The following is a wide ranging post on gender roles in response to this post and the comments that followed.
When women are taking on masculine roles (doing, conquering, competing), it’s very difficult to transition into a feminine role (being, nurturing,emotional). ~ a comment by Michelle
This is an artificial divide. It’s difficult to transition because too many people have never bothered to question at depth the gendered roles that are given to us. Too many simply assume that men have little capacity to nurture, for example, or women aren’t really capable of running successful businesses (or being political leaders, or whatever). Even though strides have been made on both ends, it’s really not enough in my opinion.
Men and women can and should learn how to move across the so-called masculine and feminine roles. Instead of insisting that we’re born to do and be certain things, why not instead develop an education and community cultural system that emphasizes more fluidity and training around these roles? I’m not just talking about children here, although children tend to learn quicker and easier than adults. While I’m talking about this on a society-level scale, it can – and already is being done on much smaller scales. I’ve personally been a part of programs with kids where skills that once were gendered were taught across the board. Boys who can cook and easily feel empathy grow up to be better partners. As are girls who can fix cars, direct groups, and develop business plans.
We now see amazingly successful women, but we also see a 50% divorce rate and kids being raised in front of the television or by expensive nannies. I’m certainly not into sending women back to their homes, but as women we need to prioritize and realize that we are still the primary emotional care-takers of our husbands and the primary educators of our children. ~ a comment by Fusee
As for the point about women feeling pressure to “take care of the emotional needs of boyfriends and husbands, I say this: a lot of men need to grow up emotionally. We need to step up, and stop training each other through hazing and “guy code” mentalities, which reinforce adolescent norms instead of lead to more mature adults. Operating on a more equitable give and take, where supporting and nurturing are shared and coming from love and wanting to, as opposed to duty and/or guilt, should be a base level focus of all partnerships. Single women and men would do well to advocate for this while dating, and married folks with excessive imbalances would do well to reassess.
This is not about pushing for everyone to be exactly the same. Nor is it a suggestion that men and women have no differences. Those are bs extremes that simply allow people to ignore questions about how gender has been socially constructed, and how often roles have been cultivated and socially assigned, as opposed to being a part of one’s biology. What’s amazing to me is how commonplace arguments of biological determinism and essentialism have become these days.
Before the industrial revolution, women in hunter-gatherer societies focused on the “gathering,” which was a round-the-clock process. Likewise, women in agrarian cultures worked tirelessly in order to help to ensure that the family unit had enough to eat and/or trade.
It was only in the past century when men “went off to work” outside of the home that women were supposed to only sit around and play with kids without a vocation of their own. Not that playing with children isn’t a lot of work, but to say that women who work with something other than children are “another man with a vagina” is not only ignorant, but an insult to our hardworking female ancestors — without whom we wouldn’t be here today.
The points Sarah makes are entirely lost on many people because actual history is absent for a good percentage of society. The role of “male breadwinner” and female “housewife,” for example, were created only a few centuries ago, and so if you want to look at the stresses and often conflicting needs in families, that’s a good place to start. Looking at how family structures were forced to adapt in response to male-led industrial capitalist development.
Again, I’ll say that unaddressed, pervasive greed, the devaluing of communities and sharing with neighbors, and our collective obsession with being constantly entertained (often at great financial expense) are all major factors in the stresses of modern families. Individual families can make some changes to lessen a fair amount of stress, but of course that takes time, effort, and priority shifting. However, it’s really going to take a significant amount of grassroots, collective social change to deal with the rest of that stress. Which is built in to the systems we all rely on.
In the end, whatever biological differences are present between men and women, it’s really a lot more helpful in this day and age to question gender roles, become more flexible, and to cultivate skills and abilities across the field of what has been called “masculine” and “feminine.” Not only to build better relationships, but to build better communities as well.
Bathroom Silhouettes @ Flickr