Yours in holy “manimony”

More women are paying alimony to their ex-husbands.

Topics: Broadsheet, Gender, Love and Sex,

The road to gender equality has been plenty bumpy so far, and shows few signs of reaching Zamboni smoothness anytime soon. One of its odder new divots includes a rise in the incidence of “manimony” — that is to say, alimony paid to a man. An article on CNN.com implies that few men seek it, but it is on the rise.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of male alimony recipients “rose to 3.6 percent during the five years ending in 2006, up from 2.4 percent.” This phenomenon is the shadow of a more heartening statistic — wives in 2005, they continue, “outearned their husbands in 33 percent of all families, up from 28.2 percent a decade earlier.”

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Could it be? Is the 19th century really over? Well, not quite. Given the roots of marriage as a financial transaction in which a woman became a man’s property, there’s still nothing that emasculates a man quite like a wife who turns the tables on him financially. That’s how the stigma against being supported by a former spouse remains a bias against women. Sure, the peanut gallery will think of the guy who’s supported by his ex-wife as a deadbeat. He may even think of himself disparagingly, and that may be why the majority of lower-earning men still reject payments as a post-divorce option. But that’s because hubby’s loath to play what we still consider a female role — receiving support from a higher-earning ex.

Though many women may have gloated over lucrative divorce settlements in the past, they didn’t have, and were not expected to have, alternative means of support. It must sometimes feel like sweet vengeance to shake a man down for his part in denying women access to financial independence otherwise. Conversely, when a man takes such traditionally female revenge, we may recoil at his action, and his wife may say, like manimony payer Rhonda Friedman told the WSJ, that she feels “financially raped.” Income disparity be damned, men still have advantages over women in business, but certainly not all women, and perhaps not the women they married. So the question becomes: Does maleness always create enough of an advantage that manimony will turn into the new reverse racism? Or should we pretend that equality already exists so that, one day, it will?

James Hannaham is a staff writer at Salon.

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