Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gender Roles in the 21st Century

Gender roles in families have been on my mind a lot lately. What does it mean to be a woman in a modern family, or a man? While it's safe to say that a lot has changed, women are no longer expected to be homemakers, and men do not have to take on the tough guy role, I don't know that we have all the answers worked out yet.

Playing dress-up. I did like the outfit!
In my own house, there are no clearly defined roles as to what is "female" and "male," especially as far as housework goes. I'm a lousy cook. Luckily my fiancee excels in the kitchen. He also takes care of the dishes, the sweeping and the mopping. I'm messy, untidy, and, I'll admit it, a bit of a slob. So my fiancee tends to do most of the general organizing and tidying up around the house. To make up for my lack of culinary ability and clutter-prone nature, I compensate by taking on the gross stuff-- I clean the cat litter boxes, clean the bathtubs, unblock drains, and do the heavy-duty vacuuming. I go on a monthly house-cleaning rampage, scrubbing all the places he misses, behind the sink drains, the baseboards, smudges on the walls, you name it.

Just to make things clear, my fiancee is every bit a "manly man." He's into cars, football, and golf. He eats red meat, and does all the stuff around the house related to tools. He is very confident in his masculinity, comfortable enough that he doesn't feel threatened by wearing the cook's apron. He also always takes out the trash. And I do the laundry.

The division of housework we've somehow fallen into works out pretty well for us. My fiancee doesn't feel in anyway emasculated by doing the dishes and the cooking, a well-ordered kitchen is something he takes pride in. I take a strange satisfaction pulling globs of hair from uncooperating drains, and none of our friends or family members seem to think that this sort of division is in any way strange. We're a modern family, I guess you could say.

The Boys, making turkey ruebens with homemade dressing.
When it comes to our two-and-a-half-year old nephew, who is practically our adopted child, my fiancee is the primary caregiver. Because my nephew does not have a father figure in his life, he gravitates to my fiancee, who showers him with love and affection. Yes, affection. My nephew is far more likely to come to my fiancee for a hug, to kiss a boo-boo, or a cuddle with a story. When we put my nephew to bed, he snuggles in with my fiancee every time, and usually requests a backrub or bellyrub.

Because of our home dynamic, my fiancee and I have decided that when we have a child, (which is still a few years off) he will be a stay-at-home dad. I don't feel that I have it in me to be the stay-at-home mom type, I'm afraid I'd go stir-crazy. I know that while I'd likely be able to do a passable job at full-time parenting and keeping a house, my fiancee would be far, far better at it. Being a stay-home dad is something my fiancee is genuinely excited about, while to me it feels like kind of a chore. And we are very happy with our decision.

So imagine my surprise when I started telling people about our plan. Reactions ranged from condescending to pity to shock. I was told by one friend that maybe I shouldn't have children if that was how I felt. "Some people just aren't cut out to have kids, maybe you're just one of those." I was told that men lack the innate ability to nurture a child the way a mother can. People questioned both my mothering instinct, and my fiancee's masculinity. Somehow I was less of a woman, and he was less of a man. I was very surprised, especially since I thought that it was now considered to be socially acceptable to have a working mom or a stay-home dad. Families are doing it every day, all across America.

What I finally realized, was that it is okay to do things this way, but not by choice. Men are only supposed to be the ones to stay home with the kids if that's just the way things worked out. Unemployment, finances, a career that is impossible to break from for the wife. Women are allowed to go to work, but there has to be the same justification. Then it's okay, because everyone knows that in a perfect world things wouldn't have to be this way. People are less likely to look down on you when they feel free to pity you. The problem with the scenario my fiancee and I have dreamed up in other people's eyes is that we're happy about it. We are choosing this way of child-rearing, and strategically planning to make it a reality.

It's not that I am uninterested in my home, or the prospect of raising a child. I'm very home-oriented and family oriented. I do take a lot of pride in our house, it has been a labor of love over the past year. I absolutely love being second mom to my nephew, he brings so much joy into my life. When my fiancee and I do have a baby, I'd like to take about a year of maternity leave, if we can swing it. I just don't want to have to feel tied into the homemaker role, especially when I am lucky enough to have found a man who is not only willing to do it, but excited.

It's still a ways away. I have to finish grad school, we have to do that whole wedding thing, and we'll likely take a few years for ourselves. I'd like to think that maybe by then, when my husband is pushing little Charlotte or Jacob on the swings at the park and I'm sitting on a bench making last-minute revisions to a proposal, the other parents will not look over and say "poor man, poor child, bad mother," but rather "they look so happy..."


  1. I think it's great that you and your fiancée has talked this out and understand your compatibility on the important stuff. Now you already know better than to let traditional rules of gender dictate your life. If more people did what was right for their own lives, maybe we wouldn't have a fifty percent divorce rate. I would like to think society had advance farther than this limited level of acceptance. But change takes time, and you and your husband-to-be are pioneers. Maybe when your kids grow up society will be more understanding that one size does not fit all. In the mean time, hang tough.
    P.S. OMG Anaya! You're right about having twin beagles. Maybe they were separated at birth?

  2. Thanks Shellie! I have to say that I love the fact that my nephew is growing up with a male role model (even though he's an uncle and not a dad) that is a caring and nurturing man. I'm sure that when he grows up, he will be the same way, and those near him not just with respect, but with tenderness and affection. And I am hopeful that he won't be the exception, but the norm.

    And it's entirely possible our beagles were separated at birth...mine just showed up one day out of nowhere:) I didn't even like dogs, but he had the greatest, quirkiest and most intelligent personality - I couldn't let him go!

  3. Anaya your blog was a great deal of help for supporting arguments in an up coming paper i have to write on Gender Roles and Modern Society. I like that you and your fiancée play on your strengths and not what society thinks you should do based on your gender. I always tell my mom that we as women fought for equal rights but only want it in select circumstances. I hope others can gain from it what i have.