Love & Sex Magazine

Gender Roles: Too Much Hype?

By Nathan Feiles, Lmsw @therapynathan

1950s-Woman-CookingOnce upon a time, there was this decade known as the 1950′s. In this time, women were mostly viewed as housewives. Husbands went to work, and wives stayed at home, raised the children, and kept the house up — laundry, cleaning, cooking, running the necessary errands, etc.

The clear gender roles were that the man works at a paying job and provides financially for the family, and the woman stays at home and makes sure everything in the home and with the children is taken care of. This was the “societal norm” at the time. However this setup tended to devalue the capabilities of women, and empower men, which set up a power hierarchy in the family (based on income).

Fast-forward to the present, and we have a world where a one-income family is rare, both parents generally work, the children are commonly cared for by nannies or other forms of child care, and the home is kept whenever there is time to make it happen, or by hiring outside help.

I’ve noticed that couples tend to get frustrated with the gender role issue, no matter how it plays out. Men tend to get frustrated when they are asked to do household tasks, and women tend to get frustrated when they feel pressure to do these tasks. Women talk about wanting to work, but only want to work if they are passionate about the job, and men talk about wanting to help out at home, but only when they feel like it. No matter what, the picture that ends up coming to light is that neither really wants to do what they don’t want to do.

The result becomes one partner pushing towards traditional gender roles, while the other tries to resist them. Men tend to fear emasculation if they give in to doing laundry, cooking, or cleaning, and women tend to feel the threat of oppression or devaluation if they’re asked to do these tasks. Both partners end up battling fears of being dragged into an abstract gender role they may not want to play, rather than what will work for their relationship.

What’s the point?

Relationships don’t function according to abstract “societal norms.” Relationships function based on the two partners together. If you want a healthy relationship, it’s all about finding what works for your relationship.

There are relationships today that function fully according to the 1950′s societal norm, and there are relationships today where it’s completely reversed, where the women are working jobs that support the family and the men stay home and raise the children and keep the house.

Most relationships tend to function somewhere in between, with both partners working on a daily basis to support the family. And this leaves both partners to compromise on how those other tasks are handled. And how these tasks are handled is based on the needs of each individual relationship. This may involve the husbands doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, or cooking a few days a week, while some women may take out the garbage, and do the food shopping, and cook a few days a week.

The idea is that how your relationship works is up to the two of you to figure out together, it is not meant to be an opportunity to debate, force, or resist social standards. The key is compromise, and understanding that your partner is not desiring to emasculate, oppress, or devalue you (and if your partner is trying to do this, then there are bigger issues in your relationship to discuss). There are things that need to be taken care of in daily life that people don’t want to deal with, but are necessary — men and women both will have to do certain “chores” they don’t want to do. So, rather than battling it out about gender roles (whether it’s resisting them, or wanting to adhere to them), focus on discussing what it takes for your relationship to function as a unit — together, even if it means bringing some compromise into your internal relationship fantasy.

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