Feminism for guys (or how not to be a Walking Wallet)

You are not a salmon

You are NOT a salmon

In his great book Manhood Steve Biddulph coins the phrase Walking Wallets to describe what a chunk of the modern western middle class male population has become.

Walking Wallets are men that no longer fulfill different roles (father, son, breadwinner, friend, warrior, farmer, athlete, craftsman, lover, hunter, artist, husband etc) and have become only The Payer of the Bills.

This is an unnatural life – like wild tigers kept in a zoo.  These guys may not know it but they have checked themselves into the Prison Camp.

How did this happen?  We became more specialised due partly to economic forces. In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith explains economic progress in terms of specialisation of labour.  In a subsistence economy everyone has to be a generalist –growing your own food, teaching your children and mending your own shoes.

By becoming specialists (e.g. cobblers, teachers or farmers) productivity increased. This is responsible for much of the incredible increase in economic living standards over the last 5,000 years or so.

The Escape Artist is, on the whole, in favour of capitalism and the things it has brought us such as antibiotics, podcasts and customised trainers.  However, since the industrial revolution, the specialisation of labour also produced some unpleasant side effects.  Specialised work on a production line offers less variety than the craft approach it replaced.

Specialisation also crept insidiously into the home.  In hunter gatherer societies, men and women would share food gathering, the raising of children and entertainment and leisure. Not always equally, no doubt, but shared nevertheless.

In modern societies, role sharing is replaced by specialisation.  Men focussed so hard on the competitive aspect of work they sometimes lost sight of the bigger picture. Blackberrys and internationalisation meant that corporate slaves no longer got down time. Emails need answering and conference calls get scheduled at all hours. Many guys with these demanding jobs allow themselves to be squeezed out of their own families.

It’s easy for middle class guys to get sucked into competing for status via salaried employment.  Employers play this by offering elaborate job titles and scales, the “carrot on a stick” annual bonus and more subtle status indications like whose office is closest to the boss and whose parking spot is closest to the front entrance.

I suspect guys do this partly in the hope (perhaps unconscious) it might make them more attractive to women. This is not really my area of expertise but, whilst people no doubt respond to status, I’m guessing most women are not that impressed by male wage slaves and that economic signalling is an over-played strategy in the mating market.

Whatever the reason, some men start to think of themselves as economic units and become Walking Wallets.  As a side effect, they may unwittingly become an enabler to an over-spending spouse that uses shopping as filler for the gaps in their life.

I was chatting about this with a male friend recently.  In economic and status terms, he is a successful guy – CEO of a decent sized company.  As such he has made a lot of money. He has spent this on the normal shit that people buy when they score cash.  So he has the McMansion in a “desirable” (well, according to estate agents) suburban commuter town in the South East of England and all that goes with it.

Now, this guy is smart and had been thinking. He realised he’d been working hard for years and this had enabled a high spending lifestyle for his wife that he had mixed feelings about (the lifestyle, not the wife).

One trigger for this realisation was on returning home after a long week of 12 hour days, conference calls and dealing with demanding clients etc. He walked into his upscale white marble fitted kitchen to find it full of expensive kitchen gadgets, cut flowers from the florist and 14 Ladies That Lunch sat around drinking chardonnay from Waitrose. They were there under the pretence of a Book Club, Tupperware party or Kittens With Heart Disease charity evening, whatever the stated reason for a girls piss-up and bonding session happened to be.

Now these woman were in no doubt that they were worth it.   If you suggested to them that they spend 40 years working 12 hour days in the Prison Camp of corporate life, they would look at you like you’d just suggested they slash their own wrists with a designer cake slice. Like, why the fuck would I do that?

But those 40 years working is what their husbands do to fund canapé and chardonnay habits. This reminds me a bit of The Salmon that expends its life force swimming upstream to its spawning grounds in order to reproduce, then dies of exhaustion.

I understand this is not how most people live.  It is a real but extreme example, chosen to illustrate a “lifestyle” (albeit not much life and not much style) that some higher-earning men fall into by accident.

This is not an anti-female stance. Life is not a zero-sum game whereby men can only benefit at the expense of women or vice versa. For the avoidance of doubt, The Escape Artist is pro-women.  My mother was a feminist, working woman and I admire that.

I’d guess that in most cases the woman doesn’t actually want the guy to waste his life in the office.  Guys, our wives don’t force us to do this, we do it to ourselves.  When I was in the Prison Camp, no one held a gun to The Escape Artist’s head and told him to work harder or else they’d paint the dormitory hut wall red.  At that point in my life I still had something to prove and I thought that cash and work status might deliver that proof.  And in some ways they did. I got promoted at work and this proved to me what I’d previously suspected, that work status is not strongly correlated with happiness.

I can’t understand guys whose identity is so focussed on being the cash machine that they try to stop their wives / girlfriends from working.  I assume they think having a non-earning spouse is another trophy, like a Porsche in the drive.  This is insane.  If your wife wants to work, you should be delighted.  If she earns more than you, dude, put on some tunes and party.  Unfortunately, I never had a wife / girlfriend that out-earned me but, if I had, I’d have been happier than a pig in shit.

