When I was a teenager, my grandma shared with me an article from Housekeeping Monthly , dated May 13, 1955. Here it is, pictured above. A how-to on being the perfect housewife, the article provided guidelines and instructions on keeping a proper home and a happy husband:
- Have dinner ready.
- Prepare yourself...Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking.
- Be happy to see him.
- Don't greet him with complaints and problems.
- Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house...You have no right to question him.
- A good wife always knows her place.
While the validity of this article has been questioned, it nonetheless illustrates social attitudes of the time. In my case, my grandma wanted me to understand just how much has changed for women since then. She wanted me to appreciate the freedom and power I have to make my own decisions, to pursue a career, to think and act for myself. For the majority of women in America, I do think a lot has changed. 40% of mothers are now the top earners in their households as compared to 11% in 1960. But when we step back from the statistics, how much has really shifted socially? When I look around at the relationships of my girlfriends (and even my own), we all seem to have settled into traditional gender roles despite our progressive attitudes. Speaking on their behalf, we clean the house, do the laundry, and shop for groceries. Our partners fix lightbulbs, lift heavy boxes, and drink beer.
I got to asking my friends, guys and gals alike, about what they thought. How have relationship dynamics changed since the 1950's? Most of us agreed, surprisingly, that gender roles have not shifted dramatically. After all, girls will be girls and boys will be boys. While girls generally value a clean home, most boys just don't (or their cleanliness threshold is different). What is different than decades prior is that our efforts to maintain the house and feed our man are no longer expected of us. For many women, these tasks are demonstrations of love, despite aligning with a traditionally female stereotype. We concluded that the progress made has to do more with the evolution of communication in relationships than the evolution of man/woman. Contemporary social norms encourage us to speak more openly about our personal goals/fears and our mutual goals/fears. It's no surprise that as couples get better at talking and listening to one another, they feel more empowered to make novel life choices. Nowadays, we have Mr. Mom's and lady CEO's, people!
I'm left wondering where to place women and men who actively choose to adopt traditional gender roles. Is this a regression of some sort? Or does this decision indicate a more openminded and equal playing field between the sexes because we now have a choice?
For further reading, refer to these articles: