Traveling Roles: Role Changes at Work and at Home in Estonian Emigrant Families with a Female Breadwinner

Lee Maripuu 

The article focuses on families in which migration was initiated by women whose husbands followed them as co-migrants. In the families studied women became the primary breadwinners of the families after their move to the foreign country and the primary role of the husbands in the target country was taking care of the children and home.  The results demonstrated that migration may result in the reversal of the traditional role division within the family that would be inconceivable in the country of origin.  Thus migration changed not just the geo- graphical location but also the milieu of social and gender relations.  The article seeks to find out when and how such social territories are created in the time and space of migration that legitimate untraditional gender relations. While from the perspective of timing men’s dedication to family was made possible and legitimated by downturns on the Estonian labour market, departure from Estonia created a social and physical space where they could safely practice the role of the primary parent and dependent partner.  e existence of a network of similar families in the target country provided men with a sense of security that the status of a househusband was not anomalous but typical. Physical separation from the Estonian social environment created a certain convenience zone – although women and men had to justify the husband’s staying at home to their Estonian friends and relatives, migration created distance between families and the networks that evaluate them, allowing some protection from challenges. Thus the distinct migration and family practices of such families can be viewed as social laboratories where one can safely experiment with lifestyles that are problematized in the country of origin and its construction of hegemonic masculinity. Estonian culture of success and construction of men’s masculine identities through paid work does not support the practicing of caring father- hood, but in an environment where there are many similar men, masculinity that differs from the norm is accepted with greater tolerance.