Wednesday, 19 September 2007


Relationships* have certainly changed since my childhood, when rigid sex roles were so normal it was enough for my father and mother to be a typical male and female and ne'er the twain shall meet.

Nowadays as sex roles blur around the edges, couples expect each other to break out of these limited boxes and be capable of just about anything - to be Superspouses.

It's not enough for the man to be able to put up shelves or repair the car or get horny. Now he has to look after the baby, do some cooking, be emotionally sensitive and be a good socialiser. A Jack of all trades, infinitely adaptable.

Likewise the woman can't get by on looking sexy, getting the dinner on the table and changing nappies. She has to be good with money, do some heavy lifting, sort out minor repairs and be emotionally resilient. If she can't do all that, she's sadly lacking.

You'd think these increasing demands for mutual perfection would put an impossible strain on relationships and send the separation rate through the roof, but strangely enough that hasn't happened. People obviously like the idea of dumping the straitjackets and being a bit more versatile, they rise to the challenge rather than dragging their heels.

Though I must say that Jenny and I, despite both of us trailing years of anti-sexist conditioning, are not too hard on each other. Of course we want to show we're not slaves to laughable stereotypes, but we do recognise our natural limitations.

I don't seriously expect Jenny to retile the kitchen when I wouldn't dare to attempt it myself. Nor does she ask me to whip up a three-course dinner for twenty when women themselves would panic at the prospect. But wherever we can push the boundaries back and make our skills more interchangeable, we do.

We're not quite Superspouses but we're moving in the right direction. And our parents are already looking pretty prehistoric.

* Heterosexual relationships obviously. I can't speak for anyone of a different persuasion....


EmmaK said...

in my marriage the trend is my husband takes on many many feminine roles like looking after the kids, cleaning, gardening, shopping for food...while I take on none of the male ones, apart from, of course having the equivalent of a hard on all day long! how's that for equality?

Wisewebwoman said...

I find there is more and more of a blurring between the roles. In most of my 'couple friends' houses, it is the male who puts together the dinner party, from the shopping for it to the daring of the new recipe. In my own marriage, it was my husband who had the fine tuning for the babies' cries in the middle of the night (I never did, strangely enough, being the eldest of 6 had something to do with it)and he always did the ironing along with other formerly 'female' tasks. I did all the decorating and furniture refinishing and shelf building.
Enormous liberating, who wants to be in a box???

Nick said...

Hmmm, sounds a bit one-sided to me, Emma, if you don't mind my saying so. But I think to be fair it's a lot easier for men to take on 'female' tasks than vice versa. Changing a nappy is hardly rocket science but putting up shelves can be pretty tricky, witness the old sitcom standby of new shelves promptly falling down.

www - sounds like it was a very flexible marriage in terms of gender roles. I admire your DIY skills, I'm no good at that sort of stuff. Rewiring electric sockets without electrocuting myself is about my limit.

Medbh said...

We're fairly traditional in our division of labor but give each other a good deal of space to do as we please. I can handle 3 course for twenty with notice but changing a tire? Nope.

Nick said...

I used to be able to change a tyre, but haven't needed to for so many years I've probably forgotten how. Another embarrassing admission!

Gaye said...

I can change a tyre but why would I want to? :) It's a man's job. *chuckle*
Ok, seriously I think a good relationship takes abilities and skills of boths sides, male or female and puts them into good use without setting limits and boundaries. If I know how to do it, I will put my hand up to do it, if we both know how to do it, it's even better we can team up and have fun doing it, or take turns or just do as we feel like on the day. Liberating I say! I would not want to be with a man who CAN cook but leaves it to me just because I am the woman in the house. Similarly, I'd like to change the tyre or at least help if it's going to make it quicker.

Nick said...

That's a good point you're hinting at there, Gaye - isn't it enough for a couple to have certain abilities between them? Do we actually need superspouses who can do everything 'male' and 'female' but with huge duplication of skills? Should we just be looking for someone with complementary know-how and not worry about gender roles so much?

bodhránbanger said...

"we do recognise our natural limitations."

That's something Mr BB and I talk about a lot. WE've both been in relationships where we expected to do everything - and had to be "the strong one" 24/7
Now we have each other we accept our limitations and celebrate our strengths and the things we're both bad at, we give it a go and see what happens :)

Nick said...

I guess that's another "We're not trying to be superspouses" then, BB. I think that's the only realistic option - pool your joint strengths, accept your weaknesses and as you say, give it a go and just see what you're capable of. I must say I surprise myself sometimes when I try something I thought I was completely duff at and succeed brilliantly!