Related PostsPart 4 : Post-Modern Man
The Modern era of gender roles could mostly likely be traced back to the feminist movement in the U.S. in the 1950s. The first instance of feminist activism was much longer ago and focused the basic rights of women such as suffrage and seem to be indisputable today, whereas the more recent battles focus on cultural issues that are still defining who we are as a society, which is what I want to explore.
Women carved out a level playing field (at least in theory) which in turn shifted our value system in several ways. Although I grew up in areas in the South where sexism (as well as racism) was not shy about showing its face still, I think the groundwork was established. My generation was raised thinking that sexual equality was a natural law.
A balance of power also resulted in an altered family paradigm, which overthrew the idea of a single, unquestioned decision maker in the house. Divorce became more socially acceptable, especially since women were able to go out and support themselves in the workforce. Dysfunction and the fracturing of parental role modeling ensued. (I'm not wanting to give the impression that I'm blaming the breakdown of the nuclear family on feminists. While not the only element, I think it's a strong factor and I'm only devoting these explorations to limited topics. Political upheavals, the aftermath of the war, technological advancement, the discovering or creation of psychological issues were all contributors but won't be touched on in depth here.)
Nonetheless, men had met their match. Just as smart and just as capable. Logic and rational thinking prevailed. No one was inherently better than another, sexually or racially. A true utopia.
Probably the purest form of this was depicted in The Cosby Show. A family unit without any hint of dysfunction. The parents were happily married without any serious power struggles. Each had equal footing in familial authority. Also important was the fact that the wife, Claire, was professionally successful. Cliff was a doctor, but Claire was a lawyer: an occupation that was just as highly regarded. There's no way she'd be caught housecleaning and waiting obediently for her husband to come home and fix him a drink. If anything, a case could be made for Cliff to be more closely associated with the child-rearing role, as his job was a maternity doctor.
I was raised watching this show and it had a vital impact on the shaping of my values. It was also influential to see role models of my formative years siding with women on issues that society was still struggling with. Kurt Cobain sang about rape from the point of view of the victim in Polly. Eddie Vedder feverishly scrawling "PRO-CHOICE" on his arm during a televised performance. I can't tell you what an effect this had on me and hopefully many young people.
My father was the most important element in what kind of man I wanted to become. An attentive dad and a loving husband. He never yelled at or hit my mom. He would joke that she was the boss in the family, but he never showed any genuine signs of inadequacy towards shared leadership in the family environment. A follower of sports and a lover of cars and tools, yet never felt threatened when discussing gardening or accompanying my mom shopping. A truly balanced man in my opinion.
As usual, nothing ever goes one way for too long and we'll see how the pendulum swings as Modernism gives way to Post-Modernism.
I also want to touch on the fact that there are of course always countercultures and underlying constants that exist. I'm talking about sexism that men will probably always exert, probably in the form of beer commercials, until the end of civilization. Whether its Playboy magazine (or to a lesser extent Maxim) or AXE Commercials, their steadfast hold to their value systems will always mask the changes and upheavals that occur elsewhere.