Gender Roles

In one of my classes all the women are married with children, and their husbands are the ones who work outside the home. They all agree that their husbands should do no housework because they are the only ones bringing in money. They also point out that their brothers are better students than they because they do not have child care or housework to do. They do not see the connection between that and the idea that if one is bringing in money one should not do any housework or child care.

Please explain what is happening. I remember learning in Home Economics that men did not do housework and this was a bad thing. I asked my father why he did housework – had the Home Economics teacher sent him a memo? He said no, he did housework because his father had done housework. Both he and his father worked full time jobs for pay. Are we moving backwards, or have I moved to another planet, or both?




Filed under Banes, News

33 responses to “Gender Roles

  1. This makes for a good case that we’re moving backwards. I wonder if your mere presence gives them something new to consider.

  2. There is never a guarantee regarding forward movement in history, is there?

  3. I would wonder if these women do not fully understand capitalism. Capitalism would have to be understood before they could dive into the theory of gender roles. Or I could say self-worth and how much is their labour worth? If one were to pay a childcare provider, a cook, a housekeeper, and a prostitute (I reluctantly add this, but I must because the percentage of a woman having sexual satisfaction compared to the rate of a man is disproportionate, he has an an orgasm almost guaranteed), how much would it cost? Or how much should the person doing all of these jobs get paid? What specific jobs should be considered payable jobs and what jobs should be considered charity. Is money the master? So if the women have boy children who will grow up to be providers (following this type of system) should she get more money for raising him and less for raising a “maggot in the rice” (a girl child)? Also would this mean she gets all the credit for the child’s success and failure? If the child becomes an independent and responsible adult did the father’s money buy this or did the mother’s efforts buy this? How much are martyrs paid? etc, etc. etc, etc.

    Or they could just be like “Look motherfucker, just because you make a little bit of coin don’t mean you are all of that, if you want your motherfucking socks wash then wash them, who the fuck do I look like, your bitch? Now I am making me and the child something to eat and if you think about this dollar for dollar shit then let’s start the tally?”

  4. Tasy

    It’s definitely not ‘backwards.’ I think it’s high time we women take one stand. Either we choose to work shoulder-to-shoulder with men and go dutch in everything that we spend and indulge in or take the not-so-looked-upon approach of waiting for the man to get the money home while the women anyways is ‘sharing’ her responsibility by running the ‘home.’

    I think it’s more than fair if women stop putting up this whenever-i-want-feminist attitude. Come on, shouldn’t couples ‘share’ responsibility? I don’t see it as a gender-role at all. I just see it as two people trying to make through life by splitting work. Yes I do agree that it’s fine to expect your husband to help you around but its not okay to get stuck on the thought that men-must-help. If that’s the case then why don’t women switch jobs or for that matter take up a job?

    It’s great to know that your students are more or less more sensitive to the call of the hour and are aware that it does always make sense to push the man in everything that the women can do or has otherwise chosen to do.

  5. Enjoy your life, Tasy (I take it you’re willing to take a 24 hour unpaid job so as to support and be supported by someone who works 8 … I’d actually love to have a domestic partner who would do all the domestic work for me … maybe … except that it would be sort of like keeping a slave … I can only imagine what it would have been like back in the day to have a wife who took care of the house and kids and typed my manuscripts too).

    Kitty – yes, the capitalism question is key. Jennifer – you’re right of course, and Kiita – I suppose we *have* gone back. The Field Negro posted, for President’s day, on how much more liberal Richard Nixon was than the current Democratic candidates. I don’t agree with everything in the post since he has selected highlights for dramatic effect and to make a certain point, but still, he has a point.

  6. servetus

    I would think it would depend on where in the country one took home ec. I took my last home ec course in the 1970s in middle school and there was no implication that men had any role in anything we were doing. But home ec mirrored the demands of a community that had very traditional and strongly defined gender roles.