I went with my wife to see the comedian Russell Kane live. Kane was riffing on his parent’s marriage. He contrasted his loner, breadwinner father (who, by Kane’s account, suffered from emotional constipation) with his mother, a well-balanced, emotionally high-functioning person with a wide friendship network.

Kane asked the rhetorical question: “How will Mum cope when Dad dies…what with her wide circle of friends, her varied hobbies and no one there to crush all the fun out of her life?.  I thought this was quite funny.  My wife, however, laughed so hard that I thought she might rupture something.  Hhmmm. Sometimes the universe is trying to tell you something.

financial independence

This does not end well…

For a film portrayal of a marriage changing as the man becomes a Walking Wallet, check out The War of the Roses. Michael Douglas starts out a likeable and fun young man just out of college.  He becomes an ambitious trainee lawyer who eventually makes partner and along the way becomes a workaholic, status obsessed jerk.  Kathleen Turner plays the wife who is as intelligent as her husband but does not work. Bored and lonely, she throws herself into buying chandeliers and other shit to fill up the emptiness of their large house, if not the marriage.

Biddulph’s hypothesis is this.  Much of the middle class in the English speaking countries has become populated with a certain type of male.  They have been subdued, starting in school environments that have become feminised with fewer male teachers, a narrow focus on exam results and health and safety.

Their economic habitat is the professions (law, finance, IT, medicine etc.) and their geographic habitat is the suburbs where they shuttle in SUVs between commuter stations and homes during the week.  At weekend they go to shopping centres, out of town DIY stores and ferry Jemima to her clarinet lesson.

They are usually good people and not stupid but have been emasculated by an unfortunate combination of social conformity, wives, bosses, debt and consumerism. They often lose track of their own friends in their relentless focus on being good salarymen. They typically let their fitness slide. Their sense of humour atrophies, along with their abs and lower back.  They often self-medicate.

If you can hold down a demanding job, good for you. If you can support your spouse and kids, that’s something to be proud of.  But once their needs have been met, if your job causes you to neglect your own health, relationships and happiness, then it’s just not worth it.

Its not just women that need feminism.

25 comments

  1. Neverland · · Reply

    I think this is pretty sexist stuff

    For most couples we know both of them have to work to pay the rent/qualify for the mortgage and the kids (if there are any) get left with the grandparents

    You could just as equally ask a woman to write about why she has to work just as hard as her husband AND then do all the housework

    1. Neverland

      Sexist? In our family, we share the housework. So no, I won’t be asking a woman to write about why she has to work as hard as her husband and then do all the housework. That’s because I don’t agree with your implication that she should do all the housework.

      T.E.A.

    2. Neverland, I don’t see how it is less sexist to assume that women do all the house chores. I feel both examples (women who work do more house chores than men who work, and there are more male “walking wallets” than female walking wallets) are probably a good representation of today’s society, whether we like them or not.

      I don’t see how these statements are sexist though. The article is not saying that men in general have it tougher than women, or that there is no woman in this situation, just that there is a growing number of men to whom this applies.

      The article is not really even trying to bring empathy on these men, rather to explain how society has built this kind of unbalanced couple relationship over time.

      So, yeah, I felt it was a good read and I really fail at understanding how it is sexist.

  2. I know a few guys that see it as a point of pride that they earn enough to ‘keep the wife at home’. I don’t think this is sexist, just a status thing as you imply above.

    Personally I’m just encouraging my wife and I to earn all the cash we can now so sometime soon we can BOTH get out early and enjoy our health/happiness away from the office!

    1. UTMT

      Exactly – I like the cut of your jib. Thanks for the comment (and please keep up the good work at http://www.underthemoneytree.com).

      T.E.A.

  3. Good day. Just came across your blog for the first time via Monevator…. & there i was thinking i’d found all the UK based FI blogs over the last couple of years!

    nice post: i’ll have to read more of your blog over the coming months.

    I can’t associate much (well, at all) with the circumstances described in the post, though i’m sure it’s a very common reflection of reality in some postcodes. It wasn’t long after we married that my wifes earnings in became greater than mine (something i’ve always been delighted about!).

    Personally for the last 3 years my wife & I have both work part time only, which gives us more time with our kids & each other. Our journey to true FI is resultingly slower, though my wife has a job which was ‘a calling’ so has no plans to not work, just that she will have to choice to work less if she wishes at any time.

    1. LCIL

      Thanks for your comment and kind words. You are absolutely right that the McMansion anecdote does not reflect most people’s experience. It is however true. On this blog, I try to write about stuff that is real, that I know something about and that I have experienced. If its funny as well, that’s a bonus.

      I admire people (like your wife?) that know & work their calling so all the best to you and your family. Out of interest, are you aware of any London based FI meet-ups? Judging by your “name”, I thought you might be a good person to ask! If you’d be interested in this, then you can either comment here or use the form on the Contact page.

      Cheers

      T.E.A.

  4. Hi T.E.A…. are you also in London then? I don’t think I have found that specific in your blog as yet. My hat is tipped to you if you have achieved the passive income stream to live in this city from your dividends!

