Changing Gender Roles

Let’s Create Our Own Fairy Tales

I grew up in a female-dominated family, though my father never seemed to mind sharing his time at home with a wife and three daughters. If fact, I know he treasured his family time and, as far as I know, he never regretted not having a son.

But that meant I grew up without the insights that girls with at least one male sibling gain, though my closest childhood friends were four boys who lived two houses down from us. Being a tomboy, I never gave it a second thought. Friends are friends.

But when it came to writing this column for the Men’s Issue, I found it difficult to come up with a theme. I even tried sending out a request on my personal Facebook page, as well as the magazine’s, asking for feedback from my male friends and our male readers describing what it means to be a man today. Alas, no responses. Zip. Perhaps like me, they found the answers to be illusive.

So here, instead, are my thoughts. Not as illuminating as those responses likely would have been, but here they are.

As girls, we are raised on fairy tales of daring-do princes riding to our rescue. As far as I could tell, the only thing the princess or would-be princess had going in her favor was her looks, and perhaps a single-minded focus on becoming royalty. Not talent, not intelligence, not wit – just looks.

Of course, the prince in said tales, along with his second cousin, the knight on a white charger, were handsome as well as fearless. But were they funny? Smart? Considerate?

And what if the princess or princess-to-be wasn’t that great looking, but she was fearless and funny? What if the prince or knight hated unnecessary violence (even with dragons), and preferred the company of smart and witty friends of both sexes over a beauty queen wanna-be? Much better story, don’t you think?

While my examples above are intended to be humorous, the reality is less so; following societal norms, fewer girls enroll in sports, and tend not to pursue studies (and thus careers) in fields requiring higher math and science skills. Boys, whatever their interest or physical build, are pushed into contact sports and discouraged from pursuing “feminine” pursuits, such as ballet or nursing. Women are criticized for acting “aggressively” in the workplace when they try to get ahead. Men are criticized for showing their emotions or for pursuing a nontraditional role, such as homemaker.

I believe that we are all diminished when we are told to act one way and not the other, based solely on our sex. We create inequalities in the workplace when certain occupations are deemed appropriate for one sex but not the other; it creates a situation similar to the “separate-but-equal” doctrine pushed by whites in the 1950s.

I believe both sexes–and society–are the losers when it comes to such stereotyping. This country needs leadership, courage and strength, but the need is at least as great for tolerance, tact and empathy. And none of these traits is uniquely feminine or masculine.

OK, so this isn’t your traditional “Men’s Issue” essay. Take it for what it’s worth. I hope the next time I issue a request for men’s input, you will consider responding.

But from my beloved father, who passed away too early, I learned that men aren’t just providers and protectors: they can be philosophers and Kleenex-wielders, teachers and supporters. And from the boys down the street, I learned that friendships needn’t run along traditional gender lines.

To our male readers, I hope you enjoyed this issue, and that you have a terrific summer, no matter how you define fun.