What can we learn about gender roles in marriage from committed gay couples? Is equity the ideal? Is it possible? With less than 24 hours until Father’s Day, here’s some food for thought.
NYT recently published a short article called Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage. The article studies how people in committed relationships care for each other, and how they share responsibility, power and authority. Some observations:
- Household tasks
- Heterosexual couples: far more housework done by women while more men take the burden of handling finances Another article in the NYT (When Mom and Dad Share It All) details role equity experiments among couples. According to a survey done by University of Wisconsin, women do approximately twice as much housework as men (including all household tasks, yardwork, car care, etc. – 31 hrs for women, 15 for men). For SAHMs, the figures skew slightly higher 38 hrs for the woman, 14 for the man. Where both spouses work, the figures are only slightly more equitable than the average: 28 hrs for women, 16 for men. Childcare related tasks skew even more toward women: a 5 to 1 ratio. These ratios (hours vary due to technology advancements) hold true across all economic strata for the last 90 years; oddly, the ratio also holds true for contemporary SAHDs. The article points out that women’s standards for housework are significantly higher than men’s. Therefore, women will work harder to meet those standards while men will desist when their own threshold for cleanliness is reached. Psychologically women may feel superior or prideful of their own household competence or they may be more attuned to and influenced by societal expectations than men (e.g. do the kids’ clothes match, is hair brushed, are there dirty socks in areas of the house visible from the front door?).
- Same Sex couples: much more egalitarian in how the household burdens are shared.
- Heterosexual couples: men are more likely to initiate sex, while women may refuse sex. Women are more likely to begin conversations about problems in the relationship.
- Same Sex couples: burdens for initiating both sex and difficult conversations are more equally shared.
- Relationship satisfaction
- Heterosexual couples: women feel more resentment over the burden of housework and caring for the relationship, whereas men may feel resentment due to differences in sex drive. According to another study, 58% of women feel resentment in marriage due to perceived inequities (distribution of labor is unfair to “me”) while 11% of men do.
- Same Sex couples: as gauged by the study, same sex couples have a higher level of satisfaction and more equality of satisfaction between partners.
- Heterosexual couples: fighting is often unfair and escalates due to behaviors such as domineering and belligerence as well as verbal attacks. Physical agitation stays longer with the feuding spouses. The 3 main things couples fight about are children, money or division of labor. Since these are more unequal in heterosexual relationships, hetero couples are more prone to highly charged emotional conflicts. On the topic of money, the article about Moms & Dad points out that women often consider their jobs to be more flexible than men, despite the actual role they hold; societal norms also continue to influence career decisions for women.
- Same Sex couples: there were better behaviors exhibited in fighting, such as infusing humor and affection, stepping back to conversation rather than emotional escalation. There was more equity in perceptions and more open discussion about job flexibility with less defensiveness.
Another mythical stereotype about hetero couples was that in conflict the woman makes demands while the man withdraws from the conflict, but this was found to be true in the same-sex relationships also, and not a byproduct of gender.
The study concludes that it’s easier to understand the other person’s perspective in a same sex relationship. But it did hold out the ray of hope that hetero couples who defuse anger and work to relate to their partner’s concerns have the strongest marriages. (What’s next? Ice is cold? Water is wet?)
So, based on this study, life would be a lot easier if we could just become gay. Maybe we could create some sort of reprogramming seminar. Just a thought.
Are gender roles really eternal (did I really sign up to do laundry in the pre-existence)? And does that mean that gender roles are good, or should we work to overcome them if we want happier marriages as this study suggests? Discuss.