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I’m the Primary Breadwinner, Not a Sugar Mamma

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.

6 Responses to I’m the Primary Breadwinner, Not a Sugar Mamma

  1. Hi Miranda – What a beautiful & well thought out piece. Your family is lucky to have such a thoughtful & insightful primary breadwinner. I especially loved your concluding point: “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.” Amen to that!

    As I mentioned to MP (who is a dear and much admired friend of mine), I deliberately chose the controversial term “Sugar Mamma” because I wanted to encourage people to think about the rise of female breadwinners through a different lens. As with term “pregnant man” (ie in the context that a couple may say “we’re pregnant”), it shakes you up and it is not intended to be a mirror opposite. In fact, I couldn’t think of a single historical example of a widely known “Sugar Mamma” so I decided to define it myself as: “A woman who wants to be in the financial driver’s seat of her life.” It’s NOT intended to be the opposite of a “Sugar Daddy” but rather to reclaim a term that has historically been very denigrating to women (“Sugar Daddy”) and reclaim and redefine it in a way that is empowering to women and the forward-thinking men who cheer us on.

    Lastly – on a gender neutral world. I’m so with you. It would be divine if that were the case. But as a Harvard MBA with 15 years experience working in the financial services industry as an analyst, portfolio manager, and client relations executive, it is VERY clear to me that the default language, vibe, and power base of finance remains male. While we are getting closer, we’re not at gender equality yet. (Gloria Feldt’s wonderful new book NO EXCUSES describes this beautifully). So with the best of intentions (and understanding that not everyone will agree with me) my work around the “Rise of The Sugar Mamma” is intended to help nudge things just a little closer to that finish line where we can truly live in a society characterized by gender equality.

    In the meantime, your delightful post provides excellent food for thought. I look forward to reading more of your work & I’d love to stay in touch with you!


    • Thanks for stopping by! I really enjoy your posts over at Forbes, but for some reason, I really got to thinking about Sugar Mamma, and then the piece at CNN Money got me thinking more. I like the way you define Sugar Mamma, but, sadly, you are right about the male power base. I guess I’m not sanguine that the way we as women define something is the way that society will ultimately see it, since everything is still so defined from a male perspective. But I do love your work. You do a great job of helping women improve their finances. It’s important for women to feel more empowered about money — it’s the only way to move toward true partnership on a financial level.

    • You want to break out of gender stereotypes, but you write with women in mind? Uhh, you might want to rethink that one. You might also consider whether discussing the “male power base” and the “male perspective” and “helping women” and “it’s important for women”, etc, is really going to “break the trend of gendered finances” or break out of gendered stereotypes.

      And if you really seek a “true partnership” then there you have to give up being the primary breadwinner. In a “true partnership” there is no “primary.”

    • Your attempt at backtracking from your original intent, due to the criticism, is transparent and totally unconvincing. Fortunately you learned that women are turned off by it and so you try to turn it into something less objectionable, but in doing so you end up with something meaningless. If you simply mean a woman in control of her own finances, how does that make her a sugar mamma? It doesn’t. It’s clear that you intended something else, that was demeaned men, but now that you face criticism from women, you’re claiming a different definition that cannot possibly fit. You don’t know as much about women as you thought, which makes you unqualified to speak to or for women.

      Hopefully the near unanimous rejection of your chosen title will cause you to mature and think more seriously about the real financial issues of life, and less about male bashing and gender superiority.

  2. It’s posts like this that will begin to break the trend of gendered finances…. You are the primary breadwinner and that is that, I don’t need to even know your gender as it is unimportant.

    Great post.

  3. Very good points. I am the primary breadwinner and it’s not easy bucking the majority.

    I appreciate that Manisha Thakor explained what she meant by the term sugar mama, but it doesn’t matter. The general public is going to think of it as the female version of a sugar daddy and I don’t want that tag.

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