    My reading of feminism (admittedly perhaps a too libertarian one) says it is up to the partners in a relationship to decide together how to allot work. I would agree that it is weird that they don’t see the missed connection you point to–insofar as my reading of feminism would also say that the definition of what is valued in a relationship (and where work should be invested) should be more long term than just “what the status quo is now,” i.e., if a couple is investing money in tuition then they should try not waste the education they are buying with it. But I think it is not always entirely clear to students either what they are buying with their tuition money or what they should want to be buying, i.e., as many scholars point out they are buying grades, not necessarily instruction or self-development/knowledge. So what does it matter if their grades are not so good if the degree is what they are buying?

  7. 1. “Decide together” – I’d say that’s key. And/but I *really* think people who are taking care of small children need some relief some of the time, I have seen too much destruction because of it not happening, one of my students (on leave this semester due to her birth) turns out to be self-injuring she feels that since she’s supported financially, she shouldn’t need other support. But she does.

    My mother did the same (not at my father’s orders, but following values internalized from society at large) and it was scary to be the small child at home observing it. “What will happen to me if she actually dies?” I wondered. It was a relief when she finally accepted the idea that she could go on break, and let other people do some work *even though* they also had paid jobs and she did not.

    That’s why your “reading of feminism would also say that the definition of what is valued in a relationship (and where work should be invested) should be more long term than just ‘what the status quo is now’” is also key.

    2. Home Ec stories … gender roles … yes. Sometimes we had to take a bouquet to Home Ec and one day I left mine at home by mistake. My father brought it to the school on the way to work. My teacher was very impressed because a MAN had not been embarrassed to walk around in the school carrying a bouquet, or afraid to come to a Home Ec classroom. She clearly came from a very traditional background and was perhaps just coming to consciousness … although of course she had more confidence than my own mother, she had a B.Sc., a teaching certificate and a job.

    3. What is one buying when one buys an education, yes; it’s a complicated question actually. And / but I am still somewhat amazed by the naivete of Tasy and some of these students (although, thank God, they are at least in school and may not end up as trapped as my mother feels … despite having “chosen” [bending to societal pressure] to trap herself).

    I think the myth of the “lazy housewife” is like the myth of the professor who “only works four hours a week.”

    I am more impressed by what one of my older and more conservative colleagues says: “I got married because I was interested in my wife, not because I wanted free domestic service.”

  8. servetus

    My mother started working outside the home (at my urging) when my father retired, as she was concerned about having to spend 24 hours a day with him. This is on my mind today because she just emailed me that she got a 19% raise this year and wrote to thank me for pushing her. I think she didn’t do this for so long because she thought she was supposed to stay home (and I think they would have had a happier marriage if he had stayed home and she had gone to work) and then was afraid she couldn’t “make it” in paid employment. He had decided that she needed to stay home with us and she believed him/accepted that decision. But she developed a lot of skills while we were at home, running basically every charitable organization in the country on a volunteer basis. Also, and I think this is key, she never had the attitude of “I can’t spend this money because I didn’t earn it,” or the idea that she didn’t have the right to demand that he fulfill his gender role (car and house repairs, lawn work, etc.) because he did paid work and she did not. She was perfectly comfortable with saying things like “going sledding with the kids on weekends is your job” or “getting the kids through the science fair projects is your job” or whatever, i.e., although she was the go to parent at least to some extent parenting of shared children was defined as a shared task. (That statement has to be mitigated for the alcoholic years, though.) I have to say that because I have always earned my own income and have always lived in relationships where there were three accounts–his, mine and ours–I would be nervous about not earning my own money and/or hesitant to spend his. But my mother and most of the women of her generation didn’t feel that way. Anyway, as a result of all this she really feels capable now of supporting herself, also a positive development. Sorry to go on and on here, there is a lot more I could say about gender roles and how they relate to marriages in relationship to religious commitments, for example. I see a lot of students who seem afraid to make their husbands take over their responsibilities because they feel insecure in the relationship (“if I make him change the diaper he will leave me”).

    I hope that women (even those with very traditional marriages) would also say, “I got married because I was interested in my husband, not because I wanted to avoid the paid labor market.”

    The lazy professor/lazy wife thing is also interesting, perhaps I will take it up on my blog. This is something I have thought about for years.

