Behind all great men is a woman, they say. What they don’t say, or at least not out loud, is behind many successful women is an unhappy, even resentful, husband. Not all, of course, but many.
The angst is understandable. Males grow up believing that they must protect, procreate and provide. The 3Ps are almost inbuilt in their DNA, courtesy biology, evolution and the environment. Barring the bad guys in real and reel life, very few men today are called upon to ‘protect’ any more.
Procreation is a once- or twice-in-a-lifetime activity, and, there too, it’s a joint venture. That leaves ‘providing’ as the only thing that men have to do on a regular basis, to demonstrate their masculinity. Fortunately, the options on how to ‘hunt down’ a career and bring home the bacon are limitless. Unfortunately, those options now exist for women too, especially the ones willing to rejig the rules at home and forge their own stellar careers.
Imagine what this means to the husbands who’ve grown up believing that they’re going to be Numero Uno at home, like their fathers and grandfather before them. Drop them in the new scenario, and boom. Their world can’t but be shattered.
Even if a celebrity wife takes pains to be sensitive to her husband’s feelings and tries and empowers him as much as possible, life is thorny for him. Margaret Thatcher’s husband Denis is said to have found the early years of his wife’s political career so destabilising that he contemplated divorcing her. According to writer Nayantara Sahgal, Feroze Gandhi was always welcome at Teen Murti where Indira Gandhi lived but he “chose to treat himself as an outsider and behaved with scant courtesy when he came to a meal or to spend time with his sons.” Of India’s three women chief ministers, two are divorced and one, perhaps wisely, has never married.
Not that all husbands feel the need to be more powerful or rich than their wives. If not deliriously happy (and how many wives are that either?), some seem to be content working quietly around their spouse’s success. Consider the cameraman who’s been married to Julia Roberts since 2002 and has three children with her. Or Madhuri Dixit’s doctor-husband. How many of us even know the two men’s names? Yet, both, I’m told, are happy, managing work and family.
Which brings us to the man who needs to be lauded for successfully playing the longest-running part of supportive spouse. Prince Philip, who retired last week from official duties at age 96, has been acting as Elizabeth II’s consort since she became monarch in 1952. As many of us learnt from watching TV series Crown, his has been a life of renunciation. He had to renounce his Greek and Danish titles to marry the then-princess. He had to give up his naval career and his family name. He even had to quit smoking, overnight, because his wife wanted him to.
In his 70-year marriage, he has never had to provide for anyone. Instead, he’s done wifely things like interior design. He’s taught his children to swim, sail and ride. He’s followed his wife around the world. And yet, no one sees him as anything but a man. Maybe one who’s famous for his gaffes. But what’s a little political incorrectness when your whole life has been dedicated to watching out for your family? I’d say that’s a man who never has to worry about his manliness.