As soon as the taxi dropped me at home, I telephoned my mother to let her know I was safe and sound.
“How long were you away this time?” she asked.
“Nine weeks,” I said. “We had rehearsals in Tokyo and then performed at the Singapore Arts Festival.”
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. When she next spoke, her voice was low and earnest. “Please be careful,” she said. “You can’t spend that much time away and not expect it to damage your marriage.”
As I drew breath to reply, she continued, “You’re a wife now, you need to think about your husband before you think about yourself.”
My mother was born at the start of the 1940s and married when she was only nineteen years old. Although she was intelligent and deeply interested in current affairs, she managed to remain unmoved and unchanged by the feminist movement of the 1970s. She would no more burn her bra than she would go to church without gloves and a hat. .
Growing up, my mother was responsible for cooking all the meals, for washing and ironing everyone’s clothes and for making sure the house was clean and tidy. Even though my brother spent his Saturdays at sport or messing around in the garage, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house until I’d cleaned the bathrooms and vacuumed the floor. She taught me how to make banana cake and coconut slice — food that would be wrapped in greaseproof paper and deposited in our school lunch boxes.
While my brother was having sex with his girlfriend in the back seat of his red Mini, my mother explained how she had been a virgin on her wedding night, and why I should too.
Her greatest conviction was that her husband was the head of the household and that his decisions were law.
My mother believed and continues to believe she has to obey her husband, because her religion tells her so.
22. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
24. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husband in every thing. 1
Fortunately for my mother, my father is a kind, loving and compliant soul, who has never found it necessary to disagree with my mother about anything. Their peaceful marriage has lasted more than fifty-fives years.
But I worry about other Christian women who aren’t so lucky. Those who want different things than their husband and who find they no longer have a say. These women are constrained by the teaching of the church that tells them that the way they interact with their husbands is a direct reflection of their relationship with God. Suddenly, it’s not just a disagreement over a trivial household problem, it’s a sign of a sinful heart and a rebellious nature.
What worries me is that in a world where most of us believe in gender equality, there are many Christian leaders who idealise and promote the exact opposite. And there are many women like me, who have experienced the disapproval of our mothers when we refuse to put our husbands first.
In the end, my mother was right about my marriage falling apart, but it had little to do with how much time I spent away from home. And now I am no longer a wife, she has stopped commenting on the way I choose to live my life.
My boyfriend cooks more than I do. I make the bed and clean the toilet. He vacuums. We split the bills 50/50 and I take care of myself financially. I do what I want, and so does he. I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone else.
But I won’t marry him. Because for me, marriage is tainted by the religious notion of pre-defined gender roles and female inferiority. I know this isn’t true for everyone, but it’s certainly true for me.
“What did you do for your fifth anniversary?” my mother asked, yesterday morning.
“We went out for dinner,” I said. “And no, he didn’t give me a ring.”
My mother laughs. “That’s okay, darling. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. As long as you’re happy, then I’m happy too.”
And you know, I think these days, she really means it.
What does a healthy marriage look like to you?
Have your relationships been influenced by the way you were raised?
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge.
- I am aware that the Bible also instructs husbands to love their wives the way Christ loves the church but this doesn’t ease my discomfort. Christ’s love is conditional on seeking forgiveness for your sins and does not imply any kind of partnership or equality. Also, love doesn’t exclude a hierarchical arrangement — you can love your children enough to die for them and still expect them to do as they are told. ↩
29 thoughts on “G is for Gender Roles • #atozchallenge”
An important subject and well written. My grandparents were married over 50 years and my parents recently celebrated 35
Religion and the bible and its teachings make me nervous for those who stick to it word for word, instead of simply being kind, decent, loving, and accepting.
My parents and grandparents were all those things and taught me well when it comes to love.