    I am not aware of any meet ups, or many other bloggers really. However, until recently I’d had frequent meets up with Mr F.I.S.H. (http://getintheringwithme.blogspot.co.uk/) as we were both hanging out with our young kids in the park most weeks for the best part of 2 years before he made the move to France. Our playground conversations were probably quite different to most!

    It’s a rare moment when you find other people that have read books like “The Millionaire Next Door” for example.

    1. Yes, as I write this I am near St Pauls tube…home is outside London though.

      I’ll cover my learning points from the property market and what I’m doing now in future posts. If there are any other topics you’d like me to cover then please shout. All I ask in return is that you please 1) click the “Follow” button and follow new posts via email and 2) pass on the link to this site to anyone you think would like it. Thanks again for your comments.

      1. Did part of your escape come from selling up property in London at all then? just curious. Are you working full time somewhere now in a field that interests you then? or just in London for kicks?

      2. I’d be interested in a London meetup. I’ll follow the blog and keep an eye out for further mentions! Feel free to drop by my place and let me know if something gets set up also! Cheers!

      3. Firestarter

        Thanks for the comments. Lets see if we can make that a meetup in Central London happen – I’ll drop you an email.

        T.E.A.

      4. Hi TEA,

        I’m living in London and would also be interested in any FI meetups, there doesn’t seem to be too many Londoners with similar aims, at least not openly. Also, good post.

        David

      5. I’d be up for a meet up at some point too, assuming non-bloggers would be allowed.

      6. London Rob · ·

        I suspect I have missed the London meet up but I would also be up for that 🙂 Hopefully by then I will have caught up on all the posts!

      7. Hey London Rob, I made a facebook group to organise a meetup in London https://www.facebook.com/groups/FILondon/

        I’ve see meetups suggested on forums and blogs a few times but it’s hard to organise in threads so made the group for an easier method, I was thinking somewhere near Liverpool Street after work (for those that still work) for the first one.

  5. Well T.E.A., you never cease to surprise and entertain. I want to wade in on this one and say I had a similar experience, but I was the one bringing in the dough so that my husband could do what he needed/wanted to do. And he did for about a decade. During the later part of that decade, I experienced the same feelings and life situation as your cookie cutter middle-class man…but as a woman. So what are women in the same predicament to do? You can hardly say we’ve been emasculated… ;).

    1. Interesting.

      My initial advice to women in that predicament would be the same as the Irish farmer giving road directions to the American tourist who has got lost in the countryside and asked the best way to Dublin:….”Aaaah, now you wouldn’t want to start from here…”

      …but, more usefully, everything on this site is written to try & help women and men in that predicament.

  6. marky mark · · Reply

    Hello escape artist,
    I found this post interesting. I just got out of a relationship with a women that wanted to get married and I’m pretty sure she had me sized up for a walking wallet type of husband. I’m still young but plan to settle down and start a family if I find the right woman. I plan to put family before work as I have a friend who works part time and gets to spend a lot of time with his son, he is one of the happiest people I know.

    1. marky mark

      Wow – your comment has intrigued me. Do you mean that 1) she wanted a walking wallet type of husband & was attracted to your earning potential OR 2) she feared you would become one. My reading of your comment was the former (1) but it would be great if you could clarify…thank you

      1. marky mark

        Thank you for the clarification (ie option 1) and maximum respect to you for sharing…and for extricating you both from a difficult situation. A lesser man might have walked down the aisle, arms outstretched like a zombie in The Living Dead.

        All the best in your search for a lady with purer motives.

        T.E.A.

  7. weenie1 · · Reply

    I saw your post as swinging both ways so didn’t find it particularly sexist. I personally don’t know of any ‘Ladies That Lunch’, nor have I ever aspired to be one. If I was lunching, it would be with my own cash, not cash from some sad man working all hours of the day to earn it so I can spend it.

    Incidentally, does the male equivalent ‘lunch’ too, or do they just hang out in pubs?

    I love the last point you make about needs being met but for some people, just when is ‘enough’ enough?

    I came via Monevator too so will check out the rest of your blog at some point!

    1. Weenie1

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you didn’t find the post sexist. Its interesting that female readers don’t seem threatened by it (nor should they). Welcome to The Escape Artist. If you can drop in some more Viz references in the comments sections (I loved your Finbarr Saunders quip over on Monevator), that would be awesome.

      T.E.A.

  8. From general observations at work I would say that the walking wallet type of spouse becomes more common the older you get. Is this simply due to age? Arrival of kids so more likelihood of the woman quitting work to be the stay at home mum? Or more of a generational thing? I guess I will find out in about 7-8 years when my generation hits that age that I see the greater proportion of walking wallets are at right now.

    1. Yes, that’s right. Walking Wallet syndrome typically kicks in when the Stork delivers babies.

      The wife often stops working, the couple drop to one income. Current spending and future liabilities increase. There is pressure to buy the 4 x 4 all terrain pram with air-con and organic nappies infused with ginseng herbal extracts…(Note to self: do a future post on baby consumer marketing shit).

      People confuse wanting the best for their children with spending…they are 2 completely different things.

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