My father has been a lifelong role model as a father to me and as a husband to my mother. My father was always the primary wage earner. Ironically, my childhood was between 1969 and 1987; however, according to Eagly (2009) “men, more often than women are still the main family provider” (p. 648) several decades later. During my childhood, my father had both stereotypically masculine and nonstereotypical responsibilities. His traditional male-oriented chores included anything outside the house (handyman, lawn mowing, and fixing anything broken). Other responsibilities reflectively masculine included being the primary automobile driver, i.e., he drove my mother anywhere she needed to go outside of work. My dad also made a point of going to the gas station to get her gas whenever her car was under half a tank. Nonstereotypical responsibilities included grocery shopping, gardening, and cooking Sunday breakfasts.
My father currently lives with my husband, my son and I. His gender roles have modified over the years, seemingly becoming less stereotypical with time. Although he still performs some handyman functions, he primarily runs errands, does the grocery shopping, picks my son up from school, and cooks dinner a few times a week. He is still happiest tinkering in the garage. Since my mother passed away, he gets me gasoline whenever my gas tank gets below half a tank. According to the literature, my dad’s nonstereotypical gender role within our family domain ought to create difficulties for him emotionally, and/or socially. However, it is possible that age is a significant factor. He is disabled and a senior citizen. It is possible these factors combine socioculturally such that it is more acceptable for him to perform stereotypically female gendered responsibilities without the negative connotations were he much younger. Although, when I spoke with him about this week’s topic he was quite adamant that men could be nurses, teachers, or secretaries. It is possible that as a result of his role within our family his attitude has changed over time as well due to cognitive dissonance.
My husband, on the other hand, is less traditional in the sense that he does not participate in as many of the stereotypical activities my father has or does. My husband works full-time and has frequently verbally expressed a sense of responsibility for ensuring our family is stable financially, despite my working full-time as well. My husband is very sensitive emotionally and supportive as a husband, but not exceptionally nurturing as a father. He enjoys cooking and shopping (grocery or otherwise). He is far more romantic than I, which may or may not be a feminine characteristic. Although he will do household chores, in general it is not his preference.
In alignment with the research literature, my husband has maintained a far more traditional gendered view regarding my son’s upbringing (Eagly, 2009) than I have. There have been instances where I have reminded my husband to stand down and wait to see what happens before becoming upset over normal child development situations. Typical examples include becoming upset over my son playing with a Barbie, wanting to get a manicure, or putting on my shoes as a toddler. A specific examples relates to when my son once wanted to get a manicure because I was getting one. He chose a very bright shade of green nail polish. My husband became very upset, but I quickly reminded him that (1) if Gabriel (my son) was good with it, he should be as well, and (2) it was unlikely the children at the preschool would go for it (peer pressure). I was right. When I went to pick Gabriel up from preschool, he had chewed off all of his nail polish because his classmates had been unsupportive of his feminine choice. I used that incident as an opportunity to discuss with Gabriel the importance of life choices and preferences. I was quite clear that he is within his rights to wear nail polish, if he chose. Further, I reminded him that there would always be someone somewhere who would disagree with his choices in some way. I explained to him the importance of being true to himself first. He reassured me that he was happy with his decision to remove the nail polish on his fingernails, but that he was keeping the polish on his toes. In a more recent incident, some kids at school gave Gabriel a hard time about his Uggs telling him they were girl boots. I explained to him that the boots he wears are unisex, boys, or girls. I showed him how my boots are different because they are for girls. This explanation was either satisfactory to his friends or he decided he preferred his Uggs anyway because they are his favorite shoes to wear.
Two female gender roles in my life domains are mother and secretary/legal assistant. My position as mother fills the only female gender role in our family. I am predominantly responsible for my son’s care, inclusive of nutrition, doctor visits, clothing, homework, and nurturing. I am the one that helps him calm down to go to bed at night, makes his bloody knees better, wipes his boogey nose, and rocks him after a nightmare. My nurturing responsibilities extend to my father and husband as well. According to Eagly (2009), my responsibilities are evidence of the stereotypical female gender role relating to a communal focus on the family. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics in 2008, “women spend approximately twice as much time as men in caring for and helping household members” (Eagly, 2009, p. 648).
My position as a secretary/legal assistant is stereotypically female. I am responsible for office management, accounts payable and receivable, and client services, i.e., I answer the phones, do the typing, and send emails. I am also responsible for all technology in our small business, which according to Eagly (2009) is typically male gendered.
With the exception of my position as mother, our household operates in a fairly egalitarian fashion. Each member has certain responsibilities, but they are not gender coded. For instance, household responsibilities are divided up between us based more on availability and ability. My father is on disability and does not work. He is chiefly responsible for grocery shopping, running errands, and making dinners. My husband and I both work and are equally responsible for ensuring our family is financially secure. Once a week a gardener maintains our lawns, and a housekeeper handles the bulk of the household cleaning. I handle everything technology related including computers, paying the bills, and online shopping. As previously mentioned, I am also responsible for the majority of childcare issues including homework. My husband works part time as a wedding DJ, but otherwise has no set responsibilities per se.
I do not hold many gender role expectancies other than each family member do what is necessary to fulfill the demands of the family. My perspective regarding gender expectancies is in alignment with Eagly’s social role theory, which indicates that “gender stereotypes are bound to social roles and reflect current occupational and societal trends” (Wilbourn & Kee, 2010, p. 670). If that means husband and wife both work, then they both work. Although I believe I am accepting of nonstereotypical behaviors in men, I would not be comfortable with my husband being a stay at home dad. In addition, although I proclaim egalitarianism in my household, I noted when discussing these concepts with my husband I referred to him helping me with the laundry or the household chores seemingly indicating the household chores are my responsibility and he only needs to help me with them voluntarily, rather than being equally responsible for them. On the other hand, I expect his equal participation in raising our son and household chores, and am resentful if or when it is not provided. As a case in point, there was a time when I was solely responsible for taking Gabriel to school; however, I realized there were days of the week it would be more convenient for my husband to do it allowing me a couple of free mornings a week. Worse yet, I had to leave for work an extra half hour early while my husband would stay at home in bed! I felt resentful and discussed it with him. We agreed that he could take our son to school when his work schedule permitted. Issue resolved.
Further, despite the shared responsibilities and fluid gender roles in our household, when I asked Gabriel about nurses and gender, he told me that women are nurses and men are doctors. When I reminded him that his doctor was a woman (whom he just had a visit with less than a week ago), he modified his statement to indicate that male doctors work in hospitals. My son reflects similar findings in the research literature regarding children’s occupational stereotyping (Bussey & Bandura, 1999; Wilbourn & Kee, 2010). After my first inquiry Gabriel became quite cagey with his answers, which is to be expected of an 11-year-old. He figured out the gist of the conversation and thereafter whenever I asked about a profession, he would say both genders could do the job. However, he never retracted his position relative to the nurse and doctor. Gabriel’s stereotypical conceptions regarding gender and occupation may be less a result of familial modeling and more the result of peer and media influences (Bussey & Bandura, 1999).
Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106(4), 676-713. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10560326
Eagly, A. H. (2009, November). The his and hers of prosocial behavior: An examination of the social psychology of gender. American Psychologist, 64(8), 644-658. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.64.8.644
Wilbourn, M. P., & Kee, D. W. (2010). Henry the nurse is a doctor too: Implicitly examining children’s gender stereotypes for male and female occupational roles. Sex Roles, 62(9), 670-683. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-010-9773-7