Different Gender Roles Learning Different Things From Different Genders

Ever since I was a young girl, I grew up blind to gender roles. I didn’t not think about what it would be like to not have both a male and female parent in a child’s life. In many modern children’s books and tv shows of my generation, it was not like old fashioned days when women were always seen cooking and cleaning while the men were bringing home the bacon. In my nursery school, both boys and girls played with kitchen sets, dolls and trucks. If women and men could do all sorts of things, why did people need both male and female role models?

In my family life, I never saw or was exposed to gender inequality. Both my parents worked when I was little. They were both attorneys. They both took care of me and shared household chores. But although they were equal in many ways, looking back I learned different things from each of them because they were different genders. Even though I admire them both, they both taught me things and helped me grow in ways the other one couldn't.That’s not to say that people growing up in a single family or family where the parents are the same gender will not have the same experience I did, but I’ve learned that having strong parental or adult role models from both genders can be important.

I live in a house with my mother, father, sister, and brother. But until recently, I discovered that not all people are given this package deal. To my surprise, only “23.5% of American homes supply both a mother and father.” (Review of Raising Boys Without Men, Boston University Today). That reveals to me that more than 75% of all children in the United States are growing up in a “non traditional family”. In this sense, a family that does not have either a mother or father like all families supplied hundreds of years ago. Living in a household with two parents has never seemed so special to me, but I can see that there are benefits to children having that upbringing. It is especially important for young boys. In the Boston University Today article the author, Vicky Waltz, gives an overview of Peggy Drexler's book “Raising Boys Without Men” and a short series or interview questions provided below. I discovered how boys growing up without a parent can affect their whole life, how adult men cope with the idea of not being “breadwinners” of the family, and how boys can be influenced by gender roles since they were infants. I never knew what children thought and heard at such a young age could affect their lives today and how they view the world.

Image via The Meaningful Life Center

The Waltz article shares with me information that I myself would never be able to experience. “No family can provide it all; children need many models and many attachment figures.” (Drexler) Parenting should not depend on gender, the fact of whether you are male or female does not depend on how strong your parenting skills are. But, it is hard for a boy to look up to someone who he doesn't have enough in common with. Looking up to someone is usually looking up to the person you want to become, and most young boys strive to become like their father instead of their mother.

Sutter Keely, the main character in the novel, “The Spectacular Now” by Tim Tharp, faces this dilemma. He lives in a world where he has no father figure to show him how to grow up to be a man. Instead, Sutter must invent himself and find his own destiny without the benefit of a male role model. In the novel, Sutter Keely was a drunk, a classic alcoholic who was living the classic popular kid high school dream. Partying, hanging out with his friends and girlfriend, the only problem was he was failing all of his classes --but he didn't care-- why should he? He had no positive male role model to step in and stop his downward spiral, and his mom was too busy providing to help. When his father left, it also ended his baseball connection, which had provided discipline and guidance. Without these support systems, he struggled to grow into a man.

This infographic shows how one out of three children in the United States of America are affected by the absence of their biological father in the house hold-- Image via Klear.com

And having a mom without a dad was not enough for Sutter. Each would have provided something different for him. “I don't believe in that - the husband and wife having to be just alike. I think it's better if they kind of offset each other. Like if they have these different dimensions they can bring to each other.” (“The Spectacular Now”)

Sutter built a life for himself that finishes after his high school career. After his partying high school days, he didn’t have any plans for the future. His drinking go in the way of his job, so he quit. All his friends and girlfriend moved on to college or jobs and Sutter was left behind. How does someone like Sutter end up in this position? Structure. Growing up without a father isn't an easy task. “No matter how great a mother is, she cannot replace what a father provides to a child. Irrefutable research shows that mothers typically are nurturing, soft, gentle, comforting, protective and emotional. Fathers tend to encourage risk-taking and to be challenging, prodding, loud, playful and physical. Children need a balance of protection and reasonable risk-taking.” (The Importance Of Positive Male Role Models, First Things First) Who are you going to throw the ball with, who will teach you how to ride a bike, take you to your first baseball game? Who would guide you through the difficulties of being a teenager and keep you from falling off the tracks?

This photo represents a father teaching his son to ride a bike for the first time and helping him learn, unlike this boy, Sutter had to learn on his own-- Image via Huffington Post

Sutter missed many important father-son milestones in his life that caused him to almost live a lie. Sutter feels the need to lie about his father for multiple reasons. What any reasonable person would assume is, he is embarrassed. No one wants to admit that their dad is an alcoholic who abandoned their whole family. But going beyond the surface, it's more than just embarrassment. Sutter invented an image of a powerful and important father who works in the tallest office buildings in New York. He made his father out to be a very important person, which shows that he wanted and needed a strong male role model. Sutter used the stereotypical image of the perfect father to fill the void in his life. Sutter laid pressure on himself that he must have the picture perfect dad. According to The Office of National Statistics, “79% of men work in offices”. Even the 21% of men that don't work in offices was too small for Sutter to associate his father with. But the truth was more tragic -- without even knowing his alcoholic father, he became him.

This heart warming photograph shows a little boy mimicking what he see's his father doing and learning from him-- Image via Pintrest

Unlike Stutters father, many fathers struggle to be the perfect dad. Making a sustainable income for your family and going to work everyday isn't easy. In the article, “Being the Family Breadwinner is Unhealthy for Men”, Christian Munsch, the assistant professor of psychology at UCONN is cited saying, “Men who make a lot more money than their partners may approach breadwinning with a sense of obligation, and worry about maintaining breadwinner status.” In other words, Munsch is stating that for most men, being the breadwinner is a lot of pressure and slightly a burden. Even though most men know of this unhealthy stress level, they believe it is their role to provide for their family. Their thinking could be for many reasons, how they where raised, their spouses beliefs, or even their own thoughts on the issue. Gender roles affected men’s metal state by suggesting that they must at all time provide for their families. If they don’t they and society will consider them failures. If this stereotype wasn’t around, I think it is safe to say that most people would live a more calm, free lifestyle.

This info graphic is showing how there is a high cost at working at a job that causes mass amounts of stress-- Image via CNN.com

Sutter Keely was an unfortunate boy, and it makes sense given his conditions. We are given building blocks to start our life. Without some of them, it's easy for our life to collapse. Sutter Keely was one of many boys who was unfortunate enough to grow up like this. Growing up with only one parent is something that affects many different aspects of your life. I think that the overall take away from my experience exploring the tough cruelty of a child growing up with only one parent, primarily boys, is that even in one parent families, children need both strong and interested male and female influences to grow up well balanced and secure.

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