Are young newlyweds jumping into gender roles in marriage?

Last night on the MTV documentary series True Life, the topic was newlyweds who hadn’t lived together before marriage. Young people, marriage, relationships, sex — some of my favorite topics, yet the episode raised a lot of red flags.  

What irked me was that in these marriages, both the women seemed pretty subservient at the start. One of the women was particularly eager to do laundry, cleaning, and cooking all day while her husband was at work — just exactly how much laundry needs to be done every day when only two people live in a house is beyond me, but she wanted to be a homemaker.

Her desire to be a homemaker wasn’t the startling thing, but rather the dynamic of her role as a homemaker. When she felt stir-crazy, she had to basically ask her husband for permission to take on a part-time job in addition to her household duties. His first reaction wasn’t something like, “Oh, you feel claustrophobic and unfulfilled in this house?” but instead it was about how much the cooking and cleaning would suffer if she had a job.

On a later date he agreed to fold some towels for her, which is nice, but the initial reaction spoke to how he viewed their relationship — his first reaction wasn’t to take her feelings as a person into account, but rather to analyze how her productivity would decrease. With the other couple, the wife moved away from her family to be with her husband, and she also spent her days cooking and staying at home, waiting for her husband to arrive home from work. She eventually got a full-time job.

It seems like the common theme was that even though both these women had this romantic notion of marriage as seemingly living their lives around their husbands, the reality of it was not fulfilling. It makes me wonder how young women view marriage, and how many still think these gender roles of women at home and men at work are either the best option or the only option.

I don’t know how their views of non-cohabitation fed into their views of gender roles within a marriage, or how their relationship dynamic might have changed since getting married. Often, views on non-cohabitation are aligned with religious beliefs, which can reinforce gender roles.

I do know that although the initial desire of both women to stay at home and wait around for their husbands to come home was disconcerning, the fact that both grew tired of that life and began partaking in their own endeavors leaves me feeling optimistic. At least these two women looked critically at their lives and started to focus on their own happiness and fulfillment, instead of staying at home and being bored, unhappy, and restless.

Of course, the part that leaves me somewhat pessimistic is what is going through the husbands’ heads — do they fully understand why their wives find no fulfillment in cleaning up after them and waiting for them to come home every night? Do they think it’s simply a phase, do they think it’s ridiculous, do they fully support it? If these experiences are going to lead to more general changes concerning stereotypical gender roles, men need to be a part of and understand the change, too.

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