Marriage is a hotbed of gender issues. In most marriages, the society expects that gender roles will be specifically adhered to. The premise is that following the strict code of gender roles, which ascribe different tasks and expectations for each gender, is the only way to guarantee a successful marriage. However, this is often not the case in most of the marriage institutions across the world. There is strong evidence to suggest adherence to gender roles in a marriage creates more friction than in relationships were the roles are approached in a more flexible manner.
My aunt and uncle are a Muslim couple living in Palestine. Like in most Palestinian households, my uncle is the breadwinner of the family. My aunt stays home all day taking care of their five children and carrying out other household chores. The family structure is similar to other households in the community, where the man goes to work and pays the bills while the woman takes care of the children and ensures that the home runs smoothly. The basic structure is meant to ensure a peaceful home and a harmonious community. The community believes that the roles prescribed to the men and women in a marriage will guarantee that their children will grow up well and become productive members of the society.
It is also assumed that the marriage partners are content with such an arrangement and would not have it any other way. However, my aunt and uncle do not seem happy with how their lives have been organized by societal expectations. For instance, my aunt does not feel fulfilled by staying in the house all day carrying out household chores. Her daily routine is eating at her probably because of the monotony involved so much so that it has become a source of constant argument between the couple.
Even my uncle does not seem pleased with maintaining the status quo of being the sole provider of the family. He is at work twelve hours a day every day and it seems to be sucking the life out of him. He comes home from work each day too exhausted to do anything but sit back and watch television. Even when he is at home, his family does not seem to notice his presence because he does not engage with his family members.
His wife is constantly complaining about his lack of interest in anything but the television when he gets home. Her complaints annoy him because he is doing the best he can for his family and when he comes home, all he wants to do is relax. It is clear that he would like to work fewer hours so that he could spend more time with his wife and children. Like every proud father, he wants to be physically present for all of his children’s milestones. However, the societal expectations placed on him are driving a wedge between him and his family, and he is missing crucial moments in his children’s growth.
The couple is also constantly arguing about how my uncle chooses to spend his day off. In line with the Islamic traditions, married women are not supposed to go out to leisure establishments without being accompanied by their husbands. For this reason, my aunt has to wait for my uncle’s day off so that he can take her out to enjoy the city. Unfortunately, my uncle would rather spend his days off watching television than accompanying my aunt to restaurants and amusement parks.
His refusal to accompany her on his days off has consequently become a constant source of friction for the pair. My aunt is further subjected to a life of boredom because her partner would rather sit on a couch all day watching television than take her out. Their relationship is falling apart because they do not spend quality time together, outside of the house, just the two of them.
Societal dictations on how women should behave restrain her ability to move around freely without her husband. If women in Palestine were accorded more freedom and social privileges, then my aunt would be able to go anywhere she pleased without having to drag her unwilling husband along. Furthermore, her husband would also allow her to go wherever she liked on her own without him having to constantly monitor her as the society expects him to do.
The situation has become so drastic that there are times when my aunt feels like she should get a job or else she will die of boredom. However, there is a problem with this idea; it will be taboo if she got a job outside the home. Like in most Islamic countries, the majority of Palestinian women do not work outside of the home. The underlying assumption in such societies is that the woman is meant to rear children, take care of them, and her husband. She has no other duty in the world other than take care of her family by cooking, cleaning, and bearing children for her husband.
Furthermore, her husband, considered the overall ruler of the household, would never allow her to get a job outside their home. If she were to get an official job that takes her out of the house for even short hours a day, his friends would surely laugh at him. The other men in the society may look down upon him because her getting a job implies that he can no longer provide for his family comprehensively. Providing for his family is his primary responsibility, and if he cannot do that, then he is regarded as useless or a lower man. Men in Palestine show off their masculinity by guaranteeing that their family is well catered to. Allowing a woman to help him with the bills will be telling the community that he is too weak to carry out his duties.
Her getting a job would also imply that he is no longer in charge of the household. He is supposed to be the decision maker, and the leader of the home. If his wife were to get gainful employment, then the society would naturally assume that he is no longer the head of the household. In such communities, the one who brings home the money i.e. the provider of the home is the head of the household. Having a wife who contributes to the upkeep of the family through monetary means insinuates that he shares the leadership of the home. Such a situation will attract ridicule from his peers and the rest of the society.
Another problem with her getting a job is what other people would think about her and her mothering skills. Many people, especially the older members of the society, would think she is a hard-headed woman who has watched too many Western movies for her own good and has no respect for her husband. Others will begin questioning her commitment to her husband and children. They believe that a working woman never has time for her family. Her assigned role is to take care of her family, and a job outside the home is merely a distraction. She is supposed to live at the whim of her husband, who is considered her master. Suffice to say that if she joined the workforce, she would not receive any meaningful support from her family members and her friends.
The society has also conditioned her, and many other women for that matter, that the home cannot survive if they are employed. She refuses to join the workforce because she believes that her household would collapse if she were away from the home for a few hours every day. She brushed the idea off claiming that it is impractical as there would be no one to take care of the house. What she does not see is if she got a job, even part-time, then her husband would work less. They could be able to share the household chores because everyone has less on their plate. In addition, they have five children who are more than capable of taking care of themselves and the home when she is away at work.
From the above, it is clear that my aunt and uncle are not as free and independent as they would like to be in their marriage. Freedom in a relationship is essential and it seems that gender roles tend to diminish the freedom of both partners. The myriad of gender issues in marriages of today actually contribute to the high divorce rates across the globe in recent decades. The roles ascribed to the sexes constrain them to a life of boredom (as observed by my aunt’s frustrations with her routine) and a lot of pressure (my uncle works long hours that prevent him from enjoying family life).
The situation has become so bad that they are constantly arguing even over the smallest things. Instead of promoting peace in such homes, gender roles are causing friction in most marriage institutions. Reshuffling the gender roles will give couples such as my aunt and uncle some breathing room and will help them nurture wonderful relationships without societal constrains. Gender issues and conflicts will also be eradicated as a result.