  9. I’ll have more to say later on the long long paragraph which has a lot of food for thought in it but on this:

    “I hope that women (even those with very traditional marriages) would also say, ‘I got married because I was interested in my husband, not because I wanted to avoid the paid labor market.'”

    quick thoughts – yes, although of course marriage *is* a business arrangement … but it doesn’t have to be unequal, or uninspired.

    The error in my upbringing, it seems, was the idea that work was suffering and martyrdom and marriage was too, and it was “spoiled” not to experience them in that way.

    I was supposed to get married, not to someone I was interested in but to the least objectionable of the people who were interested in me or found me acceptable, and not to *avoid* the paid labor market but because, it was assumed, there was no paid labor market I could enter.

  10. Z


    “I see a lot of students who seem afraid to make their husbands take over their responsibilities because they feel insecure in the relationship (‘if I make him change the diaper he will leave me’).”


    And there’s still more to think about in your comment.

  11. Tasy

    “I am more impressed by what one of my older and more conservative colleagues says: “I got married because I was interested in my wife, not because I wanted free domestic service.”

    Profacero, now this is what i am talking about. There is no ‘free’ life and there is nothing worse than being ‘supported’ by someone. If two people are hell-bent on being ‘economically’ free then there are chances that both might not be enjoying together, given the stress-laden life that we lead.

    Its more like a priority. What do you want? so-called economically independent-woman or an independent woman (who knows that today is her day to take care of home so the next day might be her husband’s) – my partner and i switch these roles.

    Besides i do know that at this age a woman need not necessarily be only a ‘home-maker’ for she can be more than that – an entrepreneur right at home! so why all the fuss?

  12. Tasy – I thought the “fuss” came from you! I don’t mean to sound curt, but it really sounds like you need some information other than Christian talk radio (which is what you are sounding like). Actual information on feminism and on the historical situation of women would be helpful.

    Here’s the feminism 101 blog:
    and here are the Thinking Girl’s feminism pages: (actually easier to understand than she fears).

    There are also books. (If anyone else has the time to unpack Tasy’s comment, be my guest – I’m still tired from Hattie’s rudeness and from explaining my vote for Obama.)

    Servetus – yes, my mother was also like yours in terms of attitude on sharing money, right to share money.

  13. Tasy

    Actually profacero i think my comments have been misunderstood or rather i have not been able to communicate it right and i am sorry if i have come across as brash.

    All i wanted to say is encapsulated in the two thoughts below and hope this time i am able to convey it to my best ability:

    1. I think that it is RIDICULOUS, if a woman chooses to sit (lazily) at home waiting for the man to bring the money. BUT i also believe that if a woman gives priority to her ‘ traditional role’ as a homemaker, its her wish as long as she does not DEPEND on her husband for money. There HAS TO BE AN ECONOMIC FREEDOM. There are hundred things a woman can do. Rest is her wish and will. (My mom is the prime example: She earns more than my dad and practically runs the home, monetarily and is fine with playing her ‘traditional role’ as a homemaker – this is where I disagree with my mom too but in the place that I live, advertisements also celebrate the view that ‘a woman can do it all,’ which I think is completely unfair and ‘splitting’ is the key here)

    2. Secondly i am against Radical feminism (except for the view that women should be economically free, which is one the most important beliefs – something which ekittyglendower wrote about). Its my personal opinion and i dont intend to hurt anyone. I enjoy being an individualist feminist, strongly celebrating the woman i am but at the same time making sure that my legal, political or economic rights are not violated.

    As for your students… i kind of related it to what happens here in India. Since higher education means full time about 10-11 hours in the college. What some of the women (i know the percentage of women opting for this is small, though) do here is take a part time job to sustain themselves at least economically, and SPLIT the work with their husbands on ‘running the home.’ or in some cases are supported by their husbands financially only untill they get a job back and repay the money.

    Well I hope this time I didn’t come across as a ‘Christian talking radio.’ Believe me I am no ways close to it in any sense.

    Rest my case here. Hope have been able to convey my thoughts better this time.

  14. Hi Tasy – what I reacted to is the idea – so common where I am – that feminists are people who want to be supported financially and also served domestically by men. They are children who have not understood that in the adult world, work must be done. That was what I heard in your first comment…

  15. Pingback: The concerns of today’s “lazy” wives « (Almost) Without Footnotes

  16. My husband has always helped out with the housework, though more so as we had more children. When I was at home with one baby, it was fairly easy to keep the house running and the baby occupied.

