the underlying tension of gender roles in the pursuit of an egalitarian marriage (or: what I learned from watching friday night lights)

Mark and I just finished watching Friday Night Lights.  We were WAY late to this party, because I absolutely refused to watch a football-centric show, no matter how good the reviews were. Finally, a friend had a serious chat with me about how empty my life was without Friday Night Lights, and I had a conversion experience.  We became instantly addicted, and watched the whole series in a matter of months.

tami-and-eric-taylor
If you haven’t seen it, I’m going to give away the plot a bit, but not the ending. You can skip this paragraph if you haven’t watched the series yet (and seriously, you should watch the series).  The finale stirred up some interesting conversations in our house . . . namely the ambivalence we both felt Tammi’s request that they move to another city for her job. I think part of the brilliance of this showing is that it was constantly making us analyze what choices we would make in our own lives.  Tammi’s character, in my opinion, was the perfect EveryWoman.  So when she started to find some identity in a meaningful job, I cheered her on. And when she decided her assert her own desires, and asked her husband to compromise and let her job be the deciding force in relocating, I was all, YOU GO GIRL! I loved it. IN THEORY.  But the more this plotline went on, the more I felt like she needed to back down a bit. I felt uncomfortable . . for her and for Eric. I worried she was emasculating him. I felt like she was being too pushy. It just felt a little . . . wrong. Unbalanced. And yes, I realize these are fictional characters here, but I really felt like the situation cast an interesting light on my own reactions to equality and gender roles.

I have often felt that women of my generation are living in an awkward transition phase when it comes to gender roles and family life. I think that many of us hold to an ideology that women and men can choose to share both bread-winning and child-rearing responsibilities, and that women no longer need to be passive participants when it comes to big family decisions.  At the same time, I think we haven’t quite shaken traditional gender norms either. My experience has been that while Mark and I talk the talk of egalitarian marriage, we both have some subconscious feelings about how it plays out in the day-to-day.  We consider ourselves a co-parenting family.  While I’m a work-at-home mom, there is one day a week that Mark spends home alone with the kids so I can work without distraction. We’re both on board with this arrangement, but on those days I often come home feeling guilty.  When I walk though the door and see him cooking dinner with a crying toddler on this hip, I get a gut check that says, “Oh dear. I should be doing that.”  I worry that he’s feeling resentful for doing “woman’s work”.  And honestly?  Often, he’s fighting that gut feeling too.  I usually have to talk myself down from those feelings . . . reminding myself that it’s only one day a week, and that I’m not in a marriage that adheres to strict gender rules. I believe that.  Cognitively. So does Mark.  But I often find myself needing to override my initial adverse reaction to stepping outside of those prescribed traditional roles.

I’m curious if I’m alone in this, or if it’s just a byproduct of being in a transition generation.  In my family of origin, my mom had a job.  But she also did continued to do ALL of the traditional roles of a stay-at-home mother, from cooking to cleaning to laundry.  My husband’s family was the same way.  I think people our age have wised up to the idea that if a woman works, then the husband should probably step it up and help with some of the domestic duties as well.  But why is it so awkward to live out that value?  Is it because we didn’t have our own fathers modeling any level of domestic assistance?  Or is it some instinctual drive that is directing us to stay in our prescribed paths?

How do you approach gender roles in your relationship?  Do you have mixed feelings if and when you step outside of tradition?




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