On Gender Roles in the Modern Era

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.gender scales

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 relationshipsgender role

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.gender-marriage-couples

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.I love Lucy

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. teamwork marriage

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.dishes cartoon

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?

Hey, there is a lot of truth in this . . .

Hey, there is a lot of truth in this . . .

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.labels

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.

Lzzy Hale is definitely a role model for me in some ways. She's gorgeous & feminine in some ways but also a total badass.

Lzzy Hale is definitely a role model for me as a modern woman. She’s gorgeous & feminine in some ways but also a total badass.

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. gender bird

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.  Dalai lama quote

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.

The Great Mommy Dilemma

Why, hello, 3:00 a.m., I never thought we should be so well acquainted.  I worked the past three nights & apparently my body is still stuck on night-shift mode which happens occasionally.  Honestly, I’m not sure why most of the world so resents being awake at 3:00 a.m.  It’s really a very nice time of night, though I suppose less so if you’re stuck in the dreaded 9-5 world.

Anyway, tonight I woke up just before 1:00 a.m. & haven’t been able to go back to sleep since then.  Naturally my mind is whirling with questions about life because that’s basically what my brain does any time it’s awake, regardless of what time the clock reads.  Tonight’s topic was inspired by a recent conversation at work in which a new coworker asked me if I had kids.  My response of course was no & I’m not sure if/when I ever want them.  This of course was met with the typical raised eyebrows & quizzical glances which it always inspires, particularly from other women.  I’m used to the reaction but it still bothers me a bit.  In the twenty-first century, is it really still so odd to imagine that a woman could have a uterus, yet have no real intention or desire to use it?  I know, I know, everyone says I’ll change my mind someday.  And I very well may.  But supposing I don’t . . . Is there really something WRONG with me for not wanting to have children? 


From a biological perspective, I suppose it IS a rather odd choice.  After all you don’t see very many childless females in the animal kingdom.  (I’m sure there are some obscure examples, but for the most part females in the animal kingdom, mammals anyway, are rarely childless.)  The biological imperative is to procreate to ensure the propagation of the species.  And yet I seem to have been born without a particular urge to do so.  As a woman, the world views this with a certain amount of suspicion.  Perhaps they are justified in doing so.  But I must say it’s rather unpleasant to be on the receiving end of this suspicion sometimes.

Trust me, I don’t fear having children because I don’t want to give up partying & drinking at all hours of the night.  I’ve never been one to participate in such “pleasures.”  It’s giving up my freedom to write blog posts at 3:00 a.m. & work 40 hours a week without having to come home to anyone who needs to me to take care of them 24/7 that I don’t want to give up.

I came from where

Regarding parenting challenges, it’s not the difficult conversations about death or sex or the essence of morality that scare me.  To all of that, I say bring it on.  I can’t wait to teach my children to be critical thinkers & skeptics like me!  It’s the tedious processes of breastfeeding & toilet-training & other such endeavors that scare me senseless.  Everyone says (& there is probably research to back this up) that the first few years of a child’s life are absolutely essential in bonding with the parent & forming a relationship that will last a lifetime.  Well, since I don’t particularly like children under about age five, if I have any kids I worry they’ll be screwed for life . . . And I already value any children I may have far too highly to risk scarring them so badly . . . Why can’t kids pop out at age five or six, toilet-trained, eating solid food, & ready to take on the world?  You may laugh, but I am serious!

Even on the days when I do feel more inclined to be a mom, I’m met with the veritable dilemma over how to balance children & career.  I was raised in the generation of women who were told we could “have it all.”  But many of us are finding that the world isn’t so utopian as all that.  When I look at the world around me, I’m presented with plenty of evidence that trying to juggle raising a family (young children anyway) & a full-time job is about as easy & as fun as facing a lion, a tiger, a bear, a wolf, & a shark, all at the same time, without any sort of weapon at all.  In other words, it’s hell.

modern motherhood

Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but I think there are legitimate reasons why many women leave behind even the best careers to be “stay-at-home” moms.  First of all, maternity leave in America is a joke.  And second of all childcare is expensive, even for the more well-to-do among us.  Additionally there are the emotional rewards of raising your own children on a day-to-day basis . . . something that’s clearly impossible to quantify but also impossible to ignore.  How many times do I see women facing the agony of leaving their new baby behind after just six precious weeks at home?  It’s not easy to watch.

And yet I know I’m not the only woman who finds the prospect of staying at home all day feeding, bathing, & soothing a crying baby or entertaining a whining toddler far from appetizing.  In fact, it sounds downright miserable to me.  I know, I know, this probably makes me a horrible person, but I can’t be the only woman who doesn’t find babies & toddlers as ridiculously adorable as everyone else does.  Trust me, there are days when I see my friends’ pictures of their children on Facebook & my heart melts & I dream of the day when I too will share that scared title of mother.  But then reality sets in & I remember that most of the actual work of being a mom is far from glamorous.  I don’t know how many blog posts I’ve read lately from women who say “No one told me parenting would be this hard!”  I on the other hand can’t stop thinking about how hard it sounds & wondering if the rewards could possibly make all the stress worth it for me.  Trust me, I sincerely believe that most people truly do find parenting rewarding.  And I sincerely hope that someday I too will find the strength to believe the same will be true for me. 

motherhood grocery store

I often find myself wishing companies were more friendly to mothers (& fathers) of young children, & yet the logical part of me isn’t sure how practical that is.  After all, if every employee had a plethora of children, there is no way companies could afford to provide insurance for all of them.  (Of course not having our health insurance tied to our jobs would be a great start, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.)  And as much as I wish maternity leave were FAR longer, I also realize that expecting a company to pay a woman (or even just hold her job) for three to six months or more while she is NOT actually working for them is perhaps a bit much to ask.  Particularly if a woman has multiple children within a few years of each other.  Not to mention her fellow employees have to take on the burden of fulfilling her roles without any additional pay or benefits.  However, I also think it’s ludicrous to suggest that six weeks is enough time to fully recover, both physically & mentally, from having a baby, much less to actually get a firm grip on balancing the demands of said child.  Basically I see both sides of the coin & neither of them is very pretty.

motherhood not for sissiesTrust me, I am glad I live in a day & age & a society in which I have the choice to have a career or be a mom or try to do both.  Not having those choices would be a far greater torture.  I don’t really know what I hope to accomplish by writing all of this because I know there are no solid answers to the questions I’m asking.  If there are any good answers, they are certainly different for every woman.  I just wonder if anyone else is thinking about all of these things.  Very few of my college friends have kids so far, but at least half, if not three-quarters, of my high school graduating class are parents.  And most people in my family were parents at or well before 25 (my current age).  Did any of these people think about all of these things?  If not, were they better off because of it?  To all those who say I should just stop thinking about all of this so much, you might as well tell me to stop breathing.  If I had been a man in Ancient Greece, I would have been a philosopher.  For better or worse, it’s just who I am, the very essence of my being.

In the end I can’t imagine having children & sending them to daycare, at least not at a very young age.  But I also can’t imagine staying at home with them all day & giving up my career.  I suppose the answer lies somewhere in between, but gambling on trying to find the perfect balance is a risk I’m not sure I’m willing to take.

At least not yet.