doing gender in marriageYou will be doing gender daily in your marriage without even knowing that you are doing it.  Husbands and wives are actively engaged in reinforcing their own ideas of being masculine and feminine.  Doing gender is our way of being “masculine” and “feminine” and, thereby, carrying out the socially prescribed roles of husband and wife.

Imagine a husband has had a hard day at work and is feeling stressed.  He “acts out” his gender expectations by crumpling into his easy chair to show that he is worn out from work and needs some attention.   His wife sees this, and understands that this display of gender is a bid for her “womanly” display of caring.  How she responds will depend on her own definition of being feminine.   She may respond to her husband’s cues by sitting down with him for a few minutes, or by bringing him something to eat or drink.   She may not ask him about his day because this is not the way he wants to be cared for.  For her to not provide the expected caring would likely result in the husband feeling deprived of what is his due. millennials doing gender in marriage

Both the husband and the wife in this ordinary interaction are defining  themselves as masculine and feminine by confirming each other’s gendered expectations of being wife and husband.  It is also noteworthy that conforming to these gender roles does not necessarily get recognized as praiseworthy—it is what ought to be done.

Let’s see what a de-gendered interaction might look like.  Our husband has had a tough day at work and his wife who is on family leave from her work is home with their newborn.  He guesses that she too may have had a tough day with the colicky baby.  After greeting his wife and confirming that, indeed, she has had a tough day, he suggests they call his mother to come over for a couple of hours so that they can have dinner out.  At dinner both have a chance to share their difficult day, each supporting the other.  They also begin the conversation about how they are going to arrange their work life to accommodate together their new, loved member of the family.

The first scenario is automatically “doing gender” in marriage through our everyday interactions.  These gender rules are both caused by and, at the same time, perpetuate our ideas of what it is to be masculine and feminine.

Your own individual pattern of acting out together these socially prescribed roles will come to be seen as the expression of the “natural” differences between men and woman, between being masculine and feminine.  They begin to be seen as “hard-wired” patterns of behavior of femininity and masculinity, with which we are bombarded daily in conversation, the media, scientific literature, advice columns, and well-meaning friends and family.

Click on thumbnails below for links to more info, fun, and provocative ideas….

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Harvard WomenMillennials, generally described as the generation born between the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s, have very liberal ideas about adult role, including approving of working women, abortion, pre-marital sex, legal marijuana, and gay marriage.  They reject strongly differentiated gender roles in marriage.

However, a new study of Harvard Business School alumni found that the real lives of Harvard women graduates did not match their reported expectations about their work and family lives.  That is, while  women and men have about equal expectations about how their careers and home life will go, the actual lives of the women in the study did not live up to those expectations.

For example, young women in this study expect that their progressive values about caring for children will be reflected in their own live.  However, young men in the study were much more likely to expect a more traditional outcome, women being more responsible for caring for children.

What is interesting about this study is that it asked the survey takes to report on the gender dynamics of their own lives, not about gender equality in the abstract.  These are bright, well-educated women and men who once they marry and have children fall back into traditional roles.  How does this happen?

The practical impact of childbearing and childrearing continues to have greater consequences for women than for men, even for those couples who hold egalitarian ideologies.  Trying to combine work and family leads many women to prefer giving up their career aspirations because of the difficulty of managing both along with traditional ideologies about good mothering.  For the most part, husbands nowadays are typically supportive of their wives decisions, but seldom do husbands offer to sacrifice their own work commitments.  Even if women go to work after the children are in school, their husband’s earning power has so outstripped theirs that they come to think of their salary as “extra” money rather than as being a major contribution to the family.ID-10085433 (2)


  • Male and female graduates have the same goals: meaningful, satisfying work (with opportunities for career growth) and fulfilling personal lives
  • Among full-time workers, men were significantly more likely to be in senior management positions
  • Fewer women than men reported being satisfied with careers
  • Different expectations in marriages leads to diverging career paths
  • 75% of men (ages 32 to 67) expected careers to take precedence over wives’ careers and it turned out to be true
  • Half of corresponding women expected to handle majority of child care, three fourths ended up doing so
  • One female graduate, mother of two and founder and chief exec of a company, reported her career and home life matched her expectations. She was upfront about her career goals, she and her husband “are on the same page”, and they “actively manage” the balancing of jobs and child care.

Click on thumbnails below for more info about the Harvard Study…..

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Ely, R.J., Stone, P. and Ammerman, C. 2014). Re-thinking what you know about high-achieving women.  Harvard Business Review. December. (


One of the most difficult thingsSlide1 to change is old ideas about how to be husbands and wives.  Thank goodness gender is much less important in our public lives in the new millennium.  However, in our private lives, old and rigid ideas of masculinity and femininity get replayed over and over in marriage.

Changing the way marriage pulls for us to “act out” our gender roles is going to be very difficult.  Sociologist, Sara Berk, coined a terrific term, “the gender factory”, to describe how household activities, caring for the children, and even the way we show we care personally about each other as husbands and wives are driven by our implicit desire to feel masculine or feminine.  That is, feelings about femininity and masculinity get tied to specific marital activities, e.g. women take care of the children and men help out.

Millennials, ranging in age from 18 to 33, are providing a bit of good news relating to ideas about gender roles.  An historically unprecedented belief that there are no inherently male or female roles is part of their core belief system.  Unfortunately, the jury is still out on the question of whether or not these millennials ID-10033315will get and stay married.  Millennials feel that they don’t have to be married to have sexual relations.  In the changing generational workforce, millennial women don’t feel they have to be or stay married to survive economically.  If millennials do marry, will they be able to sustain their stance on gender equality?

I  am writing this blog on how to keep things equal in your marriage because of my concern about the difficulty of maintaining equality for men and women in marriage.  I think maintaining equality in marriage is vital for a number of reasons:  (1) women will not achieve equality in society as a whole if they live in a gender-defined relationship in their marriage, (2) because I have been married for a long time to a man who from the earliest days of our marriage was committed to the idea of being equal partners, (3) having both mother and father investing time and effort into raising their children is good for everyone, (4) having a good, intimate relationship in the context of marriage is good for us as individuals and good for our society.

Click on these thumbnails for more about being masculine and feminine and how to co-construct your marriage….

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