Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is It Just What It Is?

I would like to say I reject stereotypes. I think most conscientious, free-thinking adults would say they do the same. But those same conscientious, free-thinking adults would also have to admit that sometimes it seems that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason... which is a cliche, not a stereotype.

Gender roles are a particularly stereotype-laden field of play. Once you add partnership, family and God forbid(!) a sense of call to a vocation in this world things can get really confusing.

I always fought against these stereotypes. I always figured that as long as you had the right balance of qualities needed to make a partnership work, then it will work. For instance my ex, dead m-i-l could never wrap her judgmental, small mind around the division of labor in our household. One time I left her and tdx in the kitchen so that they could talk. I was in our new dining room hanging up a light in the ceiling. She came all the way out of the kitchen to find me up on a ladder, dust raining down on my head as I drilled into the ceiling to ask me where some sort of special cooking utensil was. When I told her I didn't know but tdx was right there in the kitchen and he would surely know she responded:
"A woman doesn't know where things are in her own kitchen?"
I had had enough at this point (there were a lot of these points in our history) and I said, "Don't you get it - I'm the guy, HE'S the girl!"

It seemed witty and smart-ass at the time but now my marriage is over and I can't help but wonder if maybe butting so hard against the stereotype didn't have something to do with it.

The majority of sitcoms portray men as the silly, goofy ones and the women as the hard-ass ones who keep the family running and make the decisions. They treat their husbands like another child. "Just for laughs," I would tell myself as I stopped watching Everybody Loves Raymond for that very reason. Today a sports radio talk show had the two hosts talking about how their wives make all of the decisions in their household - which they are happy for - further playing up the stereotype.

The husband as another child is a stereotype I rejected. The way I sometimes put it post-divorce is that I gave tdx enough rope to hang himself. He chose not to pursue certain career paths, he chose to stay in the home rather than venturing out, he chose to do other things that I disagreed with but those were his choices. I did not think it was my place to manipulate another human being into doing things the way I wanted to do them simply because society says it is up to me as woman to run the house and everyone in it.

Should I have addressed some things earlier that were impacting our partnership and family life? Absolutely. But I wanted him to be the one that made the decisions... and of course now we know he was/is incapable of that.

Each member of a partnership being equally responsible for decisions that impact the household; sounds good, right?

But stereotypes are that way for a reason.
And I just cannot buy in.

As I contemplate the potential for a future (VERY future), healthy relationship I'm just not sure where all of that leaves me.


Anonymous said...

Preach it WS -
It is a maturity thing as well. Mr Incredible was raised in that stereotypical household, but he has chosen to step out of that role. I do not watch "those" sitcoms - they are so degrading to the men - and I do not want my sons to think that it is an option to marry someone who will speak to you/treat you that way - I do not even mother them in the way that the wives on those shows mother the husbands.
In the WAY future you will have a healthier partnership with a more mature person!!

Songbird said...

It sounds like the stereotype you were really butting up against was the operative myth in HIS family, the conservative religious family portrait of "Father Knows Best" and "Mother Knows Where the Springform Pan is Stored." That 1950s stereotype may be spoofed in sitcoms of the 21st century, but as we know from life in churches, there are plenty of people around us hoping it will come back again.

What I hope for you in a future relationship (whatever the time frame) is a partner who will be equally strong and with whom you will be able to share your myths and negotiate your realities.
I'd hug you, but I fear the drill might get in the way. :-)

So for now:

Songbird said...

P.S. I am way girly, but I do not own a springform pan.

cheesehead said...

I, too, am way girly, do own a springform pan (know exactly where it is and how to use it), plus about 987 pairs of shoes, and get my nails done like clockwork. And yet a friend (a man) recently described me as "tomboyish."

I think it is because I swear like an effing sailor.

I think most stereotypes just fall in the "is what it is" category. They come and they go. The best thing you can do in a relationship is to know yourself really well and to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Interesting post. I would add that among some conservative Christians, the man should be the "Head" of the household, in charge of all the decisions. So we have a lot of mixed messages floating around, none of them very helpful.

I know that my marriage to the Kid's father was hurt by the fact that I didn't need to be "taken care of", that I was competent, and that I had equal or greater earning potential. (Certainly there were other factors as well.)

I think what Cheese said about knowing yourself and negotiating is spot on.

will smama said...

These are great reflections back. Thank you.

As I continue to sort out where I am headed with all of this I guess I am realizing that:

a) One of the ways we faltered was that I was willing to let tdh be the "Head" of the house but in the end that was a position he was not confident enough to take. And I was so wary of the stereotype that I didn't really want it either and so our negotiation became this weird dance that cannot be explained in a mere comment box.

b) I do know who I am and part of who I am is someone who no longer wants to negotiate and so...

c) as great as sb's hope is: "What I hope for you in a future relationship (whatever the time frame) is a partner who will be equally strong and with whom you will be able to share your myths and negotiate your realities"
I think I am just going to pass.

And that may be what scares me most of all.

