for my women’s studies class, i had an assignment in which i had to survey three men and three women at my college about their views of marriage, and more specifically, gender roles within a marriage. i found the results really fascinating and thought that they were worth sharing.
A (female 21 years old)
D (male, 21 years old)
J (male, 20 years old)
Ja (female, 23 years old)
M (male, 22 years old)
S (female, 19 years old
Whose career will come first?
All six survey participants agreed that the answer to this question was dependent on several factors, including financial needs, location and childcare. All six participants also agreed that the decision of whose career should come first is something that should be decided by both spouses together. All six participants saw themselves in a marriage where both spouses worked, and each expressed a personal desire to have a job outside of the home at least part-time; S stated that before her kids entered school, she would want to stay home with them and raise them and that her husband’s career would come first at that time, but that once they were in school, she would want to have a job outside the home. She said she didn’t want her vocation to be “housewife.”
Of the three men surveyed, D and J said that they wouldn’t mind being the parent who stayed at home most often with the kids and that doing so wouldn’t make them feel less masculine; M stated that he didn’t want to be the parent to stay at home because he doesn’t like kids very much, but that he would do it if his marital situation required it.
Ja placed an emphasis on “collaborative passions” in terms of career prioritization, stating that money is less of a factor than pursuing a job or profession that a spouse is passionate about.
Who will do the bulk of the parenting?
All participants advocated for strong co-parenting. While all participants conceded that in the context of time spent with children, that the person who worked less would probably fill that role, but that both parents need to take an equally active role in parenting. A claimed that if both parents were working, both parents should have a “second shift,” while D asserted the importance of kids spending one-on-one time with each parent as well as spending time with both parents together so that they have a good balance. While D, M and S all stated that traditional gender roles come more naturally to both parents, all six participants disliked the idea of the father being the disciplinarian and the mother being the nurturer; all claimed that parents should try to embody both traits, even if the participants believed it went against “natural” inclinations for each gender, and that it is important for children to see both traits in each parent so as not to draw distinctions between “good/nice parent” and “bad/mean parent.”
How will chores be divided?
All participants stated that, ideally, chores should be divided evenly between spouses, but that that is an unattainable reality for most couples. A was the only participant to adamantly say that chores should be divided 50-50; D explicitly said that chores don’t need to be divided 50-50 in order for the partners to be equals, but that both should “do their part” and think of doing chores as an act of love. All participants excluding A said that the parent who is at home more often has a greater responsibility to do chores.
When presented with a hypothetical situation in which a child needs to be picked up from daycare and both parents have a work-related commitment that requires their presence, participants gave varied answers on how they and their spouse would determine whose commitment took priority. A and M stated that spouses should have a system of trading off in situations of inconvenience, so that one spouse isn’t consistently having to miss their commitments. J said that the parent with the most flexibility in their job would probably be the one to pick up the child in this situation. D again emphasized the importance of sacrifice, and the need for spouses to reciprocate sacrifices that the other makes. Both S and Ja said that if the commitments were equally important, that they would seek outside help (ie. have a friend or relative pick up the child).
How will the lines of authority be determined?
While A stated that the husband should have authority over the family in a broad sense, all participants agreed that each spouse should have equal authority both in parenting and within the spousal relationship. In terms of the spousal relationship, all participants advocated for relationships to be an “open dialogue” rather than one spouse wielding more influence or authority, and all openly opposed a marriage in which one of the spouses could tell the other “no” about something without offering explanation. S stated that relationships were a joint effort and not a “hierarchy of power,” and that her spouse telling her “no” about something would be unacceptable behavior that she wouldn’t tolerate. Ja stated that any explanation for a spouse’s “no” opinion, even if it was simplistic, would be better than no explanation. A said that even if her spouse tried to make a decision for her that was in her best interest, she would still try to defend herself and fight for what she wanted; J, on the other hand, said that his spouse’s expression of disapproval would make him think twice about what it was he wanted or was asking for, and that he would rather try to find a middle ground through discussion to keep the relationship stable, instead of just getting his way.
In the context of parenting, all participants agreed that both parents should have equal authority. S said that although it’s natural for one parent to be more lenient than the other, kids shouldn’t feel like they can only go to the parent that is perceived as more authoritative for permission to do something; she asserted that decisions should be the result of a consensus between both parents. Both J and Ja advocated for parents making authoritative decisions together, but that the parent who spends more time with the children may have more insights on the situation and that, after a certain point of making decisions together, one parent should be able to make a decision based on their knowing that the other parent would agree with them or make the same decision. M was the only participant who made a distinction between authority and dominance, and said that the father should have a more “dominant demeanor” but not necessarily more authority than the mother.
Grounds for divorce?
Participants were asked, operating on the assumption that their marriage was based on the shared conviction that divorce is not an option and that any impediments to the marriage should try to be worked through together, if there was anything that their spouse could do that would make them feel justified in wanting or seeking a divorce.
The three women all cited abuse, both physical and psychological, as grounds for divorce. A and S said definitively that they would leave the marriage if their spouse abused either them or their children; Ja said that there could be situations where abuse could be overcome, but also situations where it couldn’t and it would just depend on the situation. All three women said that they might be able to work through marital infidelity.
All three men cited marital infidelity as grounds for divorce. All said that they would try to work through it, but realistically, couldn’t see their marriage recovering from such a breach of trust. J stated that the physical act of infidelity isn’t what would prompt divorce, but that his spouse intentionally broke the bond of their relationship by seeking intimacy elsewhere. M also stated that he would leave a marriage if his spouse were not in love with him anymore, because it wouldn’t be pointless to be married to someone who wasn’t in love with him.
Did your parents affirm traditional gender roles within marriage?
None of the participants said that either of their parents fit completely into traditional gender roles; all said that their parents affirmed them in some ways, but didn’t affirm them in other ways. Ja characterized her parents as “partners for each other”; she said that they “weren’t bound to conservative roles because they were conservative, but because that’s what worked for them.” J affirmed that sentiment by saying that his parents “served each other, even if they fit gender stereotypes.” S was raised by a single mother, who had to act out both motherly and fatherly roles in the context of parenting. M’s mother fit the traditional feminine because she stayed at home with her children, but she also did all of the disciplining, a traditionally male role.
Though A, J and Ja are all currently in relationships, Ja was the only participant who talked about her views of marriage in the context of her relationship. For example, she talked about how her boyfriend wanted to be a pilot, and that how his vocation would effect how often he was at home, and thus how much he would be responsible for housework or how much time he would be able to spend at home with the kids. For the most part, all of the participants’ opinions and views of marriage were expressed as hypotheticals.
However, all three of the male participants mentioned their parents’ marriage in their answers to multiple questions. The males would state their opinion in response to the question, and then they would tell an anecdote about their parents or talk about the structure of their marriage as a way to reinforce or support their own statements. Neither of the three female participants mentioned their parents or their marriage in any of their responses, except to the question that expressly asked them about their parents’ gender roles. Ja only mentioned her brother’s marriage, and she mentioned to illustrate what she didn’t want her marriage to be like.