    As more children came, and when homeschooling started in earnest, it became more and more impossible to take care of the children physically and emotionally, AND keep the house clean, AND keep meals coming on time, etc, etc, etc…

    By the time I had three young children, my husband was helping quite a bit. It was just more than one person could handle.

    I would say that when I had one and then two children, but particularly one child, I was bored at home and had “dead times” when there was just not much to do.

    Now, however, I would say being an “at-home” mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and that I gladly welcome outside work, in the sense that it demands far less of me than being a homeschooling mom to five kids (ages 9 and under). There is NO “down-time” naturally present! *pant, pant* 🙂

    So my suggestion would be to remember that “at-home” mom’s situations are as diverse as the jobs of working women. Meaning that, just as some career fields are more demanding than others, some at-home situations are more demanding than others—therefore at-home situations cannot really be summed up adequately as if they are all the same thing.


  17. Hi Molleth and – yes.

    Interesting – my mother experienced being at home with one and then two children as, more or less, a prison sentence.

    She was not willing, however, to take us out and have fun, since that would be unfair given that my father was working, or to work herself or develop other interests, since that would be unfeminine / would transgress the gender role she was trying to fulfill.

    My school friends’ mothers did things like grow all the food and sew all the clothes for the family, because this was a way to occupy time and energy without moving away from a traditional gender role.

    I suppose this is part of what Tasy means – one *can* do other things, beyond what my mother and even the neighbors did, while being a housewife and perhaps one even *should*. But that presupposes a freedom, a sense of autonomous being which was inconceivable to my mother.


    So for me, the “fuss” is that my mother had far less freedom and autonomy than had my grandmothers, because society had grown so much more conservative by the fifties and sixties when she became a housewife.

    She raised me to have even more conservative expectations than herself: one did not even think of choosing spouses, one was chosen by them and accepted gratefully so as to have a chance at food and shelter. One then worked for this spouse.

    These are two reasons why I am a feminist. Not because I am trying to get a man to support me and also do the domestic labor for me, while I sit.


    Servetus – on being supported, feeling all right about spending money someone else earned – yes. I’ve always thought I couldn’t do it but I realize I’ve stood up to my parents while being supported by them, and felt OK about inherited money. And then when I was seeing a man who wanted seriously old fashioned emotional and housework out of me, I realized I knew exactly how to still have being and not have my own money when I heard myself say, “Look, if you want this level of work on my part, and you want this much to say on how I lead my life, you have GOT to support me *and* set up an independent retirement plan for me, otherwise it just isn’t fair.”


    I hear that there are a lot of men here who feel that their wives trapped them into marriage, which means they have to be home before midnight, which is a limitation, and so on. These are men in their forties. This belief that they were manipulated and trapped is related to the beliefs that housewives don’t work, and that that it is feminism’s fault. All of this is massively dysfunctional as far as I can tell – it’s about men wanting to have their patriarchal cake and eat it too.

  18. P.S. I ramble here because there is so *much* one could say, so much already written, so much to unpack, and so little time.

  19. social structure and personal experience often need to be bridged multiple times with extremely sturdy connectors. unfortunately, we rarely move through circles that do this for us. you can help make one connection, but they need to continuously and consciously keep making those connections elsewhere. we are moving backwards in some ways. but in other ways, we need to allow for some type of room. your blog serves as a constant connector for the readers. you need to keep the faith that some of those women will be exposed to enough that they will make the connection and realize some change. it won’t happen to all of them, but to some. many of us work towards pointing out those connections, whether or not we do it all that well or very actively. and i am certain that you will act as at least one catalyst for that change. godspeed.

  20. She was not willing, however, to take us out and have fun, since that would be unfair given that my father was working, or to work herself or develop other interests, since that would be unfeminine / would transgress the gender role she was trying to fulfill.

    When I was in the bowels of Biblical Patriarchy, this was my experience as well…not so much forced on me, but accepted by me.

