Allah says: "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because of what Allah has preferred one with over the other and because of what they spend to support them from their wealth." [Sûrah al-Nisâ': 34]
What does this status of "Protector and Maintainer: entail? Its chief duty is for the man to provide financially for his wife according to what is customary, so she will not be forced to work to support herself or rely on other people for her support. Another aspect of this duty is to provide her with proper clothing and shelter and safeguard her respect and honor.
In return, the wife is supposed to obey her husband according to what is customary and lawful. She should also safeguard his honor in his absence and maintain the affairs of the household.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The woman is the caretaker of her husband's home and she is responsible for what is under her charge." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (893) and Sahîh Muslim (1829)]
It is not an aspect of a man's status as protector for him to impose his will upon a woman. It does not mean that he can be stingy in his spending on her or deny her the good things that Allah has made lawful for her.
It does not mean that he can smack her around or treat her like a slave.
It is also not an aspect of his role of protector that he can dismiss her opinions or belittle them. Her mind is her own. It is not a man's role to dictate the thoughts and opinions of those he must care for.
Islam is innocent of such distortions of its teachings. Men have a preferential status as guardians and protectors, but this preferentiality is indeed limited to the added responsibilities this status entails. This is clear from the literal wording of the verse.
The preferentiality mentioned in the verse does not mean that Allah has made men categorically superior to or better than women. Indeed, the best and most honored of people with Allah are those who are the most God-fearing. This is the criterion for true and absolute superiority that Allah has set forth in the Qur'ân.
He says: “O mankind! We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). [Sûrah al-Hujurât: 13]
And Allah knows best.