A Brave New World for Gender Roles
I learn every day from my teenage children, a girl and a boy, that traditional gender roles may be a very real problem for the future they are walking into.
I myself accidentally and with some personal discomfort, settled into the traditional wife role. To be fair, circumstances, timing and a new baby made it a natural transition. Before long, we had settled into his head of the home and my homemaker identities.
My husband and I were raised in homes where chores were shared according to chronology. The oldest had the most responsibility and so on till everyone left the nest.
Once you were of age, you did your part. Education was for everyone, success even more so. I mean, we had it good and the future was secure and very much in our hands. However, societal expectations still had their grip on young adults.
I knew marriage was always in my cards and that femininity was heavily admired in women, while the breadwinner, masculine male role was very much male!
Because education had become fully accessible for my generation, having a career was not in question, and so both of us would earn for the home.
It was however, the undercurrents of tradition that would sway decisions for young adults. Very quickly, one felt the gendered pressures of being incomplete without the marriage label, for without it you were just biding time.
Fast forward to 2020, where the idea of roles has transitioned. For Generation Y and Z, gender roles are becoming no roles. Labels are fast disappearing. What used to be obvious is no longer spoken out, for in labeling something, you negate it (Wayne Dyer).
Yes a wife is a wife, a girl is a girl and so on, but only on the face of it. Too many gendered connotations, meanings and heavily biased perceptions have landed many in hospital beds, mentally challenged or worse still, dead.
For teens of the 90’s, labels were normal. Though gender equality was an album of our time and played to the maximum, we had no negative angst around being labelled too feminine for us girls or too masculine for the boys.
In a way, it kept things in order since being woke to even the possibility of the LBGTQ community was just not an option. Mostly everyone blended nicely into the crowd even when they knew they were different, it was just safer that way. (I respectfully acknowledge here I am a novice, only seeking to learn and so do not claim understanding of the nuances of the LGBTQ. I too am learning).
The confidence needed to challenge it had not yet begun to inflame individuals, except for the few who took their stand.
The anthem for gender equality in its most basic sense (men and women have equal access to opportunities), had become continuous background music. We didn’t realize it would soon be the defense for more than just men and women. It would morph to the point where calling someone any kind of name could land you in real trouble.
If my daughters can be used as an unbiased sample, for the current youth and preteens, our Gen Y and Z, they vehemently prefer all things are shared equally.
I admit here, I am not one to overly emphasize equality overtures, as I enjoy the old fashioned way I show up in life. I am glad though for the exposure, worldly education and open expression we try to espouse in our home such that when I am challenged to think differently by the kids, I can look at it with an open mind.
Their futures depend on it. Hearing from them gives me insight into a brave new world they will abide. The world where traditional practices will be skimmed for efficacy because of the famous word WHY their generation has mastered.
“Why do I have to cook for my husband and not the other way round?” “Why can’t he stay home and take care of the kids?” “Why is it anyone’s concern who someone chooses to love”? Why, why, why!
Can the adults evolve?
If adults are to evolve, we could at least try to open our eyes to what is obviously happening around us. Consider changing our responses from statements such as, “that’s how it’s always been”, or worse still, “it’s supposed to be this way”, with, “tell me how you see things, let’s have a conversation”.
With respect for all cultures, religions and spiritual practices, in which the instructions are clear yet blurred, awakening to these worldly experiences is very difficult but possible. The one thing common to all, is love.
In short, times are changing. The old saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. In many ways this will be true, but if we are raising our kids by an ungendered pattern where all things are done by all people, the shift will naturally happen.
To clarify, I am not encouraging blind progress here. Female bodies do different things than male ones. Our organs, hormones and cells naturally kick in at each stage. We can’t fight nature.
Similarly if we take the same understanding of nature’s unfolding, we can work with instead of against the natural experiences stemming from pure non-bias.
Understand the their version of the world
What is key though, is cultivating the emotional intelligence, analysis and broad minded thinking for the young. Removing the bias we grew up with, by acknowledging where it got us. To give them the confidence of choice and time to get to know others so that they make conscious choices.
As they transition to adulthood, the idea of labels may well be diffused and instead be focused on people in general. It will be about really knowing someone and their world view. Consciously choosing whether they want to be stay at home parents, what kind of working arrangements they prefer, their spirituality and so on.
In this way, they can match their future wants and not struggle to retrain themselves on things they thought they wouldn’t need to do any longer.
As a traditionalist, what I do appreciate and am learning, is the broad mindset needed to achieve this fluid state of affairs young adults will need to realize their dream version of the world.
We, the generations preceding can enhance open-mindedness to not hinder or convince our kids that our ways are better.
Coming out of engrained and unprogressive thinking – ambitious women don’t get married, underachieving men don’t get respect, effeminate men are abused and women who speak up are aggressive and unattractive – and silencing them when speaking to our children so they have a chance to carve out their ideals.
As with appreciating any cultural nuance, we do need to respect our children enough to arm them with the history of how we lived and those who came before us. For what is a future without a past?
Their future though, is still theirs to make.
We can only encourage them to take up certain ways that benefited us and made us better people. Encouraging them to know it will be hard but letting them have their challenges and conquer them in their way.