Role reversal

I’ve been thnking about gender roles, and why I don’t like them.

There’s a nice fellow in my little town who is, generally, an ally in things political. But he has a habit of behavior on social media that gets my hackles up. He likes to mansplain things to me.

It’s never done aggressively, but there’s a patronizing tone that never fails to make my hackles rise. He thinks he knows better, and needs to help me understand why I’m wrong.

Advertisement

I met a couple the other day. He was tall, loud, muscled. He identified himself as “former law enforcement” and told everyone within hearing that masks are useless. His wife was soft and submissive. When she spoke to him, everything sounded like a question.

I wonder why we’re still doing this.

My father’s family was relatively progressive. My great-grandfather encouraged all his daughters to get educations and jobs so they’d be financially independent.

My grandmother, born in 1900, was a self-sufficient, capable little island. But she married and had children because it was expected of her. Her husband, I think, was a lonely man.

My father, perhaps in reaction to his upbringing, longed for a life of adventure, of outdoor pursuits, and a nice, simple farm girl waiting at home with a hearty meal on the table.

My mother was a farm girl, and she was a good cook. But that’s where the fantasy ended. She was strong, smart, and opinionated, and very different from him. She was torn between doing what was expected of her and her desire to be free. She got married.

When my dad tried to assume his role as decision maker in their lives, their arguments were loud, long, and usually ended with him ducking out the door as she winged plates at him. My mother told me of those fights many times, and always with pride. As a child, I didn’t realize that was probably not a story I should be hearing. But she wanted me to know who she was, not who she’d had to become.

The fights ended when I was born, and, instead, there were chilly silences between them when they disagreed. I didn’t like it, and hoped I’d have something very different someday.

I didn’t. As we tend to do when we don’t understand why we do what we do, I repeated their dynamic. But I didn’t fight. I was a good little housewife. I kept the peace. Until the day I couldn’t.

My experiences in the workplace, in relationships, in my childhood, overdeveloped my conciliatory behaviors. My particular specialty was “getting along” with difficult men.

I don’t want to be good at that any more.

Experience and age have, perhaps, led to overcompensation. I was angry for a long time. I have an aversion to marriage that I cannot and probably never will overcome. It’s fine for other people, but not for me, thank you. I speak up. I have a temper. I don’t write all that proudly, but I own what I once considered the dark side of my nature. I am who I am not because of my gender, but because of my experiences and the values I hold.

Why do humans insist on labeling and judging behaviors differently based on gender? Why are women shrill while men are forceful? Why are men persistent while women nag? Why are women compassionate but men are sissies? It’s part of our penchant for labels, for categorization. We insist on organizing the world and creating expectations within that system. We get it wrong. A lot. And it’s destructive.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.