Just two days ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop in close proximity to the next table where two men in their mid forties sat deep in conversation. There was a small dividing wall that separated our tables, but I was not more than 50 cms away from them. They were completely unaware of my presence and continued and I couldn’t help but overhear them. I wished that I had a recording of the conversation, but instead I took notes and have used direct quotes from the men involved in this story.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Their views on women was out of the last century. They were talking about their male friend who had recently split up with his wife. He, the friend was a similar age to these two men and his now ex-wife was 42 years old.
Apparently, the ex-wife is Spanish and one man said of the relationship that the friend, “brought her over here [Australia] to marry her”. Much like you would bring ‘over’ an imported car I guess, and it sounded like this man was doing the woman a real favor. Their views on women seemed to be centered on someone “who cooks and cleans for him”. Now, as well as the man’s wife being a ‘thing’ that this friend has ‘brought over”, the women is also a faceless, nameless service provider that feeds and cleans for her husband. Interesting, I thought. There is a bit more to married life than that.
It gets worse. “He [the friend], has a home, a car and a good job”. Apparently the home was purchased by this man before he married this woman. The couple don’t have any children because, “she couldn’t have them anyway”, but as these guys pointed out, “he [the friend] can still get someone ten years younger and still have kids”. “He has got another one from Spain. Good looking but lazy” one said to the other. Meaning, that this new woman was going to be ‘high maintenance’ and not good around the house.
A couple of things struck me as sad in this conversation. Firstly, there was no empathy for the woman at all in the discussion. It was like she deserved to be caste aside without any consideration of that fact that. in their mind, she didn’t own the home that they lived in as a stay at home wife and supporter, and she may not have many job prospects. Secondly, this is 2011 in Australia and here were two middle aged Anglo Saxon white Australian men talking about a women as if she were an object to be discarded at whim. Further it is the husband who seemed to have ownership of everything. I don’t know how long the marriage lasted, but from the conversation it must have been a good couple of years, since “she was good looking and been happy to cook and clean for him to start with”.
Both these men had a focus on ‘good looking’ women who were going to be subservient in a relationship. Neither of the men in the coffee shop were particularly good looking, but that didn’t seem to matter to them. Apparently, the friends wife had started to exert her individuality and independence during the later phases of the marriage and the friends thought that she had become ‘difficult’. One man referred to another of his friends, who he said was a man’s man who went out with the guys on a regular basis. His wife was (apparently) happy with this as she was also a stay at home cook and clean wife. As one of these coffee drinking men said “she understands – well, he….is a man after all”. That little statement says volumes about the thinking of many men and woman. It can be used to excuse behaviour that is not acceptable in most relationships. The ‘real man’ persona of the hard working, hard talking tough man, can also be one of a selfish, aggressive man who lacks care and gratitude for their families input and support.
Its not surprising that when you are focused on the wrong things in a relationship, like good looks or status, the marriage breaks down as people start to change and grow. Many women look to a relationship to provide security or a lifestyle that they don’t believe they could achieve on their own by marrying a husband with good prospects and high income earning capacity. Invariably this doesn’t work for long because these people are looking for answers outside of themselves and depending on someone else to provide them. I am not saying that the traditional ‘male breadwinner’ and female ‘homemaker’ can’t work, but there must be an acceptance that each partner is fulfilling their role and equally contributing to the family. If one thinks that they are doing more, or that their role is of greater significance, cracks will start to appear and the relationship may fail.
I came away from this little coffee shop experience amazed that there are still men in Australian society today that have these viewpoints about woman and the role of husbands and wives in marriage. Gender stereotypes are still alive and well it seems.