Is your traditional marriage ruining your chance for equality?

Photo Credit:  Salvatore Vuono

Photo Credit: Salvatore Vuono


First, quick poll. What kind of marriage/relationship do you have?

The first identity category on my list was:

Relationships and Equality

Research is starting to show that men who have traditional marriages are far less likely to promote gender equality in the workplace. And guess what? Guess who is in charge of the workplace, most of the time?

The men…

This is really not surprising, and one could merely assume that men and women who already hold traditional views would unsurprisingly get hitched and continue reinforcing those traditional views. But, is that all?

A study by Desai, Chugh, and Brief in 2012 shows that not only are men who are engaged in traditional marriages less tolerant of gender equality, but single men who had positive views of gender equality, become less accepting after entering a traditional marriage.


Why is this happening?

There are a few reasons the authors suggest to explain these findings:

1.  Interest-Based Change: Here, people adopt ideals gender equality because it is in their best interest. For example, having your wife work increases your total family income. Or, having your wife stay at home makes you appear more masculine and thus a better man.

2.  Exposure-Based Change: Here, people adopt ideals because they become immersed in them and constantly see structures that promote that idea. For example, having a female CEO or supervisor who is respected in the workplace. Or, seeing women in the workplace only taking on minor roles and being ridiculed or sexually objectified on a daily basis.

3.  Cognitive Dissonance: We need things to mesh, to go together. It simply does not make sense to have a totally traditional experience at home and then promote gender equality in the workplace.

4.  Reinforcement: If a man never has to do any domestic work within the home, his masculinity is reinforced and the gender roles become more and more entrenched.

Of course it is normal to have a division of labour based on what is happening in your work life.  If you husband or yourself has a job that is much more demanding in terms of time, than it would stand to reason that one person may do more around the house. Or, after a baby is born, it is often the momma who stays home while she is on maternity leave to care for the baby and probably do more things around the house.

But, what about the Sucky Modern relationship? Did any of you find yourself in that category? One that is starkly missing from this study by Desai, Chugh, and Brief. Where the woman and man, or both partners, are both working outside the home, but it is the woman or the more feminine partner who ends up making dinner, making all the doctors/dentist/hairdresser/extracurricular sports appointments and arrangements.

What is being reinforced if this is your situation? That both partners must work, but the family/domestic role belongs to only one of you. I know people like this, who have this life. Who work 40 plus hours outside the home and then come home and have to make dinner, bathe the kids, and put them to bed. Every night. And, they are women.

Does this seem right? Will this kind of sucky arrangement or traditional marriage ever help us break down the binary of gender and the subservient role women inhabit?

What do we do?

There may be a tendency here to think that it is on the women to speak up and tell their husbands that they are getting a job or that they need to change the diaper or make dinner. But it is not. We need to make it okay for men to take on less “masculine” roles and for women to break with femininity.

It is up to all of us to really see what is happening in our own relationships. Often, our relationship do mirror the expectations of society, but who makes these rules? Can it be you?

If you do find your self in a traditional marriage/relationship or dog help you, a sucky modern one, take a moment and ask yourself, is this what I want or what I think I am supposed to be doing?

I for one think the biggest issue here is choice. If you want to stay at home and do all the domestic work and that makes you happy and it really is your choice, then, BRAVO. (When I say choice, I mean, the things that you choose because you really want to, not because you have to. It is not a choice if you do it to make someone else happy or to conform to an ideal that you really don’t identify with.)

BUT, if this is not your choice, your real choice, then perhaps it is time for another look. Because, it turns out that reinforcing these gender roles doesn’t only impact you, it might be impacting the people your partner works with.



About Theresa

Writer, sister, mother, human.