Sex and Relationships

Gender Roles and Relationship Woes

By Alissa Mangiacapre

I was standing in line at a crowded department store cradling three packages of socks and neon colored boxer-briefs as if the pile were a cotton/polyester blended baby, when I had a revelation of sorts. Well, “revelation” might be a stretch, but that is for you to decide.

It was a busy Sunday, and most of the people in line had already grown impatient. Now, I am not one to engage in loud, obnoxious phone calls while in a closed-confined area, but I needed to make sure that the Puma “Core Performance” briefs that I was about to purchase were the exact ones my boyfriend had asked for. As soon as I hung up the phone, a thirty-something woman waiting behind me in line laughed, mumbling under her breath.

“Let him buy his own undies. Are you his mother?”

I shrugged off the rude remark, chalking it up to crankiness. I made the decision to keep quiet, and carry on with the rest of my day. That is what grown-ups do, right? However, the longer I stood there, considering everything my boyfriend does to provide for me, and the nerve Miss Butt-in-ski must have to even assume that she understands the dynamic of my relationship, the more I wanted to shout, “Who the hell even asked you?”

Instead, I stood there wondering, if a nosey stranger could so easily pass judgment on me for buying my boyfriend some clothes, how would a friend react to the fact that I do all the household chores; the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning—and yes, I not only buy, but wash my man’s undies too.

I wanted to know if my best friend would respect my right to take care of my boyfriend while still identifying as feminist, or would I have to trade in my cookbook for Susan B. Anthony’s autobiography?

I met up with my friend, Bridget at our neighborhood café. She told me that she respects my lifestyle choices, and asked, “Isn’t that what feminism is all about anyway? A woman’s right to make her own choices?”  

“Besides, you’re not just some stay at home girlfriend who spends her days pushing a mop across a hardwood floor. You’re a fulltime student, and you have a business.”

She was right. I work. I have goals. Why should I feel guilty about taking care of the house when I am also working hard at securing a bright future?

We laughed about how our grandmother’s would be so pleased with me. It seems that older generations root for a woman to be a homemaker, while millennials advise against a woman taking a domestic role.

“Here it is!” she proclaimed. “This article says the ‘couples who share the housework are more likely to divorce.”

I am not into stereotyping, as you might have already guessed, but I decided to look into that notion. It seems like an unfair statement for an article to make, especially from a feminist standpoint.

What happens to gender equality if women are told that they must take on all of the household chores to prevent divorce? It is the same as telling me that I should not buy underwear for my boyfriend. Every couple is different. We should all do what works best for us.

A Norwegian study “Equality in the Home” by Thomas Hansen and Britt Slagsvold, aimed to find out what is the wrong or right way to deal with household chores. The study focuses on Norwegian couples that either split housework down the middle or live by more traditional gender roles. The women who take care of all the chores while their husbands work claim to be doing so on their own volition, and are, for the most part happy.

While the study concluded that divorce rates were higher among couples that divided the chores evenly, Dr. Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Canterbury, weighed in on the study, and has a reasonable explanation for these results.

His findings do not contradict, or undermine the significant progress that men and women have made regarding gender equality, but rather they show that problems ensue when a couple is too diligent about delegating tasks and roles to one another. He believes that treating a marriage like a business transaction is what actually destroys the intimacy of a couple’s relationship, not the distribution of household chores.

“The real issue is not that of equality versus inequality but whether marriage is regarded as a convenient contractual encounter or an intimate and interdependent relationship of love. What leads to divorce is not sharing of housework but a pre-existing disposition to regard a relationship instrumentally or pragmatically.”

When couples fall into the idea that there are certain roles they must adhere to, whether it be sharing chores, delegating specific tasks, or splitting everything down the middle, it can often take away from the spontaneity of the relationship, eliminating romance, and reducing the relationship to a chore.

In short, there are no rules.

Relationships are not one size fits all, and there is no wrong or right way when it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship—other then: do not treat love like a business transaction.

I left my coffee date with Bridget feeling proud that I am in a relationship that some might view as old-fashioned but, for us, it works. We appreciate one another. We have separate, but equally important roles that were not delegated, but were taken on naturally.

When I can, I will treat us to a movie, and more often than not, my boyfriend will surprise me with breakfast in bed, or I will come home after a long day of classes to my laundry neatly washed and folded. So, maybe I do pack his lunch for work everyday, and cut the crust off his bread, and yes, I am willing to stand in line for an hour and a half to buy his underwear, but it is my life, and it is my choice.

I am thankful for the strong women who have paved a path for me to be able to choose exactly what kind of life I want to lead, and no one, not even a nosey eavesdropper standing behind me in line at TJ Maxx can make me feel bad about that.

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