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Gender Roles in Relationships

My parents have always advocated the traditional lifestyle for me: Go to university, get a job, marry a decent Chinese guy, and pop a few kids. In response, I always say that I don't intend to marry. This is not because I'm adverse to the thought of marriage. In fact, I would like to have someone to sit on the porch with when I'm old. However, this lifestyle seems to mean giving up a significant amount of power, which I am very unwilling to do. Psychology Today published an interesting article addressing these concerns:

In 200 years, says Gottman, "heterosexual relationships will be where gay and lesbian relationships are today."

Rather than rely on cultural assignment of gender roles, gay men and women must come up with their own ways to divide labor and share decisions. Having to actively decide who does what pulls for greater consciousness of fairness and equality, even after children arrive. Lesbian parents—family responsibilities among gay men are too new to have undergone similar study—are "dramatically more equal in sharing of child-care tasks and decision making than heterosexual parents," researchers report.

Too often, one partner gives up too much self—core values and priorities become compromised under relationship pressures; one person does more than a fair share of giving in around decision making or gives the other's goals priority. "Historically speaking, that person has been the woman," says Lerner.

Straight talk is essential to shared power, insists relational therapist Terry Real, who is based in Boston. But for some females, that can be dicey at first—it requires giving up the only form of power they have long been confined to practice. "The indirect exertion of power through manipulation is part of the traditional female role," says Real. "Men don't like being manipulated, and it's one of the few legitimate reasons they don't trust women. That women exert indirect power because direct power has historically been blocked doesn't make it any less ugly."

Young couples today enter marriage expecting equality. Both partners assume they are going to be working, Schwartz reports. Men feel much more permission to be involved in the everyday lives of their children than their fathers did. Beginning during courting, they are likely to be sharing expenses.

But ideology crashes into reality when children arrive. Then the necessity of allocating childcare responsibilities gives rise to power inequalities that surreptitiously erode a sense of self and decision-making power. "The woman usually becomes the only parent who is changing her life for the children," Schwartz points out. "She loses outside influence and an internal as well as external sense of who she is. As she loses power as an individual, her partner may exercise veto power in decision making or become cavalier about when to be home for dinner."



I am definitely not saying that it is impossible to be a strong feminist, while being married with kids. But, looking around at those who have given in to this life, I see women who are subservient to men. I see women cooking while the men of their household chat and watch TV, I see tired women giving up their lives to chase after noisy, poop-covered toddlers, I see women who are subject to the authority of men. And, perhaps saddest of all, I see women who have accepted that their place in society is lower than men's.

I know that it is possible to give up a career for your kids while enjoying the experience wholeheartedly, but this simply isn't something I want. I want to feel like I could change the world. I also think that it is possible to have a family, while maintaining a fair, gender neutral distribution of chores. However, this is often not the case, and I don't think I'm strong enough. I fear that I might fall for someone, and do whatever he wants me to do, and lose myself in the process. Sure, my life as a newly married woman might seem wonderful, but often, the transition is a gradual, insidious one. For all I know, I could wake up at 35, with three kids, no job, and no will to live.


I've always been a somewhat dominant and aggressive character, though this is masked my introverted personality. My mother says that my ego is larger than a man's. I have very strong opinions, but I find it so much easier to express myself around women. I think, I fear that I have somehow internalized the notion that I am not a man's equal, while knowing that this is something I am VERY opposed to.

I wanted to be in a relationship with a woman. Not that I would like to go through a lesbian phase, and that I found it cool/ edgy (I identify as bisexual) but because things would cease to be defined by gender roles. I would like to start with a clean slate, without preconceived notions of what either partner should do based on gender. Only then, would I truly feel like an equal partner. I wouldn't have to struggle against the internalized ideas of how a woman should act.


I wish I was stronger.

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