Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Traditional Gender Roles Vs. Current Social Conditions

This is a slightly adapted comment I made on the article referenced in yesterday's post.

A female friend of mine just wrote me about an article she was reading on a blog about stay at home fathers. Basically, she was pointing out how even the very concept upsets or confuses a lot of people, but that it’s becoming more common. And I, for one, think that this ties right into yesterday's post about unexamined gender roles.

A fair number of folks, for various reasons, want to maintain or go along with more traditional gender roles in relationships in the beginning. Some are doing so because that's what they were raised to expect from a partner. Others aren't interested in challenging social norms. Still others are understandably confused enough about modern dating to add on thinking critically about how they want to function within a relationship.

And yet, the general societal conditions are less supportive today for those traditional roles than even a generation ago. A much greater percentage of women are in the workplace. So economically, it’s much more likely to have shared responsibility for finances. More women want, and even expect, to be treated as equals in a relationship. So the part of the traditional male role that includes being the "head of the house," decision maker, and final authority has become problematic at best.

It’s kind of foolish then, for men to identify too strongly with a notion of being the leader and provider in a relationship. Not only because of those changing societal roles, but because of the greater economic instability, which is leading to things like job loss or downsized employment, and/or for those who are parents, more of a likelihood that might have to step into a different role – like being the main child caregiver.

In the short run, it might not matter at all. You can date playing those old roles all you want, but once you start sharing finances, or raising children (if you have children), dealing with job losses, etc. – those old roles start to feel stilted.
I have seen a hell of a lot of men in their 40s and 50s suffer greatly because they held on to the traditional ways of being “the man in the relationship,” only to find that they get laid off and loose the “provider” role, they're thrust into a more active parenting role that had never contemplated before, and/or their partner decides they want a man who is more of a sharer, listener, etc. and leaves the relationship.

So, in my view, it makes more sense for men and women to be a little more critical of these traditional roles, and their desire for them (if they have that desire). I don’t expect some things to really shift anytime soon, and I know as a man, I’ll probably need to do more of the initial steps. But when I hear men and women saying things like “I want a traditional such and such,” I think “really? and how about 10 years from now, when your economic circumstances have changed, or you’ve grown sick of playing those roles?”

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