Last semester, our group – Bing, Von, and I – studied the common experiences shared by Filipina breadwinner wives as part of our course requirements in Advance Personality Psychology. We interviewed 12 women about how they experience this breadwinning role and its effects on their sense of individuality, marriage and family relationships. One of the goals of this project is to validate the feelings and experiences of these women as they fulfill this continuously arising role in our present society. As such, I am sharing here the results of our study in hope to reach out to other breadwinner wives. Please note that names used here are just aliases and most of the transcriptions were deleted.
Six vital themes emerged from the interviews. These themes tackled the experiences of the participants as female breadwinners in the Philippine context. Two of the six themes were expressed by all participants, while the other four were expressed by more than half of the respondents. The six themes that emerged are: (1) acquisition of breadwinner role through circumstance (80%), (2) having a strong sense of responsibility (90%), (3) feeling more empowered (100%), (4) exercising deference to their partner (90%), (5) valuing their partner’s contribution no matter how simple (90%), and (6) experiencing sporadic feelings of resentment (100%).
1. Acquisition of Breadwinner Role Through Circumstance and Having a Strong Sense of Responsibility
Faced with their current realities, the participants decided to “step up” as it were, in order to support and sustain their family’s needs. As Arlene reasons for instance, it is the couple’s duty to help each other out, such that when one is no longer able, the other has an obligation to carry the additional burden.
In Annaliz’s case, she was left with no choice given that her husband already resigned, placing all hopes on what turned out to be a risky business venture. The same is true for Yanice who works as a house helper. She was compelled to work triply hard just to make ends meet. Having been thrust unexpectedly into the breadwinner role, these women had no recourse but to step up in a huge way so to speak, in order to support their families.
For others like Erice, Ina, and even Erlinda, there is also the realization that even if they wanted to quit their jobs, they cannot do so without compromising their families’ needs. Thus, some of them like Ina, choose instead to persevere, often using their children as motivation to go on.
Overall, the participants donned on the breadwinner role in answer to life circumstances where they were faced with a choice of being resigned to a more difficult life, or taking charge of their own lives. One noticeable difference among the participants relative to their experience as breadwinners however, is Elly. For her part, she knew exactly what she was getting into long before she married. While others were left with no choice but to become primary earners, Elly admits to choosing to be a breadwinner in order to maintain a certain lifestyle.
2. Strong Sense of Responsibility
Another clear theme that emerged from the data is that Filipino FBWs seem to have a strong sense of responsibility. As was pointed out previously, majority of the participants in the study became breadwinners purely out of circumstance and not by conscious choice. It bears pointing out therefore, that some were already breadwinners prior to getting married. In the case of Hazelle, Erlinda, and Lani for example, these women were already providing for their immediate families long before settling down. In fact, some continue to be breadwinners for their families of origin.
3. Feeling more Empowered
All nine participants expressed feeling a sense of empowerment as a result of their experience as a female breadwinner. For some it came as a realization, while for others, it was something they have always known.
Twenty nine year old Ina shares the same feeling and adds that the realization came as a surprise. The experience has also emboldened her to go at things alone in case things between her and her husband fail to work out.
Being the primary earner of their respective families allowed these women to challenge their own preconceived gender stereotypes in relation to what a woman can and cannot do, or even what a woman should and should not be doing. Erlinda, who earns 70% of her family’s total income working as a Supply Chain Manager for a health company points out that being the breadwinner freed her from notions about women only fulfilling a housewife role.
In addition, assuming the role of breadwinner made Lani, who earns 75% of her family’s income, not only more confident, but also more certain about her feelings towards her husband, especially in light of their current marital difficulties.
4. Exercising Deference to One’s Partner
It is interesting to note that despite being the primary breadwinner of their respective families, nine out of the eleven participants did not automatically take on the responsibility of making decisions for their families. It did not make much of a difference how much contribution they make, as they all based their decision-making arrangements traditionally, or at the very least, cooperatively.
The most common arrangement in terms of decision-making among the participants is one that is based on mutual respect for one another. Elly, who works as a Recruitment Head at a multi-national company shares her experience:
Even Annaliz who mostly takes charge of everything, still defers to her husband when it comes to making decisions about the family. She clarifies that even though she makes important financial decisions, she does not believe that the power dynamics in their relationship have shifted:
Lani and her husband also have the same arrangement. While she is free to decide how she wants to spend her own money, Lani nevertheless consults her husband regarding other matters of import. The same is true for Erlinda and her husband, who also makes decisions mutually.
