In the 1950’s women were told that their place was in the home. Be homemakers they told us. Cook the meals, clean the house, take care of the children, and fulfill the needs of your husband. Men were the breadwinners. Get a job or career they were told. Bring in the money, be the head of the household, and be the voice for the family. Society had for lack of a better word “boxed” up women and men into what it deemed the roles of each gender. Never mind that the term “gender roles” was created by a man. A man named John Money who during his research into intersexual individuals was hoping to find a way to help those who had no biological assignment, figure out a way to define themselves as either a man or a woman. A term that he so casually defined for what he saw within his own household and those of his peers. Does that mean that they were ever correct? I don’t believe so. There weren’t many other choices at the time. Yes women could work. Most of the women who worked, however, were young and single, divorced, widows, or poor married women. Even then most of the job functions they were given were catered towards what fit their “gender role”. Examples of jobs available to women were caretakers, cooks, nannies, maids, midwives, clothes ironers, tailors, etc. It wasn’t until World War II when women had to join the workforce while their husbands went off to war that the roles started to change and develop. Women got a glimpse into what the future could hold. Jobs that they could work that had nothing to do with their gender role. Does that mean that before World War II they never thought of having careers outside of what fit their role? I don’t think so.
History shows that the marginalized are always silenced to be kept in control. While women were making progress in society in the fight for equality, at home their voices were still silent. They had an opinion, but the final say was not there’s. Just because they chose to conform into the gender role that they were placed in does not mean that they didn’t want something better for themselves. That was proven by the women’s liberation movement. It also doesn’t mean that men didn’t want something better for their wives or even themselves. Societal pressures can be damaging.
Fast forward to today. The Women’s Bureau has projected that women in the workforce will account for fifty-one percent of the total labor force growth between the years of 2008 and 2018. There are over 123 million women ages sixteen and over in the US. Seventy-two million (58.6 percent) are labor force participants. We’ve come along way in the fight for equal rights and yet we have a way to go. The “traditional” gender roles don’t necessarily exist any longer. But is that a bad thing?
I don’t believe in gender roles. Specifically the traditional ones. That was a different era, a different time. There were fewer choices for men and women. The ideals were different. Society has changed. It’s evolved. It’s working towards seeing everyone as human beings instead of women, men, black, white, straight, gay, etc. People are fighting to be seen and treated as equals. Being able to see another individual as a human first is essential. None of us think, speak, or behave the same. Our wants and needs aren’t the same. So why try to slap a role onto an individual that doesn’t fit them as a person?
Speaking for myself. I love to work. I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom. Not because I don’t believe I wouldn’t succeed in it. But because once my children were old enough to be in school I’d get bored. Taking care of a home, for me, isn’t challenging enough. Scratch that, it would be challenging enough, it just wouldn’t be mentally stimulating enough. Does that mean I want to be the sole breadwinner of the household. No. If my husband wanted that title he could have it. But I don’t feel right as an individual when I can’t contribute in some way, financially. If that meant taking care of the kids financially, paying part of the utilities, or paying for vacations than I’m good with any of those options. I would want my husband to understand he has an equal partner. That the sole responsibility of finances for the household may rely on him because that’s the agreement we would have come to as a couple, however, if there ever came a time when I needed to step in and help than I would be more than capable. We do a disservice as men and women when we believe a woman shouldn’t be self-sufficient. She should be able to survive without a man because you can’t foresee what will happen tomorrow. What happens when you suddenly lose your husband and the sole source of income? It’s something that has to be thought about. Prepared for.
As for men. I commend those who have chosen to be stay-at-home dads. To know that what brings you the most happiness and joy in life is taking care of your children is wonderful. Taking on a role that for so many decades has only been seen as a woman’s “job” takes strength. It’s not any less masculine to be a caregiver than it is to be a provider. In my opinion it makes you more masculine. Because you recognize that there is more to being a man than being the gender stereotype. We need to change the conversation when it comes to the masculinity of a man. Showing emotions, being compassionate, being caring, being nurturing as a man are all beautiful attributes. Much needed attributes. Those attributes are what help bridge the gap between men and women. You have a choice. You can either conform to society’s view of masculinity or you can write your own definition.
We live in an age where there are so many opportunities for people of both genders. Where the normal gender stereotypes are slowly being broken down. It’s a beautiful thing as it allows for the changing of roles. We focus too much on the “gender role” that we didn’t even define for ourselves. We let one man make a decision on what he believed the roles should be and as a society we agreed to it. Then later as society evolved and marginalized groups started obtaining equal rights we got confused and uncertain as to how relationships should work if the roles weren’t in the right place. But the focus is wrong. It’s not about what role you play in the relationship. It’s about the AGREEMENT on the roles you CHOOSE to play in the relationship. That does not mean that as the relationship evolves the agreement can’t be altered or changed. It’s the exact opposite. Relationships are built on communication and compromise. As the relationship evolves so will the agreement. Because what you may have initially thought to be a role you could fulfill, may not be and vice versa. It isn’t a set in stone agreement. It morphs and adapts to what works best for both individuals. You see you are not dealing with a slave. You are not dealing with a servant. You are dealing with a human being. And as such our mindsets change. It’s inevitable that growth happens. A role I agreed to in the now may not work later.
I see gender roles as another form of a box to place individuals in. Another way to categorize humans that were never meant to be categorized. But that’s just me. Some individuals like the idea of gender roles and others do not. I don’t judge. What I will say is this. The only people who know what roles are best in their relationship are the people in it. As long as they have agreed to what will produce the best outcome for their future together that’s all that matters. Us outsiders, should mind our own business.