Women, sound familiar? If so, you either work at a Subway or have a certain male figure that either jokingly or seriously demands your food preparation skills. This kind of treatment of women usually stems from the assumption that women are better at housework such as cooking, cleaning, and childrearing than men. In Veronica Jaris Tichenor’s article Thinking About Gender and Power in Marriage, she explains that this kind of thinking is a part of the general organization of “domesticity”. Men are the ideal workers, and therefore should be the breadwinners, while the women do the home work, which is of less value because it’s unpaid, because they are less than ideal workers.
This kind of contract between married couples casts the man as the rightfully powerful one and the woman as the subordinate who completes menial tasks. With the man’s work seen as more important, it’s hard for a woman to imagine rising to his level. These stereotypes of gender roles within the home are internalized, and women in power or on equal footing as their husbands feel the tug of gender norms and fear emasculating their hubbies. It’s an often portrayed circumstance that when women gain more power, they make their men feel small in comparison. It’s intrinsically implied that our society does not like when a woman outshines a man, at least a man that she’s in a relationship with and therefore constantly pictured next to. It disorders the accepted marriage standard. By doing so, the woman could be seen as socially deviant. When women feel this tug, they don’t want to be seen as too masculine or bitchy. They then overcompensate for their increased man-like status by taking on all of the womanly roles around the home, just to reassure their emasculated husbands that they do in fact wear the pants.
Growing up in the home that I did has helped me realize this model is ludicrous. While my father is the main breadwinner in our family (making twice as much as my mother), my mumsy is still very much independent. Both of my parents are products of their generation in that my father likes masculine activities such as hunting and fishing and mumsy enjoys cooking and sewing, but that’s where the gender line gets smudged. Something one should know about my father is that he is a towering, intimidating specimen, of the confident and “no BS” variety, who literally would rather threaten you than let you take advantage of him. He terrified me on more than one occasion as a child with his chilling and unwavering crystal blue stare. His physical presence alone is enough to intimidate even the burliest of men, standing at six-foot-three and 230 plus pounds of lean muscle. Did I mention he enjoys shooting guns as a hobby? Yup, that’s daddy dearest.
Despite all of my father’s physical and verbal intimidation, my petite mother (5″2, 110 lbs.) defies him daily. She doesn’t even blink when my dad puts on his most vehemently angered face. I’ve seen men larger than him recoil at half of what he throws at my mom when he’s in a mood, but she continues on as if he’s putting on the most pleasant and accomadating of airs. Not to say that my father was ever cruel, but he gets into rants where his face practically turns purple, and she dares to interrupt him to tell him he’s being foolish and offer her opinion. This baffled me as a child. I’d never seen anyone give him even the slightest hesitation when he ordered something, much less someone literally half his size; but mumsy not only hesitated, she confronted him on each of his attacks, demanding he be reasonable and questioning his facts.
Seeing this kind of woman role model growing up showed me that despite physical size or gender, you can put your foot down when you don’t agree with something. This kind of disregard for the traditional role of wife as a subordinate, quiet, and compliant house pet introduced me to how marriages should work-with give and take and no obvious sovereign. If my pint-sized mother could stand up to the immense power of Tom Bell and come away with a happy marriage, then I sure as hell could stand up to anyone.
The answer to equality in marriage isn’t similar paychecks, it’s mutual respect and disbelief in gender norms. Despite the large gap between my parents’ salaries, they have an equal hand in the decisions made for the household. And while my mother is an excellent cook, my father would never assume it was her duty as a woman or say something as puerile as, “Make me a sandwich woman!” Just like mumsy would never assume he liked hunting just because he was XY. These types of interests are groomed into us as children into adulthood. My parents especially got this kind of education growing up in the 1950s and 1960s where these gender roles were far more prominent. As a society we’ve begun moving away from these assumptions, but there’s still ground to be covered if widespread marriage equality is to come to fruition.