Rev Scott said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the stereotypes, WS, I think you're absolutely right. Kris and I both think that the Everybody Loves Raymond-type sitcom actually tells only one joke, and it loses its humor pretty quickly. I'm not a moron, my wife is not a shrew, and frankly, who cares if I can cook better than she can AND I like hanging drywall and changing the oil on the cars?

Now, if only the church could drop its insistence that men's groups meet for coffee and women's groups plan out bazaars. But that's a whole other post...

DogBlogger said...


Purechristianithink said...

Yes--I can never chortle along with "the girls" about how incompetent husbands are at housework because my husband is no question the better housekeeper of the two of us. Actually, partner me with anyone, anywhere, of any gender and the other person will be the better housekeeper.

We laugh about it, but I also sometimes wonder if I've crossed some kind of line--gone from funny to freakish.

God_Guurrlll said...

Being of the homosexual persuasion, the roles are thrown out the window. We both do the cooking, we both do the fixing things around the house. I fix the computer because my partner is scared sh*tless of ruining it, she changes the kitty litter because...well..I'm too grossed out by it.

Gotta go to the kitchen to help with supper.

Love and peace


mid-life rookie said...

Lots to think about. One thing I've learned in the last six months is never underestimate the power of God to surprise you. Other than that, I try not to say never anymore. Live in the now, wonder about the future, remember the past for what it has taught you and who it has made you. Trust God - much easier said than done - yet easier than trusting other humans or ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Grew up on a farm. Momma did all of the farm work... and the housework. Daddy did all of the farm work... and the housework.

They worked together as a team... each filling in where the other one couldn't. They taught me that gender specific roles are total (as cheese says) effing crazy... because it takes both people putting in all they can to make a relationship work.

Or... if you want to go the Bible route... in Christ... there is no male or female.....

Rev Dr Mom said...

WS, I have been single since 1995(!) and I think that the conclusion you reached ("I do know who I am and part of who I am is someone who no longer wants to negotiate and so...") is how I feel much of the time, too.

But I also think a lot about relationships, especially as the Kid approaches his last year in HS (and now as I think about it, he was close to the Boy's age when his dad left). I don't know what it would be like to share my life with a partner any more, and to have to do all that negotiating...but I guess I would consider the possibility.

But I'm awfully picky, so I don't really expect that possibility to come along :)

And even though I say that with a smiley there's some sadness, too.

Good conversation--thanks.

Singing Owl said...


Anonymous said...

gg - that is actually point. No matter what actual genders are involved in the partnership, things still need to get done.

And you hit on another great point, the stereotype of the woman who needs to be rescued (thank you Lifetime Television Network). How many 'nice' guys do we know who are continually attracted to women who need 'saving' and who in turn continually get burned because it is not up to them to save anyone.

- will smama

Ruth said...

glad to see you sorting this out, WS, it's brave of you. I'm just grateful that we reversed roles early in our marriage, due to financial circumstances (right after I gave birth, he lost his job, I could earn more money . . .) even though it was only a few months, I think it was pivotal in setting up expectations, and we are truly egalitarian. This weekend we celebrate our 24th anniversary, and may I just say that from my experience, negotiating is not a negative. It is a way of life, like a morning cup of coffee. Theoretically optional, I suppose, but how would you live without it?

Identity Mixed said...

I will never change who I am for another human being. I am competent with the mower and in the kitchen.

What makes me laugh is that my three year old once pointed at the vacuum cleaner and said, "That's daddy's." My mom shot me a dirty look and said, "Well that tells me everything I need to know." Ok then.

When my hubby's parents are over, I do all the cooking. They were once astonished that I cooked on the grill. What? Because it's FIRE, a woman shouldn't use it?

When my parents are over, my hubby does all the cooking. So my parents think I don't do a thing around the house.

We like to continue this thinking. Keeps them on their toes. But in reality, I can do everything and anything and so can my spouse. There is a weird sense of freedom we both have. We don't need the other to do anything - we love that the other is capable.

St. Casserole said...

Great conversation.
I think about these things, too.
I work on the issues often.

I got a drill for our anniversary. I love tools and power tools.

Kathryn said...

I think falling foul of the stereotypes is one of those horrible black hole things that can happen...When we married, I thought I needed to be "looked after" (had lost both parents 7 years before...wasn't sure I knew who I was...all that sort of early 20s stuff). When LCM proved incapable of playing that role, I discovered that I didn't really need him to anyway - but that discovery has put him in a place that he can't even acknowledge, let alone come to terms with, where I am the bread winner as well as the "prime carer" for our children. Yeah, he cooks, he cleans if I have a hissy fit, he's great with teh DIY stuff - but deep down, he feels that's NOT the way it should be and hates that I'm the one whose job provides the house, the one for whom the phone keeps on ringing, all of that.
And now I've highjacked your comments to pick my own scars. I'm sorry my friend. I'd love there to be someone evolved enough to be the partner you deserve...Meanwhile, I'll risk the drill and send hugs anyway