Financial and Social Capital

February 19th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

In the current gender debate, feminism often highlights how men tend to work more in the public sphere, and thereby earn more money. Men are said to be powerful since men are usually the primary or only breadwinner of the household, and therefore in control of the financial capital of the family.

While there is certainly some truth in this way of looking at things, feminism completely ignores the corresponding power that women have. Men may be in control of the financial capital, but women are completely dominant when it comes to social capital. So what do I mean by social capital?

Social Capital

In your average human family, the woman is the adult who forms close and loving relationships with the children, since she is the primary caretaker. The man’s relationship to the children very often goes through the mother, since he spends a lot of time away from home and also does not have the skills necessary to form these kinds of connections.

Women are also much more likely to have a circle of close friends; friendships that aren’t dependent on having the same hobby or the same job. All in all women are better at forming and maintaining nurturing relationships, as well as having the emotional self-awareness and ability to express emotions that are necessary within close relationships.

Women get to learn and practice these relationship skills within the traditional female gender role, while men do not get this practice within their gender role, so we need to acknowledge that women very often wield significant power through these close bonds to children and friends. Feminism often emphasizes how the female gender role disempowers women in various ways, while conveniently forgetting all the examples of how women are empowered by their role – and social capital is indeed one way that women are empowered.

What Happens After a Divorce?

In a traditional couple, the man thus has better access to financial capital, whereas the woman has better access to social capital. As long as the couple stays married, the man will share his financial resources with the woman, and she will share her social resources with him. This way a reasonable balance is achieved that benefits both partners.

But what happens after a divorce? Does each partner take his or her resources and leave, or are they obligated to share some of their resources with their partner?

In all modern countries that I know of, the financial resources are split evenly in case of divorce, and in some countries the man is also obligated to pay monthly alimony to support his previous wife. It’s safe to say that there is a real transfer of financial capital from the man to the woman, though the exact amount will depend on the laws of a certain country.

However, in no country that I know of is the woman obligated to share any of her social capital with the man! One could of course argue that it’s impossible to legislate anything about human relationships, but even culturally speaking, outside the legal arena, there is no moral agreement that financial resources should be matched by social capital.

If children are part of the equation, the scenario usually becomes even more unfair from the perspective of the man. Whenever there is a custody dispute, courts tend to favor the mother, since she is the primary caregiver. This leads to yet another example of the man having to pay money without getting any social capital back.

A man who pays child support without having regular access to his children, is giving up part of his income but not getting any social capital in return. The woman, on the other hand, gets to keep all of her social capital (her connections to her children), while still getting financial capital from her former husband.

What Happens When We Help Only Women?

As we just saw, most modern countries have laws that protect women after a divorce, whereas men have no safety net. What are the consequences of only caring for women?

The message that is sent to men is that men are only valued according to how they perform in the public sphere, i.e. how much money they can earn for themselves and their (ex-)family. When there are no legal or cultural codes that defend men’s rights to have access to the social capital created by the family before the divorce, we tell men that their role as father and loving parent is not valued or important.

During the past few decades women have been taught how to make a living in the public sphere, and cultural and legal changes have been made to accommodate this transition. If we want men to not only be silent providers without an emotional connection to their children and spouse, then we need to teach men how to form and maintain close, nurturing bonds. Furthermore, on a societal level we need to make the cultural – and perhaps legal – changes necessary to support men in navigating this transition.

For example, one legal change that would be perfectly plausible is to always connect child support to shared custody rights, unless it is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the father is unsuitable to be a parent.

I’m not saying that men will necessarily choose to stay home with their children to the extent that women do, or that women will choose to work as much outside the home as men do, since those choices rest with the individual. But what is clear to me is that overly polarized gender roles have become outdated, and when we transcend these outdated gender roles, we need to help both sexes, and understand where each sex is coming from.