    I am now enjoying being a stay-home mom, while pursuing higher education online as well as other outside-the-home things (for myself and for my kids). 🙂

    I have friends who love being at home moms and who I wholeheartedly support. After all, feminism is about letting women have a CHOICE, not imprisoning them into the choices *we* think they ought to make.

    I also know people, like myself, who do not enjoy home-making, despite all the years I tried. It is nice to not feel guilty for that anymore. It’s nice to know that in 10 years, I’ll have my Masters or PhD and will enjoy a new season of life.

    For now, I don’t mind sacrificing what *I’d* like best so that my kids can have a parent who can fully engage with them. It is nice to have the freedom to *choose* that, as opposed to before, when I thought it was my place, with no option but to embrace it. Funny how the simple option of choice can turn prison bars into an open window.

  21. Cero

    Thanks, KT Shorb! And Molleth, yes.

    You know, we used to wish my mother had an outside interest – she was *so* lonely and bored, yet she was only interested in us. We’d rush home from school to try to alleviate her situation – our presence was the only thing that did it. It was often not she who was engaging with us, but we who were engaging with her, seeking ways to be that would delight and entertain. It’s because of this experience that I’m so adamant about stay at home moms having activities of their own. Otherwise the roles get reversed – the children have to take care of the parent, because the parent has so limited herself “for their sake.”

  22. You know, we used to wish my mother had an outside interest – she was *so* lonely and bored, yet she was only interested in us.

    One of the great problems I’ve had with my parents — which still remains a difficulty today — is their underestimation about how much there is to know about the world. I think this relates to their being ultra-conservative, but brought up themselves within a small third-world context. So the range of realities, for them, had always been very tiny. Later — having denied me answers to my questions themselves — they began to lean on me to make sense of the world for them. Yet at this time — in my earlly to mid teens — I could barely carry my own weight, intellectually, never mind theirs. This leaning on me became even heavier, even more oppressive, after we emigrated to a context with a much broader and more complex range of realities. Their idelogical outlook became that reality was very simple fundamentally — and that I should fulfil my responsibility and tell them what it is. Failing that, I should expect to be punished for leaving them in the lurch.

    But, I wasn’t able to live up to this task. Above all, it seemed to me, even then, that reality was very complicated — so much so, that I couldn’t quite manage to grasp it accurately, yet, myself.

    The above feeling and attitude led to more abuse — it as as if I had deliberately chosen not to know about things which I had genuinely no idea about. (I had had no political training in school, I hadn’t yet been able to apply with any practical advantage, any aspects of sociology, I didn’t have any understanding or intuitive feel for the modernist society I was now trapped within, and so on.) Anyway, I received a lot of parental punishment for hesitating and seeming to suggest that things were complicated.

    And probably, this is what culminated in the abuse on the night that I was told that I couldn’t be an intellectual, and I should give up reading books, because according to my father, I couldn’t even talk properly.

    But this is all because the answers that I now have to give them wouldn’t have satisfied them anyway. They were (and still are?) looking for some simple conservative explanation about how the world really works, and that is not an answer I can give them.

  23. It is strange, because mine aren’t like that, and especially my mother isn’t really. But she defined herself *very* narrowly in the wife-and-mother role in those days.

    People generally really do want simple explanations of things. And they confuse complexity and ambiguity with convolution and shadow-boxing – which is, of course, a misunderstanding. It has taken me most of my life, however, to come to understand that oversimplification *is* the heart’s desire of many, and that they will fight very hard to get or retain it.

  24. See this other post I wrote on the Arooo site (I’ll post it below.)

    Religion and morality can really complicate the issue. I fear to say it, but it seems that the colonial propaganda the regime put out in order to enforce the sense of white superiority also did much to obfuscate and confuse the thoughts of the Rhodesian whites — especially when they were taken out of their original environment. You know I actually think that many of them didn’t want to believe that knowledge actually came from education rather than from “natural superiority”. I think platonism — the idea that learning is only remembering what you know — might have been an attractive ideology in colonial-land. So, somehow you are just simply expected to know stuff — and if you don’t then that is a moral issue, not a matter to do with your education.