I don’t think you can go wrong with those values. You’re a lucky woman to have such wonderful role models x
My husband, Richard, and I were married for almost 19 years when he died. But we had been together for almost 35. I didn’t think I would ever marry again because I believe in the marriage vows. When I could finally wrap my mind around the ‘death do you part’ could also mean the death of my first marriage then I was okay with getting married again. I know a lot of good Christian people who have good marriages and do not literally follow every word of the Bible. Richard was the head of our household. But he encouraged me to be my own person. He was such a good man that I happily stood by his side ‘in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer until death parted us.’ I never once felt I could have been more loved! I think however each of us finds these relationships it is the relationship that is the important thing!
Thank you for sharing your experience, Paula. Your late husband sounds like a beautiful man x
Sometimes it’s 50/50, sometimes it’s 70/30…we run a company together and each of us contribute our skills and ability to keep things going, to keep things going. It’s never perfect, but we have a daughter and we want her to know she can do this, too. I possibly spend more time involved with our daughter’s life, but he’s done his share of ballet buns and parent-teacher meetings, too.
My dad always fell asleep in my ballet concerts, but I love that he made the effort.
Your daughter is lucky to have you both x
Hey. I think marriage (committed relationship) is 100/100. Women of our mother’s generations didn’t have the choices we did and were mostly content with their roles. I laugh at the advice of premarital sex, etc. My adult daughter and her boyfriend are together in my house. My mother would have thought that was quite the wrong thing.
My mum lets my boyfriend and I sleep together in the same room when we visit. Probably because I’m 50 now, she figures it’s too late to rehabilitate me 😀
Your mother was so much younger than mine and so less in tune with the times. Mine took my side if she even sensed a problem with my marriage or my live in relationships
I think my mum has caught up now. I always thought she wanted me to stay in my difficult marriage because of my vows, but when I finally left she said ‘you should have done that years ago.’
I wish I’d talk to her honestly about it sooner.
A beautiful post Katie. I love the transition your mom has made in her thinking about marriage and love! I’ve been married for 36 years and equality was always important to me – our wedding vows said as much. There were times in our lives where give and take isn’t 50/50 but we always strive for that balance.
I love to hear about good marriages like yours. Love and respect seem to be a large part of the secret.
Growing up, the women in my community (including my mother) were very focused on getting married. When my ex-husband gambled away our savings and maxed out all of our high limit credit cards, I decided that I was better off on my own – my mother was worried that I would be alone and urged me to reconsider divorce.
This year will be my 10 year anniversary with my boyfriend. I like that we’re not married and that I’m independent. I don’t have any hard and fast rules regarding gender roles, but I do think it’s important that I know how to take care of myself.
I utterly agree. We should be capable of taking care of ourselves no matter what the circumstances.
And I’m happy to meet another woman who prefers a boyfriend to a husband x
I’ve been married for 21 years….had a career first…my own apartment and lived a single life until I was almost 30. Educating our daughters is key. They need to stand on their own two feet first. They will then be attracted to men who are on equal footing because they will not want anything less. The hubs and I are a 50/50 team and best friends. We are raising 4 kids and doing it well. It is all about respect and respect for oneself. I did grow up with a Stepford wife as a mom and for me there was no way my marriage would resemble what I saw on a daily basis. And so far…it has not!!
Good on you, Monica. Sometimes our parents inadvertently teach us what NOT to do. Your marriage sounds wonderfully healthy.
I think most people miss the point of that bible passage…the part where it says that the husband should lay down his life for his wife…implying that he should love her like Jesus loved the church. Marriage is teamwork…and yes, it should come first. It’s the foundation for my family. My children see a strong marriage, where there is teamwork and compromise. I pray that they will find wonderful spouses one day, who will cherish them and love them with all their being.
Visiting from A to Z…
I’m not sure I agree with you about the Bible. As I mentioned, Jesus’ love for the church seems somewhat conditional and doesn’t appear to put both parties on an equal footing.
But I do agree that a woman is blessed if she experiences deep, intimate love that enriches her life.
Thank you for a wonderful post. I struggle with the gender roles as well, they’re too often such a disservice to women. It’s nice you have a great group of guardian angels. I look forward to more from you.