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14 Responses to “Financial and Social Capital”

  1. Bj0rnborg Says:

    The concept of power is intresting. Radical feminism defines power as financial and public power. (Sidenote; the majority of these positions/incomes is allocated to men, but a majority of men does not have access to them. Its a faulty logic empowered by collectivistic theories to draw the conclusion that all women are subordinate to all men. Most women AND men, are subordinate to some (mostly) men. But still only if you narrow down the concept of power to income/public influence).

    A much better definition of power in relation to equality would be empowerement, or the power to choose empowerement. The power to create a life you want, affect your own situation etc.

    In this men are as (if not more) bound by genderrolls as women are. How can we ever become truly happy and satisfied with life when our own genderroll prevents us from exploring our own feelings? When feministic discourse is based on shame and blame and ad hominem rhetorics towards men as a collective? You boys are growing up with an “original sin”, the “sin” of their fathers for wich they shall pay the price.

    Feminism are severly hampering male empowerment.

  2. Danny Says:

    When there are no legal or cultural codes that defend men’s rights to have access to the social capital created by the family before the divorce, we tell men that their role as father and loving parent is not valued or important.
    I agree that this is a very big detail that is left out of gender discourse. In the event of a divorce often times the court will go to great lengths to make sure the father pays child support to the mother but then (even though he is “awarded” visitation by the same court) will basically leave the father’s visitation rights up to the mother’s discretion. As far as the courts are concerned as long as the mother gets custody and gets the money to support the children nothing else matters.

  3. Pelle Billing Says:

    Bj0rnborg: Yes, defining power and empowerment is really important, and I agree with your definitions of those words, and how they are related.

    Danny: Yup, your example of how the courts are currently handling divorce/custody is why we need to review the cultural and legal codes.

  4. thebigmanfred Says:

    Danny:

    As far as the courts are concerned as long as the mother gets custody and gets the money to support the children nothing else matters.

    The state not only has the cultural incentive to do this, but also a monetary incentive.

    Bj0rnborg:

    A much better definition of power in relation to equality would be empowerement, or the power to choose empowerement. The power to create a life you want, affect your own situation etc.

    I agree with this definition. I think both men and women have limited choices. For example, it’s not like many guys can decide not to work. Work isn’t a choice for most guys.

  5. Danny Says:

    I agree with this definition. I think both men and women have limited choices. For example, it’s not like many guys can decide not to work. Work isn’t a choice for most guys.
    And you can see how this plays out in the event that a man does not have a job. Almost no matter what the reason is short of a disability it is generally assumed that a man that is not working is doing so because he does not want to.

  6. unomi Says:

    “I’m not saying that men will necessarily choose to stay home with their children to the extent that women do, or that women will choose to work as much outside the home as men do, since those choices rest with the individual.”

    Are you saying that men, as a group, would not choose to stay at home with their children to the same extent as women, as a group, even if both were freed of their gender roles?

  7. Pelle Billing Says:

    @unomi:

    Yes, I think that is very likely, although we’d have to wait and see to know for sure.

    Even if we are freed from gender roles, we would still be dealing with biological factors, and IMO those factors would make it likely that men and women would make different choices (on a group level).

    I think many men and many women want to combine work and a family (i.e. work *and* raise their children). However, I think women on average want to spend more hours per week staying home with their children than men do, and I think very few men will ever choose to be full-time homemakers.

    We will never go backwards in time, to a traditional society where men and women had completely different roles. We won’t see that kind of black and white scenario, the differences between men and women will be more like shades of gray.

    Pelle

  8. Pelle Billing Says:

    Danny:
    And you can see how this plays out in the event that a man does not have a job. Almost no matter what the reason is short of a disability it is generally assumed that a man that is not working is doing so because he does not want to.

    Do you really feel that this is generally assumed? Do people not also assume that an unemployed man may have been fired and is looking for a new job?

    Pelle

  9. Danny Says:

    Do you really feel that this is generally assumed? Do people not also assume that an unemployed man may have been fired and is looking for a new job?
    Yes they may be thinking that he got fired but at the same time are they not thinking, “Why doesn’t he man up and get another job?” What I’m saying is that in terms of unemployment there is more pressure on a man to get back into the workforce than a woman.

