Ever since he let some serious misygnoir unfurl in two videos, I’ve been cautious about watching Funky Dineva’s op-eds. However, he caught my attention with a recent video questioning whether traditional gender roles in relationships are really serving modern couples well. After listening to what he had to say, I think he might be onto something.
Despite shifting gender roles in society at large, it seems that a lot of men are still clinging to the notion that women need to submit to them no matter what. Whether they are equipped to handle that responsibility or not–or even truly deserving of that trust–men just want to be in charge. They still want to be leading the families and relationships, and I can’t really fault them for subscribing to this longstanding expectation that heavily favors them. However, my thinking is that as long as men expect to be the head of the house, they need to be making head of the house moves. And that’s something a bit tougher to define in modern times.
At one point, it was most likely that men were the only employed members of a family as women were expected to be in-home caregivers. That meant men had more control of the family’s finances, and thus, more decision-making power. Even as more women began entering the workforce to help bolster family funds, men were still likely to earn more than them and be the breadwinners. That’s no longer the case though, and more women are stepping up to become the primary earners. According to a 2017 survey by Chase Bank and Refinery 29, women are the breadwinners in 40 percent of American households. Among those women, 37 percent outearn their partner; the other 63 percent of them are single mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2012, there were nearly 2 million stay-at-home fathers.
Now, if a woman is going to be bearing most of the financial burden in a relationship, and we define the head of the house as the person who earns more money, this would make her the undisputed GOAT at home (and thus someone who should be submitted to). That puts a lot of pressure on a woman because we still expect her to take the lead on domestic matters no matter how successful she is in her professional life. We would still hold her responsible for taking care of the kids and keeping the home in order. What does that allow a man to bring to the relationship if the woman is fulfilling both traditional gender roles?
This dynamic may not work for heterosexual couples. A man shouldn’t expect his woman to submit to him just because he is the man–and with no thought as to whether he’s capable of handling that responsibility judiciously. If she doesn’t know how he handles his time, his temper, or his finances, she can’t trust him to be a good leader for the relationship, let alone any potential family that they create. Will he really be working in her best interest, or is he going to abuse the privilege? Similarly, women shouldn’t expect that a man will be taking care of all financial obligations in a relationship if she is able to earn money and contribute to their lives together. Besides, we no longer live in an economy that reasonably allows couples and families to live well off of one income, unless they’re among the wealthy.
And what about same-sex couples? Is there even a need or desire to conform to these roles? That’s a riddle I can’t even imagine having to attempt answering. As a straight woman, it’s really not my place to speculate. LGBTQ femmes are more than capable of figuring out this conundrum on their own, and they’ve been making it work for years. But if neither earning power nor gender are reliable determining factors for traditional gender roles, it’s time to reconsider what is. That, or we may need to consider whether we still have a need for gender roles in modern times at all.
In a relationship, you have to know what your individual strengths and weaknesses are to keep things working smoothly. Those strengths may not fit within traditional gender roles, and trying to force yourself (or your partner), to fit into a box neither of you were built for could do more harm than good.
My mother has always been a very hard-working woman. For as long as I can remember, she’s always held down at least one job. So I was recently shocked to learn that she left the workforce for about five years while my brother and I were young. When she saw that her earnings were really only covering the cost of daycare, she and my father decided that she would leave work to look after my brother and I. My dad was already earning more than her at the time, but this meant that he was working long hours to support the entire family. That’s a huge responsibility, but my mother was also contributing by removing at least one major financial need from his plate. When my mom returned to work, my dad found other ways to support her. For example, some nights he would cook dinner. He believed he had as much responsibility to help take care of the family as my mother did.
Things have played out much the same way in my own relationship now. My fiance and I earn about the same amount of money, so we share about the same amount of responsibility around the house. For instance, one night he made steaks for dinner while I was writing. It was one of the driest steaks I had ever eaten, but my honey tried his best. Around this time it was established that I would be doing the majority of the cooking (aside from breakfast, because I’m really more of a lunch and dinner girl). A few months into our relationship, when I was spending nearly half my week at his place, his kitchen slowly became mine. I learned my way around the cabinets and drawers. Cooking with his pots and pans (such as they were) had become easier, and I had bolstered his store of spices and seasonings. He, on the other hand, was very particular about tidying up, so he does a majority of the cleaning.
When its time for serious decision making, we sit down and put our heads together to come up with an answer. Admittedly, this has lefiand to a few disagreements, but in the end, we always come to a solution that works for the both of us. In situations where one of us has more experience on a given subject than the other, we’ll each let the expert take the lead. We still talk through it, but the one who knows more does get a bit more authority. I feel much better about this arrangement than I do being dictated to without any input.
If I had been trying to take care of all the domestic duties inside of the relationships, per traditional gender roles, I would never get a moment’s rest. Eventually, that would lead to a breakdown. During particularly busy times at work, I have felt tremendous guilt that I can’t cook as often as I would like for my fiancé. It’s one of my ways of caring for him, and not being able to live up to that has made me feel like a burden at times. But he’s never made any statement that makes me feel like I don’t do enough for him or that I don’t contribute enough to the relationship. It’s self-imposed pressure brought on in part by my own expectation to fulfill a specific gender role. I can’t be the only working woman who goes through this. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to stick to those traditional gender roles, if that is what works for you. But it’s not for everyone. So maybe it’s time we think about who does what in a relationship and why.
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