Over at CNN Money last week, MP Dunleavy wrote a post about the increasing numbers of women who are breadwinners in their families. As part of her post, she mentioned a post titled “The Rise of the Sugar Mamma” by Manisha Thakor. I’ve been thinking about this moniker for almost a week, and trying to process how I feel about it. And, for the most part, I’m not sure that I like the way we have to attach gender to everything we do — even if it is true that traditionally the male is the primary breadwinner in most married households. (This is rapidly changing, though, with women increasingly becoming primary breadwinners and co-breadwinners.)

Here is what Dunleavy writes about the idea of using “sugar mamma” as a term of empowerment, as well as the difficulty in trying to find a way to describe women who are increasingly becoming a force in family finances:

I get that Thakor wants to turn the tables on the old notion of women being dependent on a “sugar daddy” by showing that many higher-earning women are economically able to support themselves and their spouses and families.

I also agree that we could use a better moniker than “female breadwinner,” which is clunky, or “alpha wife,” which implies a certain level of competition and hostility within a marriage that may not be there.

Um, why can’t those of us who provide the main financial support for our families — whether we’re women or men — simply be “primary breadwinners”? I don’t go around telling people I’m a “female breadwinner”. No, I tell them I’m the primary breadwinner. (Sometimes I say I’m a work from home mom.) One of the big problems we have with overcoming gender stereotypes and gendered roles in our society is that we often assume that something out of the ordinary in the financial world has to be “female” and something normal is “male.” But what if we began accepting that a primary breadwinner could be male or female? I think that starts with women proclaiming themselves, just as men do, “primary breadwinners.”

Gendered Finances

Part of the issue, of course, is women’s relatively recent entrance into the world of finances. For a long time, finances have been seen as the realm of men, and women who become involved in finances are seen as oddities, or seen mainly as coupon clippers. To a certain extent, women’s rare forays into issues related to investing, primary breadwinning and other areas of finance traditionally dominated by men, have necessitated special articles and blog posts aimed at addressing problems that women might have in venturing out into the world of finance. I admit that I’ve written a few of those posts about what women can do to improve their finances. But, even though those posts are written with women in mind, the truth is that men can often benefit from those posts as well, and that financial literacy isn’t confined to one gender.

How do we break out of gender stereotypes in finance? I’m not sure. But perhaps it starts with not assuming that any one gender has the corner on different aspects of finance. After all, we don’t say “female investor” or “male coupon clipper”. Why do we need to say that a primary breadwinner is female? If you can see that she is a woman, it seems redundant to call her a “female breadwinner.” And, using the term “sugar mamma” isn’t exactly nice when you think about the cultural implications that come with it. After all, what does that say about the male in the relationship? That he has just married the woman for her money?

Marriage should be a partnership, and that includes financial arrangements, whether or not you open a joint bank account, and no matter who is the primary breadwinner.



Miranda is freelance journalist. She specializes in topics related to money, especially personal finance, small business, and investing. You can read more of my writing at Planting Money Seeds.