I think about gender roles a lot.
I’m very proud of my Lady Gaga post and it was written out of love for my two transgendered friends. Transgenderism is interesting because it proves that the difference between men and women is more than physical. When a person born with male parts knows that she is a female, who can contest that?
Now that I’m at University of Michigan, I think about what it means to be a woman. Now that I’m getting married in 8 months, I think about what it means to be a wife. My favorite wedding blog (A Practical Wedding), which isn’t really about centerpieces and wedding trends but more about the psychological transition from singlehood to marriage, had this excellent post about being a wife and mother. It’s about a book Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about female roles in the family. This part was reeeeally illuminating to me:
“She talks about her mom quitting a career that she loved, because her father couldn’t handle not having her home to take care of the kids and the house.”
I hear this kind of thing a lot. That men are so invested in their careers, they need their wives to take care of everything else in their lives (the home). Meg goes on to write
“I worry when I hear about most of us* doing the bulk of the chores around the house. Not because we have to, but because we want to (“I just care more about cleanliness than he does, so I need to take responsibility for that.”)”
She also writes about how we praise women who sacrifice themselves for their kids. There’s the general idea that our society completely depends for its survival on mothers’ sacrifices, yet we don’t put any real value on this. The post is about women losing themselves, “having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls” in order to serve their families. This is not what God meant by giving. Giving is supposed to edify the giver and the receiver.
I hear about it a lot; I hear about men who never learn how to cook a meal for themselves, men who claim they don’t know how to clean or do other domestic things. I saw a guy pushing a stroller the way people walk their bikes – to the side of his body, with one hand. They don’t want to associate themselves with feminine “tasks.”
(Please grant me my generalizations, because there’s truth to them)
Is this because of how men are “wired” biologically? Or is it a cultural cripple?
Let’s flip it around. I hear women in my class, all the time and EVERY DAY, apologize before giving their opinions. I see my classes dominated by men, I see men with wedding bands who never talk about their wives but talk about getting married as a check off the list. I hear insensitive remarks in general, not even just about women, that go unnoticed. Women are crippled in academia, and probably in the work place (I haven’t had a legitimate fulltime job – don’t get me started on my cleaning job with Maid to Order). When women cross over into “man territory” they seem to have to assimilate to mannish mannerisms. When men cross over into “woman land,” they get called “sensitive” and sometimes, by immature people, “gay.”
I want to tangent on my last sentence. I think this is hugely relevant right now. Anywhere in the media where a guy is acting strange, dancing, or being generally comfortable with himself, he gets a lot of “you’re gay” thrown at him. Anywhere a guy alludes to anything feminine, a joke has to be made about it. Sometimes I think that men are more crippled than women. They’re emotionally crippled. They’re so afraid of being seen as gay or feminine, which are synonymous with weak, that they force themselves along “safe” constructs of manhood. They have to dress a certain way, like certain things, not say certain words, all out of fear of being like a woman.
Being like a woman, like our mothers who taught us much of what we know and did so much for us, that’s the greatest fear for a man.
What does that say about actually being a woman? It sort of says that it’s a necessary evil. It says we are making sacrifices just by being who we are. It says that we need affirmative action and protection because we have it so hard or because we’re weaker.
What does this do to our work? It removes the elements we think are “feminine” – sensitivity, holism, empathy.
What does this do to friendships? It makes women compete against each other and boy-girl friendships unnatural (“you guys should date already”).
What does this do to children? It teaches them that they should only be a certain way, and if they vary from that, society will punish them. Hence, to the ones who bravely cannot help but be themselves, it means a lifetime of unnecessary troubles.
What does this do to the church? It gives us a false picture of who God is. It masculinizes God, the creator of sexes. And God is all-powerful, so we then associate (subconsciously) power with masculinity. (My favorite priest pointed out that part of the curse in Genesis is that men will have power over women. The curse of patriarchal society.)
Finally, what does this do to marriage? To make marriage work, we have to either break the mold or buy into it. Both have extreme repercussions. One makes society constantly question us, the other continues the cycle of men and women crippling each other.
I’m not against societal structure. Clearly I’m not – otherwise, I would not be entering the institution of marriage. I just think we should be growing up, in a way. Maturing. Transcending these norms and accepting each other and ourselves for who we are. Admitting our weaknesses. Enabling each other to do what we really want to do.
Everyone should read that post from A Practical Wedding. Tell me what you think.