(from personal observation)
This is a long-winded one, but if you stick with me and see it through, I hope it will be a thought-provoking journey, at least.
Our world seems to enjoy boxing people into roles, stereotypes, labels, etc. American culture, specifically what I’ve seen in rural American culture, sticks to these kinds of guidelines a bit too stringently for my liking. The church really, really loves doing this kind of thing–and I’m SICK of that, I might add. Sometimes, these snap judgements seem like they could be really useful tools–they keep things simple for your brain, so you’re able to just quickly write something off. Less pain for your brain, easily sorting everything into tidy little spots in society, but not necessarily the truth. They make everything seem very black and white, strictly speaking, and “just the facts, ma’am.” But if you look at yourself, if you look deeply, and if you also look at your life, maybe things shouldn’t be quite so stuck. That maybe, that’s not how the world really turns.
And by stuck, I mean that these guidelines are not be doing us any favors from where I stand. Cookie cutter molds from which to build our peripheral ideas and hopes about other people, other women and men, are not helping but in fact are hurting us at our very core. From looking around me, from looking at the relationships I have and the friendships I’ve built, I think that the gender roles rules need to be kicked to the curb: once and for all. Hello, I am that woman who will not force pink and purple flowered skirts on my daughter if that isn’t her liking, and Oh, hi there–I’m the feminist chick who will truly squeal with delight when my son creates his first dinnertime meal and serves it with pride. And I will never, never ever, give him “boy toys” like hammers and building sets, without giving him a kitchen to play with or something more neutral such as blocks and stuffed animals. And if he wants to carry a baby around and take care of it, my mothering soul will be proud that I have set such a wonderful, nurturing example for him.
Anyhow. The big kicker here is this: How you raise your sweet baby girl or sweet baby boy, is the expectation they will have of the world–FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE. The actions, the roles, the responsibilities that your little sponge is soaking up will resonate within them as the truth. The toys that they are given, shows that they watch, the music they hear, the way you self-love or self-hate.. they will have a perfect blue-print of what they think they’re supposed to emulate. Translation: If you’re a momma, and you do all the laundry, cooking, and cleaning, or if you’re a poppa, and you do all long hours of working, all the physically demanding labor, and have never lifted a finger to team up with your wife in a messful of kitchen, then your child will likely follow suit and demand the world to do so as well. When other people, specifically in this case probably your child’s future spouse, do not fit so tidily within these walls of examples, all hell breaks loose. It does not have to be like that.
These people (and I am one of them) who are not stuck in any one mold very tightly (I tend to have a personality that exhibits many male-typical traits & am a born leader in my own opinion, and I am a lot less domestic in many ways than some women are raised to be) a problem will certainly arise. There will be a clash, a contradiction between two worlds, and it will take a very long, long time for both people to reconcile. My husband and I were raised very differently. He was raised in a home where gender roles were very, very strictly followed. My home was a lot more egalitarian, though I do still believe I missed out on many important life skills I would like to learn now (read: changing a tire, or being able to sew), and I am not blaming my parents for these things. They did a great job. My hubby’s parents did a good job too–we just came from entirely different worlds, with entirely different priorities. Needless to say, there were many hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and painful fights in our first year of marriage because of gender roles gone awry. I hope that through our parenting and our observation of God’s design, we can nip that in the bud for our son.
I understand where tradition lies on the spectrum of very important pieces of personal history–traditions are what often make life special, give it meaning, make us feel connected to our past. At least, traditions in my understanding, through my life lens. However, I do not adhere to tradition for its own sake–I will forsake the “same old way” for a “new and more effective, efficient way,” in a heartbeat if I have made the analysis that a change will be positive and helpful. I do a lot of reading and investigating to glean out what the best way may be. The same is true for gender roles–I have looked, inspected, introspected, outwardly glanced, picked up the scriptures, discussed with many people… I just cannot grasp how some people will raise their children without a thought about how gender roles impact them. The world bombards men and women every day, mostly through advertising, and tells them what they will do, what they will say, and how to behave. Women are driven to see themselves as a sex object, when it boils down. Men are pushed to be fearless and impermeable, insusceptible to emotions and hurt. These things rob us of the people God designed us to be, and leave us yearning for more with a deeply buried insecurity that we carry like a huge weight slung over our shoulder. Perhaps not nearly realizing how much it impacts us–so many people carry this with them wherever they go, but it needn’t be so. You can awaken. You can understand that you are not your sex, you are not your gender. You are a child of God with uniquely given gifts and abilities–you do not have to buy, sell, trade, train, or squish yourself into a mold based on the image you see all around you of what the “Woman” or “Man” must do. These roles are irrelevant in many cases. Though they are mostly stereotypes and expectations of society, I will also say that women are often born mothers, wheras men seem to be learned fathers, or nurturers. Many men think that it’s “only a woman’s thing,” or that he isn’t expected to learn to nurture. Not the case, in my eyes. I think many men were never shown by their father-figure exactly what it means to be a nurturing man. Therefore, they always thought that would come from their mother. My husband is one of the most nurturing people I know, but he had to get past his early suppositions in order to embrace that. I had to realize that I am a self-starter when it comes to negotiating with people in a business-environment, and also trying to haggle with some of our utilities providers on the phone, and I am a leader in this way. If I had kept expecting my husband (who knows why? I guess I perceived it as a guy’s thing to do? ) to do these things, we’d both be going crazy, forced into roles which we did not fit.
