Gender Roles


Here are excerpts from a long article in Psychology Today entitled "Gender Wars."

We live in a time where gender-based roles are changing and few pathways are marked as we try to figure out the right way to make our lives work in relationships. What complicates gender relations is that the world we inhabit today would have been almost impossible to envision even as recently as the 1950s. Gender relations in contemporary society present a seemingly paradoxical picture.

What has not changed, apparently, since the 50s is the desire of men and women to figure out what is appropriate for their own and the other gender--and to find ways to live together. What has changed is that we are now less sure about what is the right way to be a man or woman.

To a large degree, the ambiguity everyone’s feeling about gender is part of a greater uncertainty about what is real, true, and right in general. Human relations and the search for identity, which translates into ways of believing and being, have grown particularly complicated courtesy of the technological explosion and information saturation we all now experience.

This process is further compounded by the challenges in society to many of the beliefs that we have held as self-evident for so long. Gender is but one of the traditional categories of self-identification that is deteriorating. That encompasses not only the belief in two genders but in notions of masculinity and femininity. Result: rampant confusion about how men and women are supposed to act.

What we call “gender” encompasses biological sex but goes beyond it to the socially prescribed roles deemed appropriate for each sex by the culture in which we live. Complicating the issue is that only the broad outlines of gender roles are drawn by the larger society. The gender roles we each carry out are highly individualistic, built on our biological and physical makeup, appearance and personality, life experiences such as work and education, and history of sexual and romantic interactions. Each element influences how others perceive us as a man or a woman and how we perceive others’ intentions and expectations for us.

I recall a discussion with my father back in the late 1970s. My first wife and I had just bought the identical house my parents had purchased on the GI Bill in 1956 for $11,600 at maybe 4% interest, tops. My ex and I paid $57,000 at something like 12% interest and were both working to pay the mortgage. My father made a disparaging comment about “working mothers” even though my ex and I did not yet have children. I looked at my mother, who had never worked and who paid all the bills, and asked if she could make a monthly payment of something on the order of $675 on what my father was earning at that point in time. She said absolutely not.

My father has long since passed on and sometimes I think back on that conversation and feel badly about it. Though it was not my intention, I may have embarrassed him or caused him to feel inadequate as a man, as a provider for his family. I’ve experienced that feeling a time or too and I know how stinking lousy it feels. All I meant to do was to say, hey, it’s not like when you and mom started out, and here’s the proof in hard dollars and cents: I’m college educated, earn more than you and I still can’t afford to buy the same modest house I grew up in. Over the years I’d heard plenty from him about how things “should” be and I needed just once to have him agree that many fronts, circumstance were such that my world could not be as it “should.”

As it was, my father never again commented about my two-income marriage. That day he could do little more than shake his head in bewilderment. He’d fought in the European Theater of WWII under General Patton. He knew how to point a gun at the enemy. He knew how to use his GI-Bill reward to move his family out of the city and into suburbia for a better quality of life. But he also knew the world was changing into one he didn’t understand, and there was no longer an identifiable enemy to blame. Yes, he changed somewhat with the times when he was given no alternative, but for the most part, I think he made a conscious decision to cling as best he could to the fading world he knew best.

Up until a few years ago I’d been clinging to some old notions, not necessarily because I’d made a conscious decision to do so, but mainly out of ignorance. My favorite saying is “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Had I not met Goddess V, I might still be the man I was 10 or even 5 years ago. When we first met, had she pointedly told me she was a dominant woman and expected me to submit to her, I might never have pursued a relationship with her. As it happened, our FLR evolved over time similar various changes in our society have come into being. With one important difference. Changing economics and other outside influences often force people into making changes. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of survival, ie., the two-income family.

However, a wife-led marriage was not imposed on Goddess V and me by outside societal forces. No one said, hey, this is how it’s gonna be from now, so you’ll have to either like it or lump it. It had more to do with us taking a hard look at who were, both as individuals and as a couple, and at what was working and not working in our relationship. I should add that this was more true for me than it was for Goddess V. It required redefinition and acceptance of our gender roles both in terms of what we expected from ourselves and of one another. Once we did this, we experienced more harmony in our relationship than ever before.


Queen'sKnight1 said...

As always, your comments are thoughtful and poignant. My father also was one of those stoic WWII vets. He seemed to embrace modernization and progress when he was young, even as his own relatives of the generation before his were becoming uncomfortable with the 60's, but as time went on, he also became more resistant to a world which was becoming increasingly different than the one into which he was born in the early 20's.

I think not too many of your and my generation will embrace FLR, some will, but not the majority. As we pass out of this world, and today's youth take our places, however, I think they will be much more open to the increasing place Women will have as leaders of society and relationships.