    Here is what i posted:

    “In my personal experience, I only ever received the sense that marriage was a mystery that had no bearing on who I was or what I would be doing at any point in my life. I think this was due to the colonial attitude of Victorianism, which appeared to posit that there is a vast difference between what children are and what adults are — so much so that there was no point training children to think in terms of adult concerns. Once the children crossed the threshold into adulthood, they would automatically be divinely bestowed with a sense of the meaning of marriage and how it was inevitable for them. Until then, they had no need to know about that which didn’t concern them.”

  25. Z

    Actually, I don’t think what was thought here is so different. My mother, certainly, was taught she was superior and more educated just because of race and class status.

    I also think you’re dead on with the point about definitions of children and adults in the Victorian world. It explains a *lot* – at least about the partially Victorian universe in which I appear to have grown up!

  26. Well the partially Victorian universe also often gives one a scope for freedom and for actually having a childhood.

    On the other hand, one may be punished for this freedom when one grows up. For it is the fashion, these days, to treat children as little adults in the making.

    Here is what I received from my renewed acquaintance with my old school friend from Zimbabwe. Tell me that she and I were not punished for not being able to adequately “read” advanced, Modernist culture:

    “I finished reading your book… I found it exciting right to the end.
    You sure did pass some rough and bumpy times!! I am very very happy though that you made it out of this mud!
    Life has a many obstacles. When I came to Switzerland I struggled a lot too and just could not function in our society.
    Only since 1999 have I been able to keep a job. Beforehand I used to get fiered and people just wouldn’t believe in me.
    I can feel so well when you write about not existing and you describe it so truthfully.

    Thank you for this gift of reading…”

  27. This is definitely true. (Perhaps it is why I am still so youthful – the innocence got permanently lodged, somehow. Also, of course, the psychedelic 60’s culture of my earliest memories had its own form of wide-eyedness or childish wisdom. I didn’t realize it was an anomaly then – I thought that was how things were.)

  28. yeah, well there is an affinity between colonial-victorian naivety, and hippyesque 60s types. You can see why I married one (of the latter)!

  29. ..but you can (perhaps) also see why I couldn’t initially and for a long time make any sense of the Western ideology that the colonials were kind of nazi types. Actually, although some were sadistic (as Marechera documents) most were not and did not have the sado-masochistic dynamic within us. I believe that this aspect occurred only on the peripheries, within the context of war.

    And I have lately discovered that one of the sadistic practices that Marechera’s work eludicates — of forcing a victim to eat and eat and eat, beyond what he is capable of eating — occurred under the instructions of both the Rhodesians forces AND the guerilla forces (who used to use it as a punishment for those who took a second helping in a time of need).

  30. 😉 – about the hippies!

  31. My point is not a racial one — but one that asks people to be informed. Indeed, if it seems that I am making a racial comment by putting forward information, this is an indication of how much people are used to ideological warfare taking the shape of written rhetorical.

    So, such perceptions are meta-rhetorical and are intelligent. That does not make them concretely informed.

  32. But reams could be (have been) written about that – what sort of colonial one was, etc. Australians have a terrible reputation and so does Cecil Rhodes. I’ve said before that the vision of Australians – of all people – I mean, in terms of colonialist attitudes they’re as bad as any – deciding to teach you as an individual that you are evil is quite comical.

    In this hemisphere there are 500+ years of it in 25+ countries, 2 continents + islands. If you look at any actual documentation of it, it was / is really bad. That doesn’t mean every individual was, or that every Sioux was a superhuman repository of virtue, but you have to look in structural terms. Some people say it “wasn’t so bad” but this is an undocumented myth usually cited to justify current white supremacist votes (or similar attitudes).

    I’ve never been particularly interested in the “It wasn’t me” argument … I don’t really see the use. It is all over writers like Faulkner and it is all too egotistical and self serving. I find it *far* more interesting to think in terms of the complexities of colonial society – and it really was rich and complex, especially in points south but then also everywhere, an by this I do not mean good, just rich and complex.

  33. Pingback: “Lazy” wives, “Lazy” professors? A half-baked meditation on alienation from work « (Almost) Without Footnotes

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