, which pits men who operate rationally against women who may consider emotion, would make it more difficult to provide for a family or a larger community.
Ultimately, being a provider is subjective to individual circumstances.
Whilst history pertains men as most suited to the task, women are showing increasing qualities of being able to independently navigate the world without male provision.