It started as all my WTF moments start: at a dinner party over wine.
I’ve known this group of friends for decades, but as the saying goes, you can only really vouch for yourself. I realised that when a new addition to our dinners, a partner of a childhood friend of mine, passed what he thought was a very innocent-sounding comment.
“I guess your husband must have liked the fact that he was the breadwinner once again.”
Now, as in all other circumstances, context is key. Conversation had gone from the property market to how I had given up my career as an architect by the age of 27, and how I had taken some time off between changing career paths. Mentioning that my ex-husband was an accountant at the time, my friend’s partner quickly put two and two together and realised that I was earning more than my husband for a good two years before I quit.
I had never really made much of it; and neither had my ex-husband, for as much grief as I like to give him, he did support me before and after I quit, and he never really mentioned money in terms of power play. But this man, who I’ve met twice in my life, thought it appropriate to mention it and, even more surprisingly, to assume that all men are emasculated by a woman who earns more than they do.
With all that in mind, my reaction was to simply ignore his comment. I mean… What does one say to a comment like that? Where does one even begin? Should I have said that I had worked my ass off to become an architect? That my husband had no right to feel emasculated because we both did what we thought we enjoyed and mine simply came with a bigger monthly salary?
Should I have pointed out that while I earned more than my husband, I earned far less than my male colleagues who were in my exact same position? And that I was constantly asked if I was planning on having children? Should I have argued that, in marriage, it doesn’t matter who earns more because it’s a union and it’s meant to be balanced? Or does this person think that the person who earns more money has more power, and therefore, a man should always earn more?
Should I have apologised for earning more than my husband? For doing a job I hated so I could bring in an extra couple of hundred Maltese Liri home at the end of the month, which were used to fix up the house and go abroad with? No. In hindsight, I should have just told him that it’s comments like these that prove just how basic some people are and how entitled some men feel.
I have no problem with my partner earning more than I do… So why should my partner?