  10. Pelle Billing Says:

    Danny,

    Now I understand what you mean, and I agree that there is a lot more pressure on a man to get back into the workforce. In fact, an unemployed man faces an increased risk of divorce as the weeks and months go by, while an unemployed woman faces a *decreased* risk of divorce over time.

    Pelle

  11. Jane McGillivray Says:

    This is all interesting, but here in Canada the laws are such that equal custody is assumed to be the norm if both parents are capable and willing to be available for their children. We have been in times of transition in the past few decades, where women of my mother’s generation often did not enter the public workforce until their children were grown. But things have definitely changed.

    It must be very difficult for men to pay money out to women they no longer love, even for the sake of the children. Perhaps this is why there are so many deadbeat dads. Still, a far better solution, is for both men and women to be financially independent and both to take equal responsibility for their children. And this is definitely the direction that things are going in around here. It is wonderful to see men that are generous and loving and have their children’s best interests at heart, and to know that they are so important in their children’s lives in a very primary way. It is one of those things though, this importance comes from being actively involved, and the initiative to get involved and stay involved is one that comes from withing. I don’t know what makes men able to show up in this capacity. I don’t think however it is diminshed or increased as a function of ‘feminism’. I think it is a function of the man, himself. Some men have it and some don’t, and there are many factors that would play into this. The ones who don’t might ‘blame’ feminism for their predicament, or they might blame all the women in their lives, or the world in general….. but the ones who do have it, are not likely to get into the blame thing, they are likely just to keep on loving and being present, no matter what. I can tell you that THIS loving presence does not go unnoticed either by most women, or more importantly, by their children. Men are very important in family lives in so many different ways. It is wonderful when they step up to the plate with confidence and courage and that beautiful masculine caring love.

    Pelle you write: “we need to teach men how to form and maintain close, nurturing bonds.”
    Who do you thing ‘we’ is that should do the ‘teaching’? and what do you think this ‘teaching’ would look like? How would we get on to this project?
    Jane

  12. Pelle Billing Says:

    Jane,

    Having fair laws is a huge first step, and it makes me happy to learn that Canada has made good progress in that area. If the laws are fair, then it is indeed possible for fathers to show up and participate in their children’s lives, instead of only paying child support. However, if courts and laws are still working against men in a certain country, then it’s quite possible even for dedicated fathers to be shut out.

    The other important area is teaching men how to form and maintain nurturing relationships. Many men don’t know how to do this, because they’ve never practiced or been taught how to. Maybe that’s what you’ve noticed when you say that some men seem to “have it” and some don’t.

    So who should teach men these skills? This is a very good question. Who taught women the skills needed to join the labor force? I believe the answer lies in our educational system. Why not teach emotional intelligence skills and relationship skills in schools? Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (1996) and Social Intelligence (2006), suggests that we add these subjects in regular schools. I agree.

    Pelle

  13. Bj0rnborg Says:

    “So who should teach men these skills? This is a very good question. Who taught women the skills needed to join the labor force?”

    This is happening in sweden right now, through “genuspedagogik”, gender pedagogics. Basically an experiement at our daycare-centers to train our boys to be more in touch with their emotions and communicationsksills, and girls to take more room.

    I too reacted to the biological? argument by jane that some men just are unloving fathers. I dont believe in any biological explanations, and I can understand your response about emotional training rather than agreeing to that cul de sac .

    Still I see wonderful loving fathers all around me, I believe its a big exaggeration to claim that men today in general needs to be trained for fatherhood. The male genderoll today is much softer than it was for only 100 or even 50 years ago, mainly because we can live it with less emotional effort. (thanks to technological and political, and other wellfare advances). The need to supress our feelings to get by in everyday life are not as strong as it once was.

    But Im sure that training emotional and social intelligence would not hurt, neither men nor women.

  14. My Vision for the Future Says:

    [...] any children if they are divorced, and how each person will survive financially in case of divorce. Financial and social capital are both valued highly when forming such [...]


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