Friday, August 5, 2011

Gender Roles

I have been thinking a lot about the ways in which people get socialized into believing they must think or act in certain ways, solely due to gender. While there seem to be endless books and articles claiming men and women are wildly different due to some kind of biological "hard-wiring," I think a lot of that is flat out bullshit.

When issues like who makes the lion's share of money, who cooks, who cleans, who initiates sexual intimacy, who takes care of children, who buys groceries, who leads, who follows - when all of that and more is considered fluid, and more in-tune with present conditions, I believe relationships have a better chance of not failing.

This doesn't mean that all roles within a relationship must be fluid and changing all the time. That probably isn't realistic. Perhaps one partner is always in charge of finances, given his or her's skills. And perhaps another is mostly in the lead because the other is less assertive or outgoing.

However, one thing I have always felt is a flawed in holding more fixed roles is that it assumes life will remain mostly the same. Which it doesn't. Even amongst people who do their damnedest to keep it so.

The main breadwinner - often male - looses his job, and the other partner - often female, is forced to step up and fill in the gap, having not been in such a position before.

The financial wizard becomes seriously ill and doesn't have the energy to deal with the couple's bills and money, forcing the other person, who hasn't thought much or at all about such things, to take over.

The person who has been the main sexual initiator in the couple is overworked in other areas of his/hers life, and either feels resentful that he/she has to lead in intimacy, or simply doesn't have the time/energy to think about it.

The main childcare person in a family, often female, grows exhausted trying to cover all the additional roles in her/his life, and either becomes resentful of the needs of the child/children, or lacks the energy and/or health to care decently for the child/children.

Those are just a few examples of what can happen when one person is fixed into a certain role in a relationship. And while we are socially becoming more fluid around gender's role in deciding roles in relationships, it's also still true that views which consider certain roles being more natural for men or for women, or even "more appropriate" for men or for women (which is really just code for the same thing), are commonplace.

In the next post, I'll consider a bit of history around these issues, and expand upon why I think more flexibility and fluidity is a positive in long term, intimate relationships.

Feel free to comment on what you have read so far.


  1. One of the messages Roland Barthes hammered home in his writing was about the tendency to remove history from dialogue. Thus, "marriage" becomes a universal concept...never changing...almost divine. History, of course, shows otherwise.
    So, do jump into the history of gender roles. I too have been thinking about gender roles in the face of recent studies that show trans-gendered people suffer a high murder rate, eclipsing the murder rate of gay people two to one. The murder is often extremely violent and vindictive. What is it about gender bending that cuts us so deeply?

  2. No doubt, transgendered folks have it tough. Simply being who they are can be dangerous. I sometimes wonder if perhaps a fair amount of the hatred is coming from a combination of a deep seated lack of self-understanding. That those who chose to do violence on trans, gay, and queer folks have spent their lives unthinkingly following the norms around gender, believing that said norms defined not only them, but all people like them.

    So, when faced with people who don't fit those norms, it not only throws in to question the story they have about others like them, but it also throws their own identity into question. And instead of reacting to that by looking deeper at who they are or might be as a person, some choose to do whatever they can to "restore order" to the story they have believed in for so long.

  3. don't forget that little boys are going to play with swards and little girls with dolls, so it's not gender roles, it has to do with genetics too.


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