When it comes to gender roles, whether in relationships or society in general, I often find myself in a bit of quandary. Despite the many negative connotations that the word tends to bring these days, I do still consider myself a feminist, mainly because there are countries & societies in our world in which women still have very few, if any, rights (e.g. Saudi Arabia). However, much more importantly I consider myself a humanist because I see value in all people, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other such factor, & I truly believe in our ability to better ourselves as individuals & the human species as a whole (although I’ll admit we are woefully bad at this much of the time, but that’s a topic for another day). I also have no difficulty recognizing & no problem admitting that men face their own unique challenges in this world in which we inhabit, particularly perhaps in modern America (& other similar societies). I’ve touched on that subject before on this blog & will certainly revisit it again someday, hopefully in the not too distant future.
Anyway, one of my greatest strengths (& weaknesses, at times) in life is that I’m a great analyzer. I’m constantly observing the world around me & the people in it. Even as a kid, I quickly realized that I was considerably more analytical than the average person. In any case, one of the many things I find fascinating to observe is how other couples handle gender roles in relationships.
For context, I grew up with parents who on the surface held fairly traditional gender roles in that my mom did most of the traditionally feminine housework like cooking & laundry while my dad did most of the traditionally masculine chores like mowing the yard & taking out the trash. However, one of the things I’ve always admired about my parents is the flexibility they modeled in their relationship. For example, my parents almost always did the dishes together every night (bizarrely, they to this day do not have an automatic dishwasher). Furthermore, in some cases my mom actually took on a more traditionally masculine role; for example, she was more of the disciplinarian between the two of them, while my dad was the softer-spoken one who in some ways could be considered more nurturing, which is of course generally considered a more feminine trait.
The other couple whose gender roles I observed a lot as a child/teen was of course my grandparents. In their case, they had much more strictly defined gender roles, & even as a child I couldn’t help but notice that this seemed (to me) to create some friction between them at times. I’m in no way questioning their love for each other; I’m just saying that like almost anything else in life, a lack of flexibility often leads to resentment & a lack of understanding between parties. Hell, you can even observe this in old TV shows like I Love Lucy (a show I watched religiously growing up) in which the characters have very strict gender roles.
As it turns out, I intentionally married a man who has a very different personality than my dad (& is perhaps more similar to my grandfather, now that I stop & think about it) while still maintaining a strong work ethic & commitment to our relationship, like my dad has towards my mom. This is not meant as any offense to my dad; I just knew even at a young age that I needed someone with a much “stronger” (for lack of a better word at the moment) personality than my dad. I was a pretty damn insightful teenager, let me tell you that!
Now that I’ve tooted my own horn a bit, I can get down to the real point of this post, which is this:
When it comes to gender roles, particularly in romantic relationships, the best advice I can give anyone is just do what comes naturally to you. If in 90% of relationships this means the woman does more of the cooking & laundry & the man does more of the yard-work & car maintenance, so be it.
The point is that you work together as a TEAM to get the needed work done & that you have a flexible attitude so that no one ever says “I can’t do that. That’s YOUR job.” Yes, I do more dishes & laundry than my husband, while he mows the yard & handles the taxes, but the point is that none of this stuff is set in stone. If I’m working three nights in a row (those are 12-hr shifts, mind you) & my husband sees that the dishes & laundry are piling up, he’ll start them without even being asked. And you better believe I love & appreciate him so much for that, just as he appreciates when I take out the trash or pitch in with some of the other chores that he typically handles when he’s busy at work or out of town.
When it comes to raising kids, I’m probably going to be a lot more traditionally feminine than perhaps I want to admit. There is a part of me that cringes at the idea of being a stay at home mom, yet there is a larger part of me that cringes at the idea of trying to raise babies & toddlers while also working full time. (I’m thinking working part time is the best solution to this dilemma.) I just can’t wrap my brain around trying to stretch myself that thin, especially since our family is in another state. Plus there is a huge part of me that feels like if I’m going to invest so much of myself into being pregnant & going through labor, then why the hell would I let a daycare raise that child? To be even more blunt, why would I bring life into this world & then not spend as much time with it as humanly possible?
Believe me, I understand that most families cannot afford to have a stay at home mom (or dad). And I fully anticipate that I will end up working part time when we do start a family because, if for no other reason, I don’t want to lose my nursing skills by leaving the workforce entirely, even just for a few years. I also think all adults need a certain amount of adult interaction to maintain their sanity . . . Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that while I’ve only in the past year or two really embraced the idea of motherhood, I’ve quickly found myself anticipating a more traditional mom role than perhaps I’d have predicted in years past.
And the greater point is that while many, if not most, women will agree with me on this subject, some may not, & that’s ok. On the same token, most men will not want to be stay at home dads, no matter how much they love their kids. But some may. And that’s ok too.
The final point here is that while we can make generalities about both genders & the roles each tends to fulfill & the personalities each tends to model, at the end of the day we are all human beings & as such our commonalities are much greater than our differences. Furthermore each person, regardless of gender, should be evaluated on his or her own merits & not forced to fit any particular mold, whatever that may be. I’m a bit of a rebel myself in some ways so there is a part of me that always loves those who buck trends & say “screw you” to stereotypes, but I’m also smart enough to realize that there is nothing wrong with fulfilling traditional gender roles, as long as you’re doing so out of your own natural desire & inclination.
In conclusion, I’ll never be the girl who wears a lot of pink, frilly dresses, stilettos, or tons of makeup. Hell, at 26 I still can’t even put on eyeliner competently. I swear too much & talk too loud to be lady-like, & I listen to lots of heavy music that could definitely be considered masculine. When it comes to exercise, I hate running, yet I love lifting weights. But I also play the flute & piano, perhaps the two most quintessentially feminine instruments on Earth, & I chose to become a nurse, one of the most quintessentially feminine careers on the planet. Even as an adult I collect stuffed animals, & if/when I become a mom someday I sincerely hope I’ll always place my children above my career. The point is I like to think I embody a fair amount of both traditionally feminine & traditionally masculine ideals, & I also like to think I’m better off because of it.
And the greater point is that regardless of our gender it shouldn’t define us or enslave us. If we choose to embrace the more traditional roles of our given gender, that’s fine. And if we choose to do the opposite, that’s fine too. Neither choice is right or wrong, only different. When it comes to gender roles & relationships, each couple just needs to figure out what works for them & make the best of it. As I’ve stated many times before, there is no one prescription for success in life. If someone else’s journey looks different than yours, that doesn’t mean theirs is wrong & yours is right or vice versa.
As my final conclusion, if there’s anything I hope to convey in this post today, it’s this:
Be real. Be human. Be you.
And walk away from anyone who can’t handle any or all of the above.