My husband and I made a quick run to the grocery store last week – you know, just your normal Sunday afternoon errands, made so much easier with four hands instead of two. As I climbed back into the car, a thought crossed my mind: I should thank him for helping me. But before I could get the words out, something stopped me, because on the heels of that thought came another: When did grocery shopping become my task? Should I really thank him for contributing to the grocery shopping? I mean, we both eat. Shouldn’t it go without saying that we should both contribute to this basic chore? Why was I thankful for help doing a task that we should be sharing anyway?
It wasn’t this way when we were dating. Oh sure, I helped him fold his laundry on occasion, but somehow after getting married we fell into more stereotypical gender roles, even though we hadn’t fit them before. I liked to work in the yard, but somehow after we were married that became his role. He liked to cook, but for some reason I felt a great responsibility for keeping him fed. Marriage somehow seemed to pigeonhole us into roles we weren’t used to filling and I couldn’t help but wonder if we had, by default, fallen into culturally defined roles because it was easier than closely examining what worked best for us, in our marriage, as opposed to everyone else’s.
Despite the efforts of various feminists throughout the past century, we still have pretty defined gender roles in our society. For modern women such as myself then, the dilemma is this: We have entered the workforce and yet retained the responsibilities we held when we stayed at home. The idea of a “housewife” is one that is disappearing. In its place is the image of a “super wife” who works all day to return home to cook, clean, and take care of the kids, all while maintaining tight abs and wrinkle free skin. While I’m no Betty Friedan, and I think you can find just as much happiness in wiping noses and scrubbing pots at home as wearing power suits and heels in a law firm, I also think that we are being set up to fail. We’re being set up for stress, depression, and anxiety when we can’t meet the ridiculously high expectations society sets for us – and that we set for each other and ourselves.
But I have to say, I think we’re doing better. I can tell you without a doubt my grandfather never changed a diaper, but my husband will be changing his share. Just last week I saw a savvy young dad grocery shopping with two young kids. Granted, he had one swinging by the belt loops and the other appeared to be eating something pilfered from a nearby shelf (or possibly the floor?), but still, there were definite signs that we’re finding more freedom from the strictly observed gender roles that have kept women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen for generations. Not that there’s anything wrong with being barefoot and pregnant in any room in your house, mind you, if that’s what you want. And if it’s not what you want, that’s okay, too. We should have room in our society for the couple who chooses to remain childless, as well as for the busy stay-at-home mom.
So even though it would be easier for me to sometimes step in and load the dishwasher the “correct way,” I let my husband do it. And even though I don’t always feel like taking out the trash, I do it anyway. While I still do the lion’s share of the laundry, it’s balanced out because my husband cooks most of our meals. I want our children to see that we are hard workers, not that our capabilities are defined by our gender. We will teach all of our children to clean, cook, sew a button and trim the lawn, so that each will have the skills to live and flourish independently, if they so choose to. I don’t want what I can accomplish to be defined by my gender and I want my children to have the freedom to choose their paths, whether it be climbing the corporate ladder or cleaning up after little ones.
That said, I did say “thank you” to my wonderful husband because, in reality, it takes two of us to change mindsets and make a marriage partnership work, and good manners are always a must, whatever role you choose to play.