Thursday, May 29, 2008

Househusbands, Part 1

We have a stack of 3.5" floppies, but no longer had a floppy drive. So today, I bought a USB floppy drive. Going through the old school papers that make up a good portion of those disks, I found the following. I wrote it in May of 1995, for a class called HON290B. I don't recall what this class was, and I don't recall writing it. Interesting. Here's the first half:

Househusbands: Repercussions for the American Family

The growth of the domestic roles of the husband in middle class American nuclear families is a trend that can have profound effects on all family members. Statistically, few men enter into the role of househusband completely voluntarily1; however, the role can be liberating for the man, and deeply emotionally satisfying. He begins to discover a new appreciation for his wife, and a more egalitarian relationship may develop between them. For the wife of a househusband, the restructuring of the family can give her the sense of freedom to find fulfillment in a career. For the children, the redefinition of gender roles within their own families can lead to a revolution in the way they are socialized into gender roles themselves.

Taking on gender roles opposite to those he was socialized to accept can lead to difficulties for the man, especially in his relations with other men. He may begin to feel that his manliness, or even his heterosexuality, is doubtful. He may also feel that he is avoiding his real responsibilities to his family because he is not providing for them in the manner he should.

To examine the change of gender roles and implications for the future of the American family, the effects on the individual members of the family must be understood. The most profound effects of househusbandry are most likely on the man himself.

The Socialization of Gender Roles for Men

The greatest hindrance to the growth of the phenomenon of househusbandry is the traditional socialization of American men. A man who takes on the tasks and roles customarily allocated to the feminine sphere risks feeling that he has abandoned the male sphere, and hence has given up his own manhood. It is important, then, to explore what male gender roles are in American society, and what they mean to the men who are socialized to accept them.

The development of gender roles in children has been well-documented as depending more on a child’s upbringing than his or her genetically-determined gender. These roles can be passed on to children according to several theories of gender-role socialization: through imitation, when a child associates with a same-sex parent and imitates the behaviors of that parent; through self-socialization, when a child associates with the concept of “boy” or “girl” and pursues the behaviors associated with that concept; or through reinforcement, when other members of society offer a child positive and negative sanctions for appropriate or inappropriate gender-related behaviors2.

These gender roles are the blueprints for a child’s emotional development and his or her understanding of task allocation, that is, what sort of work is appropriate to his or her gender. Though the messages Americans give their children about what gender roles are normal or appropriate may be beginning to change, traditionally, the sexes are separated into different emotional and role-playing spheres. Women and men, or the female gender role and the male one, play complementary roles in society:

When the husband-father takes on the instrumental role, he helps to maintain the basic social and physical integrity of the family, by providing food and shelter and linking the family to the world outside the home. When the wife-mother takes on the expressive role, she helps cement relationships, provides the emotional support and nurturing qualities which sustain the family unit, and ensure that the household runs smoothly.3

These are the roles that parents, teachers, friends, television, music, and all forms of human communication pass on to children every day, in thousands of ways, from dolls and toy cars, to gender-specific language, and differences in the way that love is shown to children of different sexes. From the time children are born, they begin to learn, simply by watching the images of gender roles that they see around them. In most cases, the children take on the roles they learn are most appropriate for them. Thus, a boy child learns what it means to be a man, and a girl child learns what it means to be a woman. These ideas of manhood and womanhood become part of the personality of each individual person, and it affects their behaviors and emotions on every level.

Manhood, in the American culture, has grown through two centuries of American individualism to embody strength, both physical and emotional; self-reliance; and responsibility for the physical needs of the family. The man is the provider, the solver-of-problems, and the public face of the family. Boys are considered wilder and more aggressive than girls4, less intuitive and emotionally sensitive, more physically strong and athletic. It is the man’s role to go out into the world and bring back to his family the resources it needs to survive; in contrast, it is the woman’s role to organize and dispense those resources for the stability of the family. She also provides the emotional support for the other members of the family, supporting the children in their academic or athletic pursuits and providing a sort of haven from the public, business world for the man.

In practical terms for a marriage, then, it is the husband’s role to work for the support of the wife and children, and it is the wife’s role to rear the children and operate the household and complete the domestic chores. In many cases, the roles are not so clearly defined, especially when both parents work; the roles as cultural norms, however, still affect the allocation of domestic tasks in two-income families: the wife still is more likely to be the primary caregiver of children and do more household tasks.

In cases where the traditional gender roles are reversed and the man takes on the domestic role and the woman provides the bulk of the financial support, all members of the family will be affected, especially the man. His abandonment of the traditionally male role to take on the traditionally female role can make him feel that he is abandoning his sense of masculinity. This may mean anxiety over how he is perceived by his peers, especially whether his heterosexuality is questioned. A man may fear he is perceived as homosexual because of his move away from the traditional roles of his gender. Such homophobia is perhaps overreaction, but homosexuality as a cultural taboo is certainly an ignominious reputation to gain:

The effeminate homosexual provided a negative referent for ... masculinity.... The homosexual male and the man who was insufficiently manly were understood in the same figures of speech... The longer the association lasted between the homosexual and the unmanly man, the greater the power of the homosexual label to stigmatize any man.5

Of course, the female who takes on the tasks associated with the male role in society faces stigmatization as well. She is sometimes thought of as manly, as too aggressive, perhaps a butch lesbian. For both sexes, going against the gender roles defined through American socialization can be a difficult and stigmatizing process. It unmistakably provides some emotional and relational hurdles, but in many ways, it can help to improve marital relations, change the socialization process of the children, and affect a positive move toward sexual egalitarianism in American culture.

(To be continued...)

Beer, William R., Househusbands: Men and Housework in American Families. South Hadley, Massachusetts, Bergin & Carvey Publishers, Inc. 1983.

Lindsey, Linda L., Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc. 1994.

Rotundo, Anthony E., American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era. New York, HarperCollins Publishers,
Inc. 1993.

Scanzoni, John and Letha D., Men, Women, and Change: A Sociology of
Marriage and Family.
New York, McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1988.

1"The majority of these men... left their jobs because of disability or being fired." Lindsey, Gender Roles, p.201
2Scanzoni. Men, Women, and Change, pp. 20-21.
3Lindsey, p.6.
4For a description of the “boy culture” as a “‘free nation’ of boys [as] a distinct cultural world” see Rotundo, American Manhood, pp. 31-55.
5Rotundo, p. 278.

1 comment:

suttonhoo said...

whoa. that's so cool.

and some *sweet* footnotin'.

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