You Want Traditional Gender Roles, Eh?

Some people daydream about having a traditional mate — a real woman or a real man. But in today’s economic and socio-political climate, be careful what you wish for.

A 1950s housewife serves pie.A female friend of mine just wrote to me about an article she read on a blog about stay-at-home fathers. Basically, she pointed out how even the very concept upsets or confuses a lot of people, but that stay-at-home fathers are becoming more common.

A fair number of folks, for various reasons, still want to maintain or go along with more traditional gender roles in relationships. Some are doing so because that’s what they were raised to expect. Others aren’t interested in challenging social norms. Still others are understandably confused enough about modern dating to start thinking critically about how they want to function within a relationship.

And yet, for those traditional roles, the general societal conditions are less supportive today than even a generation ago. A greater percentage of women are in the workplace, so, economically, it’s much more likely for couples to have shared responsibility for finances. More women want — and even expect — to be treated as equals in a relationship. However, some of the same women still want men to play the traditional male roles of “head of the house,” main financial provider, fixer, protector, and “tough guy” who has the answers.

So, things are kind of muddled.

Personally, I think it’s a bit foolish for men to identify too strongly with a notion of being the leader and provider in a relationship, not only because of those changing societal roles, but because of the greater economic instability, which is leading to things like job loss or downsized employment, and/or for those who are parents, more of a likelihood that they might have to step into a different role – like being the main child caregiver.

In the short run, it might not matter at all. You can date while playing those old roles all you want, but once you start sharing finances, or raising children (if you have children), dealing with job losses, etc. – those old roles start to feel stilted.

I have seen a hell of a lot of men in their 40s and 50s suffer greatly because they held on to the traditional ways of being “the man in the relationship,” only to find that when they get laid off and lose the “provider” role, they’re thrust into more of an  active parenting role than they ever contemplated, and/or their partner decides she wants a man who is more of a sharer, listener, etc. and leaves the relationship.

When I hear both men and women saying things like “I want a traditional man” or “I want a traditional woman” I think, “Really? What does that mean exactly? And how about 10 years from now, when your economic circumstances have changed, or you’ve grown sick of the husband who never listens to you, or the wife who doesn’t think for herself?


Photo Credit

Magazine illustration, 1954 (colour litho) by English School, The Bridgeman Art Library

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