You 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.
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.
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