Are gender roles and expectations putting pressure on women?

First posted on 31 January 2021

During the inauguration of the new president and his vice in the USA, the world witnessed the very first second gentleman in the history of the United States. For some, it was refreshing to see a woman in the limelight and her man supporting her – this was very different from the norm of women playing the supporting role as men took the centre stage in these ceremonies. As I watched the ceremony, I took to social media to see what people were writing about the inauguration and that was when I saw a post that was quite thought provoking. By the time I saw it, a heated debate had already commenced in the comments section of said post. The writer of the post who has the same Ghanaian background as myself, had posted something to the effect of men supporting women to a higher ambition and paying homage to Kamala Harris’ position and the role of a supportive partner. This did not sit very well with some people on the thread – especially her calling out of men who are solely looking to marry a woman so she can fulfil the traditional roles that have been carved out for women over the years – so the debate raged on in the comments section of the post and surprisingly, I found some women offended by this post.  But, I should not have been so surprised, as some months ago, I wrote about abuse in relationships and how we are conditioned from a young age to fulfil these gender roles that have been created for women.

The narrative that behind every successful man is a woman had been sold to us for so many years that in the face of positive change, some women could not comprehend it and chose to revert to the same narratives that has kept us from places of power and decision making. That same week, I came across a woman on YouTube who felt it was her place to bash career women who had chosen to not marry and have children to pursue their careers. I have always been of the notion that we all make our own paths in life – from the homemaker to the CEO and no one should be made to feel less than for following what they want. But what I have never been okay with is women or men in some cases, being made to give up on a dream or ambition because it is not a typical role for them. I have known men who for years had been ridiculed for wanting to be hairdressers for women because somehow, hair braiding had always been a woman’s job. However, in my experience, some of these male hairdressers have been some of the best hairdresser to ever work on my hair. The same goes for the woman who gave up her dream of being in  a different profession to keep a home. Keeping home is not an easy job – but the question is, is that role specifically for a certain gender?

In the comment section of the said post on Facebook were several men who felt the writer was unfair in her comment mainly because the writer had alluded in her post that men equate a ‘humble’ wife to one that kept the home, especially from our part of the world. From the post it was clear that there was a certain expectation when it came to the role a woman played in the home –  she was expected to clean, cook, raise children and basically keep the home running. It was also clear from the comments that as well as all these gender roles a woman was expected to play, she was also to have some form of a job to help with the financial situation at home. Looking at all the comments, I felt the scale was unbalanced and I was not entirely sure what men were bringing to the table when it came to gender roles and exactly what role they were playing. A very good friend of mine had had a man introduced to her by another friend – in one of her conversations with this potential partner, the discussion about gender roles came up. During her conversation with this man, my friend realised that he had preconceived ideas on what roles a woman would play in a marriage and his list for the woman was endless – but when she asked him what the role of a man was, he simply explained that he would fix things around the house when they broke.

I once heard a public speaker say that he did not allow his wife pursue a political career because he needed her to be at home so he could continue with his public speeches. The sad part was, their children were all grown and had left home and he still denied her – from his own words, she was more educated and qualified for the position she was planning on taking but he would not allow her. While he casually joked about killing his wife’s dream, people in the audience laughed with him – I thought of the loss of a whole community and possibly a nation of a fine politician because a man needed his home kept! It’s these instances that make me sad, when dreams are shattered because of gender roles and expectations that have been carved out over the years. While discussing this, a friend asked why the wife of this speaker needed permission to do what she wanted to do – and I replied that it is the same reason why there are women out there who feel that a man must pay for everything they need – it is expected that she gets her husband’s permission and she had taken on this expectation without asking herself why.

A few years ago, during the launch of a spaceship to the international space station, the UK tuned in as one of our own was part of the crew. As we watched the lift off, I heard someone say, imagine how proud you would feel if that was your husband on there – I responded saying, imagine how you would feel being onboard the ship and looking at our planet from outside of it! Every relationship is a partnership and we must support each other – keeping home and raising children is not easy and I cannot emphasise this enough – however, I feel it should not be the path carved out for a certain gender and if someone does not want to be in that role, they should have the support of their partner whatever path they choose. The world is changing and the roles that were assigned to different genders back in the day is no longer relevant. The notion that a woman keeps a home and also contribute equally financially is a huge burden and the expectation that a man is to be the sole financial provider is not healthy either. People should learn to carve out what roles they want in their own relationship to suit their needs with the flexibility to change these roles as their lives changes. 

I have struggled writing about this – but I have seen too many women under the burden of society’s expectations because of their gender as well as the added pressure of making money due to economic pressures. It is ok if someone chooses to be a homemaker  – this is their choice and they should not be made to feel bad for their choice. The same must also be said for women who choose a different path instead of home making – it does not make them less of a woman. Parents must raise children without specific gender roles – because keeping a home should be something everyone must be able to do to survive when they leave home. I have seen too many sons being advised to get married because they needed to eat right, have their clothes washed and homes kept clean – any time I hear anyone say this to a man, my automatic response is that the man in question needs a maid. 

I had a friend who’s mother inlaw came to visit and demanded fresh bread daily – my friend was a working woman and she complained bitterly of the added pressures of making fresh bread daily. I cannot count the number of times women have returned from work to angry men because their food was not ready when they wanted to eat. This is one topic I know I will have to look at again as I feel I have barely scratched the surface and i hope as many of you get in touch, you will help me to look at this from different perspectives. Thank you for getting in touch and sharing your experiences – I will love to hear from you still to help us effect the change we need

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