Rise of the Female Breadwinners: Brenner Stiles 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SARAH LYONS
  • Photo by Sarah Lyons

Brenner Stiles

35; divorced
Children: Daughter, 17, son, 10
Job title: Peer support specialist with Department of Veteran Affairs
Estimated annual income: $50,000-$75,000 Education: B.A., enrolled in M.B.A. program

How did you get to be the primary breadwinner?

To be honest with you, I think it goes way, way back to when I was a child. First of all, I grew up as an only child for the first 10 years and I was always very independent, very active, a go-getter, busy-body. I wanted to do everything, I wanted to compete against the boys and play Barbies with the girls… [and] I’ve just always focused on goals. …. So I think the reason why I’m the primary breadwinner is because it’s just in my nature. I always joke that if I were a man, I would have been an awesome husband. I just do it all. I am not the kind of woman that believes that I need to date a specific kind of man, who has to make the same kind of money that I do or has to have the same type of education. My boyfriend has no college education. He works on and off in the oil fields. He makes money, but sometimes there are dry periods and he’s not making any money. So then I have to be the one to pick up things. I’ve always just been an independent woman…I don’t care if I was married to a man who was a millionaire. If I had to, I’d volunteer my time doing something, that’s just me. I’m just a busy-body and I think that’s why I’ll always be the primary breadwinner.

Describe your current job

I’ll try not to get emotional, but I understand the veterans a lot more [Ed. Note: Stiles is a disabled veteran]. I can be so much more empathetic and help veterans restore their honor… I’ll be dealing with a lot of post-traumatic stress and mental disorders. It’s a tough job but I’m excited for it.

Is this the job that you thought you’d always be doing?

To be honest with you, no. But I took the Briggs-Meyer personality test and it said that I was in the right line of work, as a public person… social services, basically. Did I always dream of that? No. I always wanted to be that business-type person, but then again, now that I’m looking at my own personality, I have a lot of love and compassion and I realize that’s not for me. I could never work in the corporate world… because I have a lot of ethics and I’m just not a cold-hearted person. Money is not really the object of my desire. … I one day see myself working in foreign countries, maybe for the U.N. or something like that, offering aid. … Other than that, no, I never saw myself in that light as a kid. As a matter of fact, I never saw myself having kids as a kid. I never dreamed of the knight in shining armor. I always thought of myself as a woman in a business suit. But I’m happy with what I do.

At what age do you plan to retire?

Lord willing I want to retire 55-56. Just to get a laugh out of people, I say ‘when I get older I’m going to be one of those ladies that’s really, really skinny and really sexy with A LOT of make-up, and big Texas hair and the newest Cadillac on the market and gold teeth or something.’… I feel like when you’re that old and you’ve accomplished what you want to accomplish and you have nothing else to do in life, you can do whatever and you don’t care what people think… I think right now as a professional you have to be very careful about the way you look, the way you act, the way you dress, what you say. It’s like living in a box. I’m a very free-natured person but because I have kids and I have to maintain a certain lifestyle, I have to be very careful about what I do. …You have to be very careful with your reputation.

Do you think that’s harder as a woman?

The standards are totally different. I’m glad you asked that, nobody’s ever asked that before. Secretly I just think about that to myself… Men can be married and have affairs, have girlfriends, and they can still have really high positions. They can be the mayor for goodness’ sakes, or governor. And it’s OK. But if a woman does that, it’s totally different: ‘she’s a tramp’ or ‘she slept her way to the top.’ The standards are just different. I think the pay is different for women and men, even though people say ‘it’s not different, women have come a long way,’ No, it is different…even promotions are different.
Men can go out and drink and say whatever they want to say. I’ve been in board meetings with men who curse like sailors and I’m like ‘Oh my goodness, what If I were to do that?’ How would people look at me? I think language, and how you carry yourself is different. Men can be complete assholes and it’s OK. ‘He’s this strong man, he’s a good business man, he doesn’t play around.’ But if a woman does that? ‘Oh no, you don’t want to work with her, she’s a complete bitch.’ I don’t think that much has changed. I think what has changed is that we were given an opportunity because of federal laws and civil rights, certain laws that protect women. If we didn’t have those laws in place, I think things would be like they were, really bad. There was a lot of sexual harassment, and to be honest with you, that still exists. I’ve seen it. Lots and lots of sexual harassment. Even though there’s laws in place for that and whistleblower laws to protect you, if you use them, I don’t care what nobody says, that’s still going to keep you from promotion.