So what does this all mean for our children? I would like to suggest a wild and crazy notion of forsaking traditional ways, forsaking what your television is telling you, forsaking the industries who are trying to sell you things (ahem… all of those toys and all of the crap you don’t need, which vividly supports gender roles: Dora, Bob the builder (ugh!), Barbie, and action figures like Spiderman…) are not trying to help your child or love them. They are trying to make $$. That is their bottom line–yeah, yeah, yeah, we can all argue about how our kids need action heros and adventure, okay I get that ( I like spiderman) but really… they want to make a quick buck. The more your child wants to be like superman or barbie, the more your child watches and consumes their products, the more money they make. And the less satisfied your child is going to be with who they are–as a woman or a man. I would like to suggest a crazy turnaround of allowing the “world” to suggest for us what our children should be like, and instead do a more inquiry-based playtime with our kids, where they are encouraged to explore all kinds of textures, shapes, experiences… without putting gender as their top priority. The world is made up of so many more things, and creativity blossoms without so many boundaries. Give your child the options. Also, inquiry-based with a dose of real world would also be a step towards better things: allowing your child to cook beside you. Lifting up the hood of your car and showing your kid all of the parts of the engine, etc. Boy & girl. NOT just boys. NOT just girls. We shouldn’t be stealing tools and resources that our children need to have in real life, so that they can come to expect another person to meet those needs for them. That is a huge, HEAVY load. ALL of our kids should be capable in as many areas of living as possible. Not just what our social circles say is acceptable for their gender.
Here is a bit of what I hope to do to help my child thrive in his God-given talents and personality, as a sweet little boy:
1) We have been very, very adamant about NO television for August. I don’t think it’s evil, I think advertising is evil–and there is a huge difference. Point blank. We watch PBS in our home (newly) and listen to NPR. We also listen to a wide array of music. He does not need television to stimulate his brain even more, and all the research shows that he does not need it or learn from it until after age 2. He does not need advertising to tell him what he doesn’t have and needs to have to be happy. He does not need to see the guy with massive muscles that he “should” look like. He will not suffer in the least without these things.
2) I always want him to have a choice in things, if he is able to make those choices. I don’t want him to feel like we are forcing things on him, especially gender-stereotyped things. Activities will not be optional once he gets to a certain age, because we want him to socialize and discover the things that he excels in, but he will choose if its basket weaving or soccer. I will support him in either.
3) As much as we are able, hubby & try to share the load across genders. He does the laundry when he is able and often on weekends, we both clean the house (I do more of this right now, because I am home almost full time with August) but Troy is really much more thorough with cleaning than I could ever hope to be! We must fully own that we are August’s biggest example, and so we have to get out of our comfort zones. I will mow the lawn, and I will learn how to check the oil in our van. I will do things that I am physically able to do. And Troy will carry him around on his back in a springy green Ergo even though it doesn’t make him feel “manly.” He will cook dinner for our family and be proud of it, because a guy can rock at cooking, too. And.. Because we share the load as parents, not as unequal partners.
4) I will encourage my child to see role models in both genders. I’ve had an old-man crush on John Miur for a very long time, probably my early years of highschool, and I respected him for the peaceful protester he is. I hope he will be fascinated with Madame Curie or Condi when he is in his formative years.
5) I will hunt for biblical truth, and not accept mainstream ideas that many churches seem to be having about roles within the church. They are not biblical, and they are not fair to women in who they are in Christ. I feel so strongly about this that I do not attend my old church anymore. I liked many things about it, but their ideas about gender was not one of them.
I feel that the roles we are expected to fill, the shoes we are expected to walk in, can be touchy touchy topics. It hits people deep down, and they get offended. I realize that. But I also realize that it can be lifechanging to realize that these are not very valid reasons to live the way we do. If you realized that your wife was better at something than you, but you always forced yourself to do it anyhow, it sounds like the recipe for disaster to me. The same goes for any woman who would choose, every night, to make dinner (even if she’s really bad at it) even though her husband really loves it deep down, and can produce top-notch dinners. And at the end of the day, I think we should all be sufficient. Sad as I am to think about it, someday I may not have my husband. I don’t want to be totally inapable of filling all of the roles he used to fill around our home. I want us each to be confident and have the life skills we need–gender roles trap us into thinking we need someone else to provide many things for us.
One last thought on this topic, speaking spiritually. I can give you a million ways that Jesus countered his very male-dominant culture. I think a lot of people are very set in their ways on this polarizing issue, but during my last year at Greenville College, I had to do a very in-depth investigation about this topic and what Jesus really exhibited through his actions. Through my studies with my fellow students, I uncovered what I believe very adamantly to be truth. It was the first time I really, really took a hard long look at what Jesus thought of women and their role: The bleeding woman that he healed is probably the most beautiful example that I can give ((Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 8:40-56) of a savior who allows a woman who is thought of as “unclean,” completely cut off as a pariah by her fellow people because of her bleeding disorder… to touch him… she was accepted by Him. Then another example when He speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well, that crosses all lines within his Jewish culture. Women were very much the “lesser” citizen in Jesus’ day, but he made every effort to tear that down. My final thought on this would be Jesus’ words: they were often very feminine and used motherly symbolism. Men of that day just didn’t speak in such a tone. He spoke of being a mother hen who gathers her chicks about her, in Luke 13:34. I love that symbolism. Even a dude in present day would rarely speak like that, so tenderly. Anyhow, if you have any more questions about any of this, please ask. Here’s a link that may help explain these beliefs further: http://www.jesuscentral.com/ji/life-of-jesus-modern/jesus-feminist.php.
All my love,