Perpetuating Gender Roles

A fellow Second Wind Publishing author posted an article that took me aback. Her post, Wives are Awesome, spoke of marriage roles, and how from the moment men took their vows, all the troublesome details of running a household vanish. Their wives make sure they have their favorite shampoo, their clothes are clean, the coffee brewed.

It was a clever article with a great punch line, but it surprised me to learn that women are still mommying their husbands to such an extent. I thought this sort of gender role disappeared a generation ago. It’s women’s prerogative, of course, to arrange their lives however they wish. I can even understand how it happens. In the throes of new love, women do what they can to mothermake their husbands’ lives easier, and over time, this role of nurturer becomes ineradicable.

It’s not just men who perpetuate such a role — women do, too. When a friend disagreed with my stance on women’s issues (apparently, as a thinking woman, I’m supposed to automatically be a feminist), I asked in rebuttal what percentage of household chores he did. He said, “I do everything I’m asked.” The assumption that household chores were his wife’s obligation and that she had to ask for his help made my hackles rise, but then he added, “She doesn’t like the way I do some things so she doesn’t ask.” I had no response to that, of course. It’s hard to share equally in the responsibility of running a household when one of the partners insists on holding the reins. (The moral of the story is, if you want your partner to do a greater percentage of the household chores, don’t complain about the way he or she does them. Let your partner work in his/her own way in his/her own time.)

Getting such glimpses into other people’s lives makes me realize how easy I had it with Jeff, my now deceased life mate/soul mate. We “wifed” each other, doing what was necessary without ever asking the other to do something. And if one of us didn’t like the way the other did a chore, we did it ourselves. (He once mentioned he didn’t like the way I did dishes. I didn’t say anything; I simply left them for him to do.) Whichever of us noticed that the carpet needed vacuuming or that a floor needed scrubbing (or rather the first one who was bothered by it) did the task. Mostly, though, we did things together or split up the responsibility without making a big deal about it.

Although it might not seem like it, roles really are changing. It’s no longer assumed that women who marry will take up where the husband’s mother left off, nurturing him as if he were still a child unable to fend for himself. Sometimes men take on that role for their high-powered wives. Sometimes both share equally in the responsibility and sometimes the couple hires a housekeeper to look after both of them.

When Jeff died, the thought of growing old alone panicked me. I’m okay now, mostly because I don’t think about it. Still, I do wonder what would happen if I met someone new and fell in love, but the thought of ever setting up a household with anyone again is beyond my imagining, especially considering problems of aging, possible health issues, and entrenched behavior, such as his expecting to be “wifed”.

Even if I found someone who would be willing to “wife” me, I wouldn’t be interested. Having someone look after the small details of my life sounds like a burden. It’s amazing to me that so many men willingly shoulder the load.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

5 Responses to “Perpetuating Gender Roles”

  1. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I remember a time when I shared a house with two women around my age. We were supposed to share the cooking chores but I soon learned I wasn’t welcome in the kitchen except to make coffee for myself. There were nights when it was my turn to do the cooking and I’d get takeaway instead to avoid arguments and comments about my cooking. Nothing I seemed to do in the kitchen was right for them so I soon gave up. Nowadays I am happy to cook for myself.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      People seem to blame men for perpetuating the roles, but as you discovered, women do it, too. It’s a lot easier doing things for oneself rather than having to live up to other people’s demands.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    It’s interesting, because I’m reading “The Feminine Mystique” for class and it covers these issues in depth. It’s possibly also making me more of a feminist than I already am, believe it or not.

  3. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    It ticks me off when women play “the little woman” game because, by doing so, they are asking me to play the game, too, by taking up the ways of “the man’s man” or the Victorian husband.

  4. Sonia Lal Says:

    This is true. They could find a new way to do things together!!


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