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Role Playing

Long ago, there was Ward Cleaver.  He wasn’t much of a Dad – in fact, he wasn’t even real.  But the father  in “Leave it to Beaver” was a strong figure all the same because he was, without a doubt, clearly in command of the world around him.  The 1950s was an age of men – a time when Rosie put down her riveter and settled in to raise the kids and do the wash and, if necessary, get a prescription for Valium from her doctor.

The black and white images might still flicker on the teevee sets of our minds once in a while, but they stopped being relevant a long time ago.

Women of today were generally told as kids that they could be absolutely anything they wanted.  As a result, many still feel that they have to do everything.  A friend recently told me of the triangle of expectations for women – be a mom and all the things from the feminine world, earn a living and support your family, and look damned good the whole time.

Obviously, this is impossible and nearly every woman fails to meet the expectations set for her by her world from time to time.  It causes tremendous stress on families and society as a whole.

Meanwhile, the expectations for men have drifted along to become … I honestly don’t know what they are.  I have yet to find any man who can articulate the role of men in today’s world.  Some of my friends have quietly grumbled that at some point they are nothing more than a sperm donor.

I won’t profess to have any of the answers to this, but it seems to me that things have gone from one far extreme to the other in two short generations.  There’s no reason why women can’t and shouldn’t be able to do what they want in this world.  Yet it remains true that most of the emotional energy of raising kids eventually falls on them if they make the decision to do their part for the next generation.  Increasingly, women find that this is the easiest part of the expectations triangle to just leave out – until they hit about 40, that is.

Somewhere in here there is a role for men.  Society as a whole has yet to even try to define what that is, so we drift along.  Hey, this wasn’t our revolution, right?  So it has passed many of us by and left us feeling a bit useless.

I see this repeated in the next generation of young boys, kids who are told to sit still and play nice and be all the things that little boys full of growth hormones have so much trouble doing.  Many of them do it very well, although far too many need help from Ritalin.  The rest have the little boy squashed out of them in neat little rows where creativity and energy work against the ever so essential standardized test scores.

The girls?  They seem to be getting a message even more complicated than their moms.  Somewhere between the pouting Lady Gaga and the swooning Bella most of what the media tries to cram into their heads defines them by how they use their sex.  I don’t think that was what the revolution was supposed to be about, either.

I won’t tell you the answers to this one.  I’m just going to pose the question and see what you have to say today.  But I can tell you that I don’t know of any guy out there who really wants to just sit in his armchair and smoke a pipe like Ward Cleaver did after a hard day at the office.  So what can we do?

10 thoughts on “Role Playing

  1. God, this is a rich topic that you’ve only started to scratch the surface of! I can’t tell you the number of my friends who are totally burnt out trying to be all the things they think everyone wants them to be. And guys almost never seem to get this at all, either!

    I could go on about this for hours, but I won’t right now. It’s too hard to write that doesn’t look like a crazy person ranting.

  2. This is a very compelling topic, Erik. I’ve often thought it is very unfair that we have less “models” for men’s behavior in the post-feminist world and that is a problem. And while it’s true that they don’t always pick up the slack in terms of housecleaning and the other home-caring tasks women used to do before working outside the home, clearly there is room for the roles to shift as necessary to take care of a family’s needs in a more flexible way. I often worry about the messages we send to young boys (and to young girls) by ratcheting up expecations of women, but then relegating men to the category of “sperm donors.” I agree with Annalise that I could go on for hours about this topic, but I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts before coming back to check in again. Thanks for kicking off a really difficult topic!

  3. Just an oversimplified observation: Used to be that women’s roles were to support their men. They did whatever it took to make it easier for the men to do what they did, which included running the home and family so well that all the man had to do was mow the lawn and take out the trash after he got home from work. It now seems to me that men’s roles are now to support women and do whatever the women want them to do (women delegate to men) to make things flow smoothly for the whole family. And now women work outside the home too so their role really is to manage everything, including the men. So, men are expected to do more around the house than they used to be, and women are expected to do more overall. We’re all doing more. It’s just that the women have the power now more so than in the past.

    That’s my oversimplified observation. Discuss amongst yourselves. 🙂

  4. Thanks, everyone. This is just something that has been on my mind for a while. I honestly can’t piece it all together on my own because I’ve never been one to understand social pressures. But they do exist.

    I’m going to continue to sit back and let everyone else talk. I just thought today was a a good day to be provocative. Not everything I have to say is fully thunk out – this is just a lot more raw than most.

  5. This is what femnaziism has come to be. A boy has a 7% greater chance of being accepted at a prestigious college due to 50% gender policies. Its true. Now really guys and gals read HUNGER GAMES the hero is a gal who hunts to help her family. This young adult novel trilogy is one of the most anti empire books ever written. And a bestseller.

  6. I think this is a sterotype that people keep believing, even though, few women truly think that they need to be “everything”.

    There are many women in the world today that would laugh if they were told that they have to live up to such a high ideal of “womanhood”. Even Jane Austin in “Pride and Prejudice” makes fun of the notion of an “accomplished” lady being something that is not possible, even for the gentry of her day and age.

  7. I think this is a situation where it’s easy to fall into stereotypes, and for at least one point I made that mistake myself. Individual men and women all react to the pressures differently – and as time goes on there is an increasing diversity as to how people respond to these pressures.

    I wanted to write this from the perspective of the social images of men and women that are held as a kind of cultural framework. I can see that this is a very difficult thing to do because it does become very personal to all of us at some point. I, at least, can’t help but react the way I do personally. Everyone winds up having their own decisions, crises, and directions in response to the pressures.

    The main point is this: gender roles changed damned fast in the USofA and most of the “Developed World”. In many ways, cultural pressure went from one extreme to another when it comes to defined roles for men and women, boys and girls. I don’t think what we have now has been absorbed, thought out, or even questioned in ways that cause anything other than a lot of pain.

    It’s hard to keep that from getting personal – and falling back into stereotypes. Thanks to everyone for helping me stand back a bit.

  8. I was taught to put my nose to the grindstone and do the job regardless of how I felt about it. I did that for a while before I found my career. When I BS’d my credentials into my career, I made up for it by learning everything I needed to know and doing a good job. I guess my point is, we all need to stop whining, try to find what it is we like to do and do it. Things change, circumstances waver, the economy goes up and down. It can’t all be roses and “life isn’t fair”.

    I’ve done my fair share of trying to figure out my role in life and, after thirty years of introspection, therapy and discussion, I am finally happy. Why? I stopped having expectations!

  9. Pingback: The Big Scandal | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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