My father loves to watch old, black-and-white movies. You know the kind; the woman is at home making a pot roast, and the husband returns from work, briefcase in hand. He kisses her and asks what they are having for dinner, and she asks him how his day was. A child comes into the kitchen to ask mommy when dinner will be finished.
Old movies and television shows had a certain way of portraying the family; particularly men and women, husband and wife. The man was the strong, the breadwinner of the family, while the wife lovingly took care of the children and household duties. And that wasn’t just what happened on TV.
Even life operated that way for many families. My father, for example, worked hard at being the primary breadwinner for the family and expected my mother to take care of me at home. These behaviors of men and women, that are considered socially appropriate, even if they are of different times and eras, are called gender roles.
Traditional gender roles are those typical behaviors seen from men and women in those old movies. While there are many differences with the way things are today, these patterns of behavior have left an indelible impact on society and our thoughts about men and women.
Through a general recap of the typical views and expectations of men and women in the early and mid-20th century, we see that men were considered responsible for taking care of the family financially. They took their jobs as sole providers very seriously. They also had the responsibility for guiding the family. While they may have listened to what their wives had to say, they made the final decisions. Men did not do household chores or concern themselves with the upbringing of children. They felt the need to be strong and refrained from showing too much emotion or sharing too many personal feelings, especially with those outside of the family.
Women were expected to be in charge of running the household. Mothers did the laundry, cooked the meals, and cleaned the rooms. They also took care of the children, giving them the care and attention that was required.
The wealthier families might have hired a nanny, and childcare became more widely used in the later 20th century. But the women were often in charge of directing the nannies and dropping off or picking up from daycare. Women were seen as more emotional than men, more likely and more encouraged to open up about their feelings.
Gender roles are passed on through generations. From the age of three, children are able to start becoming aware of the differences between girls and boys based on the actions of the parents and the nature of their environment.
“Lucy may continually be dressed in pink, purple, and flowery outfits while her brother, Jack, is given blue and gray ones. When Lucy is at kindergarten and picks up a truck to play with, her teacher may say, ‘That’s for boys. I’ll go get you a girl toy.'” As the children grow a few years older, they start learning what behavior is appropriate and expected.
“Lucy notices her mother cooks for the family, so she pretends to cook for her dolls. Jack gets a toy lawn mower to use in the den, so he can be like his daddy.” The behavior is reinforced when the parents praise or reward their children for their actions. They can also be punished and challenged to change, if it’s considered inappropriate.
When Lucy pretends to cook, her mother may tell her, ‘That’s great Lucy, one day you will be a great cook for your family.’ Or, on the other side of that coin, when Lucy takes a toy from Jack and he starts crying, his father may tell him, ‘Now, Jack, stop that. Boys don’t cry.’
Children are also encouraged to serve different roles in their interactions with the outside world. Boys are often encouraged to exert themselves in physical activity, and girls are typically given more attention to how they look and present themselves.
During World War II, women got their first exposure to jobs outside the home (mainly in offices and factories) when their husbands were fighting the war. After the war, they returned to their previous roles as homemakers. That is, until the 1960’s and 70’s.
At this point, the social atmosphere began changing, and women started exerting more independence. They began working once again outside the home, starting off in the fields of healthcare, teaching, and secretarial positions, and later entering a variety of other professions. From that point on the ground started shaking. Gender roles were under scrutiny which unfortunately remains the same way up until today. This scrutiny, this detailed gender analysis, should be totally unnecessary with so much technology and our very world so rapidly evolving.
Both men and women in all aspects of life should not be divided according gender. If there should be a division let it be one regarding abilities. Ability or inability to perform something is a human element. More specifically, in the relationship field this element should be further enhanced in our days —
No gender roles at all.
Both do the housework, pay the bills, both have equal demands of respect and emotion and ultimately both spoil each other. At the end of the day, we all need the same things, regardless of what nature has chosen to make us.