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Strong roles, no rules July 15, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, diversity, family, journey, learn, life, women.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
17 comments

in Eden

Janet (Lavenderbay) took this photo of me getting close to… nature.

Not that I’m feeling nostalgic or anything, but yesterday I found a fascinating quiz thanks to a post on Feminist Philosophers. The quiz is based on a Marital Scale which “draws on the opinions of over 600 couples in the 1930s and what they most frequently voiced as flaws and virtues in their spouses”.

Yes, this test is loaded with 1930s’ expectations of how husbands and wives should look, act, and talk. You are rated on whether you leave your socks on the floor or squeeze the toothpaste from the top of the tube, whether you praise your partner in front of friends, or boast about your bachelor days.

Mme LiberteBut the 1930s were not that long ago. My parents grew up in that era, and if you are younger than me, you may still have been brought up to meet 1930s’ standards.

Although I’m contrary by nature, I believe my nurture instilled in me certain ideas that are sealed into my psyche. These ideas were based not only on my parents’ roles and relationship, but also on what I saw in the wider world. We had policemen and firemen, and the church minister and the mayor were male. Although there were some strong female models — the principal of my elementary school was a woman, and I grew up reading girls’ adventure stories — by and large, I didn’t imagine myself in a strong role. Until I reached university, I never really expected to be anything other than a housewife and mother.

crucified womanIn university, my world turned upside down. I fell in love… with a woman. From that point on, I’ve consciously tried to resist any expectation of women in a secondary role. I now work for a women’s organization, so this doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but I have challenged more than a few men who’ve left a mess in the kitchen at work. Sure, I can make coffee and put the mugs in the dishwasher afterwards, and I’m glad to do it, but you’d better take your turn, too!

But figuring out how to split up our roles at home is more complex. Should we take turns at all tasks, or split them between us? Somebody has to keep the apartment clean and change lightbulbs, somebody has to make supper and pay the bills. But the fact is that neither of us likes housework, although we have a different level of tolerance for dirt and clutter. We both enjoy cooking, but not all the time. It would be much nicer to sit in the computer/television/reading chair all day while someone else takes care of us, but that’s not going to happen. So stuff gets done by whoever has the energy and the inclination at the time, or is most bothered by the dirty dishes/clothes/bathroom/etc. So much for roles.

St. BrigidIronically, the only people who seem to be talking about roles for husbands and wives these days are religious conservatives and academics. But whatever your partnership, surely there are some roles that need to be worked out. What do you see as appropriate roles for women and men? Do you have to constantly negotiate the roles in your relationships?

The public art illustrating this post celebrates strong roles for women, but think about all the art you’ve seen which depicts women as property or decoration, innocent victim or evil seductress. How do you think this has influenced your (or others’) expectations? Although I’m writing here about women’s roles, I’m interested in knowing whether you think men’s roles have changed, too.

Now here’s a challenge: take the test as a wife and as a husband… you might be surprised which role you fit best!

Oh, so how did I score? I make an average wife, but a superior husband. Go figure. For more on this, check out the interesting discussion on Boing Boing or look at the scans of the original test here.
Classical styleAboriginal woman

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Related Links
“Women’s Roles in the Late 19th Century” by Dorothy Hartman
Montreal Gazette: “The volunteer who visits you is probably a woman – and here’s why”
New York Times: “A breadwinner rethinks gender roles”
The Independent: “Where have all the strong women gone?
Suicide Bomber Barbie – irony, or not?

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