How do you think that society views female breadwinners?

A lot of people don’t realize we work twice as hard, that we have two jobs in essence, because you’re working a fulltime job to make money, then you still have to come home, wash clothes, be a soccer mom. That is so draining, it’s ridiculous. A lot of times I would get out of work at 5 p.m., my son would have football practice at 6 p.m., by the time I get home it’s 5:30 p.m. Then we don’t leave practice until 8 p.m. By the time we get home it’s 8:30 p.m., homework still needs to be done. …There’s a lot that society doesn’t see you do.

Do you feel like you have parenting and childcare support from your family and community?

My support, by the grace of God, is from my parents. …. My mom is still a stay at home mom, I love her to death, she cooks dinner every night. When I get off work, I can go to her house, she only lives 5-10 minutes away from me, and she’s cooked dinner. She can pick [my son] up from school. My brother is awesome, he can help him with his homework. … My support system definitely comes from my family and we believe in that very strongly. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.

Has having kids altered your career path?

It definitely has. Not in a bad way, it just kind of slowed me down, but my career path has kept moving forward. I was 18 when I had my daughter. I joined the military at 20, by the time I was 19 I had my own apartment, my own car.  As soon as I graduated high school I enrolled in college. I took advantage of every opportunity that was out there. I myself was on low-income housing because when you have a kid at a very young age and you’re coming straight out of high school, there’s no way that you can afford to have a very lavish lifestyle. I went to school at St. Phillips College. …I enrolled my daughter into a daycare low-income program for mothers who wanted to go back to school. I took advantage of every opportunity that was there and then the car broke down but that didn’t stop me. I would take the bus from the North Side of town all the way to the East Side of town and that was an hour, an hour and a half, drive, and then I’d drop her off at daycare and then get on another bus to go to school. So, to me there’s no excuse. Even though you have a child at a young age, if you want to achieve something, you can do it. You just have to look for the services and pray a lot. [laughs] It got to a point where I got tired of working dead-end jobs [and] I decided to join the military. I said ‘they pay for your college and I’ll get some skills, because right now I don’t have any skills and I’ve been trying to get a good job that has good benefits and no one is willing to hire me because I just don’t have what it takes according to paper.’

What’s the most challenging aspect of raising your kids?

Time. I think if I were a stay at home mom I would be able to invest so much more time. I’d be able to be more patient. I think the high levels of stress and working kind of alters your patience, because there’s some days where you’re just tired. Sometimes, it’s sad to say, I have to fake the patience. … But if I had more time with them I think I could make better memories.

What can employers do to make being a working mom easier?

Offer afterschool daycare, or pay for afterschool daycare would be nice. Maybe give me some times where I can work from home. …If it’s just reports they need me to do, no meetings to go to, let me do those at home. In the meantime while I’m working on reports or thinking up new ideas for the company I can be cleaning up and catching up on house duties. I can take a business call while I’m washing dishes. Maybe that’s living in a fantasy world, but I’m just trying to think of how you can kill two birds with one stone but at the same time give the company what they need.

Has having a career altered your personal relationships?

I really don’t have a lot of friends because I don’t have that kind of free time in between taking care of kids, spending time with my family, spending time with my boyfriend, trying to work out, trying to have personal time. Where do you fit friends in?
My boyfriend, oh gosh, it does alter our relationship because when he wants his time, I’m tired. …. A lot of times when I was working 12, 14, 15 hours a day, he was like ‘what are you doing? Why are you still at work?’ … He didn’t understand that. Sometimes I felt that he was jealous, like when I got promotions he didn’t seem genuinely happy for me…because I was making more money than him. He would say I changed, I don’t think I changed, but I don’t know.

Why wouldn’t men be OK with female breadwinners?

It’s a macho thing. It’s a masculine thing. The man has always been the breadwinner. You might have one man who’s OK with that, but the other men in the neighborhood are working and supporting their families. So when they all get together to play cards, guess what, they’re going to get on him for that. Maybe secretly they’re jealous, but they’re going to make him feel like less of a man, because that’s just how men are. I think society isn’t exactly 100 percent ready for that.

Can guys still be masculine without being more successful than a woman?

Yes. Personally, I don’t like men who have big egos. … I like a real down-to-earth natural guy who’s laid-back but still knows how to put his foot down and make a decision. That’s probably why I’m still the breadwinner, because I focus on those kinds of men.




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