Thank you, Kimberly. I’m so happy to meet you ♥
I grew up in the same sort of household and mom still believes this way. It used to drive me (and my husband crazy) that she refuses to fix her plate at dinner time until my husband fixes his’ plate. She waited on my dad hand and foot and while he was a very loving man and she was lucky I often thought what if things had been different. It’s funny because I used to get the same comments from her if I did something on my own. I’m totally different though I have been married for 24 years very happily but I am happy because I have always done what I want when I want. That being said though I do show him respect in the things that I do and he is the same way with me. We love being together, but we also have solitary interests and we are both fine with that. I am a very lucky woman and I am well aware of it.
I love the philosophy you apply to your marriage — and it sounds as though it’s working.
You ARE lucky, but I suspect you make your own luck too by putting in the work x
J here, stopping by from the #atozchallenge – where I am part of the A to Z Ambassador Team! (I’m a minion/volunteer under Arlee.)
Let me know if I can help you in any blogging way this month. I’ve followed you on your listed social media sites.
I have seen many sides of this. I’ve seen a woman who stayed in an abusive relationship, and did nothing when that abuse also included her daughter, all for this. I’ve seen other relationships where the husband believed he ought to behave better because of religion, and didn’t tote it around like a superiority right. And maybe that’s where part of the “fine print” problem comes in- that some of the religious texts expect both partners to be equally devote, and therefore to be good for and to each other. When that isn’t the case, a bold enough loop hole hasn’t been carved out. Lawyers didn’t right religious text, but in several countries and times in history, were expected to use it for legal purposes. And thus had to make one side “right” and one side “wrong” so that trials wouldn’t drag on for decades at a time. Add to that mess the idea of translation, because some countries forbid people from reading the text to which they were obligated to adhere. By the time that law faded, the ability to clearly read the text enough to translate accurately became questionable. Then there’s the stock pile of religions which all use the same basic book (example: Christianity and the Bible- Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Puritans, Baptists, etc.), but have come to different conclusions after reading the same words. Yikes.
Amazing that anyone ever manages to accomplish anything religious like with all of that going on.
I’m married. Any idea about gender roles went out the window when I was… um, actually, I wasn’t raised with that notion. I learned about it later. My initial upbringing was mostly with the Lenni-Lenape people, who treat each other as equals. (Confused the pilgrims, I assure you.)
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I agree it’s amazing how there are so many varied and different interpretations of the same words.
I had to Google “Lenni-Lenape” (my defense is I’m Australian) and if Wikipedia is to be trusted, you were raised in a matrilineal culture. How fascinating!
I am so pleased to meet you and I’ll be checking out your blog x
For me a healthy marriage or relationship compiles of 3 parts, 2 individuals with unique separate interests and lives coming together in relationship. I believe both parties should have respect for one another’s differences, there can be flexibility and compromise but only so far as it works for each individual.
Sounds like a sensible and workable approach to marriage. Thank you for sharing your insight.
I didn’t have any good role models to look up to. Instead I had what not to do. I was focused on my life, studies, dancing. My husband was becoming my best friend. I learned during my relationship with him what love is, what respect is. I learned about having respect for myself, and the respect that was possible through another person that loves me and sees me and respects me. I respect and value and see him as well. We understand eachother. We listen and have insight. We don’t invalidate eachother. And we also support eachother in our individual goals and in contributing to our family and lives. We continue to always have fun, enjoy eachother, try new things. It’s been 19 years, and we are happy and adore one another. I think that love can’t be seperated from respect. Real, genuine respect that goes both ways. It’s the foundation of a healthy love life together and individually.
I agree that respect is a very important part of a loving relationship. Thanks for your insight.
Great post! As you may recall from a previous comment of mine (on your Beauty post I believe) that I am a strong feminist. Because of that, many people questioned why I would even bother getting married. I always answer that it’s because I wanted an extremely special day where my partner and I declared our love for one another in the presence of witnesses and family members. I wanted an official “love day” and that’s just me. I didn’t change my name; I took out all of the religious components of the ceremony, and Joe and I wrote our own vows. When I said I wasn’t changing my name, my mom asked why I was getting married then and my simple response was, “certainly not because I want to change my name!”
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