Still for others, deference is paid to their husbands merely because they are men. That is, some of the participants seem to insist on including their husbands in on the decision-making process simply by virtue of them being men. The most telling of this tendency is shared by Hazelle, who not only supports her own family, but also supports the family of her two siblings: “Kino-consult ko pa rin syempre. Lalaki kasi eh. Nirerespeto ko desisyon nya kahit na minsan salungat sa gusto kong mangyari.” Also, another participant, Erice, views joint-decision making as giving respect to her husband.
Arlene on the other hand, sees the ability to make decisions as a right of the partner.
Nevertheless, there are two participants who do not share the same arrangements when it comes to decision-making. Yanice, who works as a house helper for example, says that she has always been in charge of financial decision-making even when her husband was still able to work. While Ina would still consult her husband occasionally, she nevertheless feels that her husband has ceded decision-making rights to her:
5. Valuing their Partner’s Contribution
Another theme that emerged from the interviews conducted was the participants’ valuing of their partner’s contribution, however simple. What became evident is that the participants seem not to mind the disproportionate support relative to finances as long as their partners make up for it in other ways. As Arlene points out: “Tayo namang mga babae hindi madamot. Ibibigay natin hanggat kaya natin. Ang gusto lang natin konting lambing, effort, sorry, thank you.” This is clearly evident in Dina’s as well as Teresa’s case as they reveal that their husbands make sure that they feel relaxed after a long day at work.
The same may be said of Hazelle, who currently earns 90% of their family’s income. She appreciates the little things her husband does even if at times, all he can do is take care of household chores: “Alam ko kasi hanggang dun lang muna ang kaya niya.”
Erlinda on the other hand appreciates how her husband makes sure that he is able to spend quality time with their children despite being busy with work.
One participant in particular is very understanding and compassionate towards her husband’s meager contributions.
Similarly, Lani says she harbors no ill feelings towards her husband because she understand why he had to quit. She especially appreciates his efforts to earn in spite of what happened to him: “Hindi ako nagagalit sa kanya na nawala sya sa barko kasi accident yung nangyari sa kanya. Hindi naman sya naging bum din kasi, marunong syang dumiskarte at maghanap ng ibang pagkakakitaan.”
Curiously, two of the eleven participants do not seem to share the valuing the other participants give to their partners’ efforts. Comparing their experiences with those of the other participants, it becomes clear that Ina’s and Annaliz’s respective husbands fail to perform certain deeds that is commonly interpreted as showing concern. Annaliz in particular, decries her husband’s lack of sensitivity.
What is clear then from the data is that whatever frustrations the participants may be feeling about their current circumstances, it is usually counterbalanced by their partner’s efforts to make life a little easier for them—no matter if the effort is as simple as washing the dishes—so the wife no longer has to. This was distinctly pointed out in Erice’s case: “… But when my husband shows he’s not pabigat, hindi ko masyado ramdam yung hirap.”
6. Experiencing Sporadic Feelings of Resentment
Despite valuing their partners’ contributions to ease their burden of being the primary breadwinners, the participants of this study are not immune to having feelings of resentment towards their partners whenever they feel that the men in their lives are being insensitive to their plight. These feelings of resentment are especially poignant at any time the women are feeling particularly stressed out.
Sometimes these could even lead to arguments between couples. These feelings of resentment are usually triggered whenever participants feel that their partners are not being considerate of their situation as breadwinners. This is evident in Erice’s case as she sometimes feel that her husband is not doing enough for their family.
Sometimes they even lead to feelings of self-pity as in the case Lani, when she wonders about her fate: “But there are also times when I have these moments of depression or questioning my fate na, ‘san na yung plano namin na sariling house?’ Minsan when I cook in our current house, I’ll feel sad kasi hindi ito yung plano kong kitchen, kasi nga di natuloy yung house building namin.” Yanice for her part, would sometimes wonder: “Minsan naawa ako sa sarili ko kasi dapat tulungan ang mag-asawa diba?” Not unlike the others, she also gets angry when she comes home after a hard day’s work and find the house untidy.
Even Elly who, it will be recalled, willingly chose to be a breadwinner, still feels resentment over the seeming insensitivity of her husband.
What the answers of the participants seem to suggest is that husbands tend to unwittingly offend their partners when they fail to take into consideration the magnitude of their wives’ responsibility. Sometimes, husbands fail to take into account what their partner goes through that they come across as insensitive as illustrated by Lani’s case.
Paraguas, S., Guintu, V. & Cruz, N.(2014). The Phenomenological Experience of Female Breadwinners in Metro Manila. Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines.