One of the biggest challenges facing America today is the muddled gender roles that we’ve created. Wait – that’s not really right. The muddled gender roles aren’t the root issue. The root issue is the inability and outright social unacceptability of creating your own role regardless of gender.
History of Gender In America
Let’s take a look at the past. Gender roles have been pretty consistent in American culture for the entirety of the history of our country until the 1950’s. Sure, there was an evolution of freedom and power that started earlier, but the roles themselves were still clearly defined. The woman stayed home and took care of the children and the man was responsible for providing for the financial and physical well-being of the family. Women’s jobs were to be the guardian of the relationships – men to be the guardian of the body/space/home. All of this stayed relatively stable from 1776 – 1950, and then the 60’s happened.
The 1960’s and Beyond
With the sixties came free love, war protests, and women in the workplace. (Well, to be fair, the “women in the workplace” seed was sown in the 1940’s with Rosie the Riveter and the war efforts.) The seventies brought the Enjolie woman who could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.” The 80’s ramped that Pollyannaish image up into a frenzy with the Yuppie craze and the image of the Supermom. And, now, finally in the first decade of the new millennium, we’re beginning to get realistic about what women can accomplish in a day without going completely insane.
Where Are The Men?
You’ll notice that I keep talking about women’s gender roles. This is because women’s gender roles are easy to track – we’ve been talking about them for more than a generation. But men’s roles have been shifting too and in remarkably undefined ways. Men have been shifting in relation to women, but no one has given them direction about how they are to change. Men have gone from being the “man of the house” responsible for everything, to being expected to take a back seat to Supermom, to being required to participate as a full partner these days. If I were a man, I’d have major whiplash by now.
Balancing The Scales
This process of women going from being subservient to being expected to be all-powerful, and then finding balance in the middle point is a classic process of change in any scenario where a change of mindset is required. We often swing to the opposite extreme before settling into a comfortable mid-point, just to allow ourselves to get our brains fully around both ends of the spectrum before we find a happy medium.
The Breakdown of Gender Roles
The challenge with this breakdown of gender roles is that many people in every generation have defined themselves strongly by their gender and this self-definition gave them at least part of their sense of purpose in the world. Those who didn’t want to explore a personal sense of purpose could at least buy into a gender purpose. But with the breakdown of those roles today, we are being forced to take on more responsibility for crafting our lives and our purpose in those lives.
No Education in Self-Definition
As I spoke about in Part III, we aren’t taught many of the basic skills required for critical thinking in school, and this includes any education on self-definition or the creation of one’s life purpose. In fact, the only people who learn anything about these skills in the traditional education system are people who study psychology – and they learn it not from a personal perspective but from a perspective of understanding others. So how is it that we as a culture expect our citizens to be able to formulate their own self-definition when no one has given us the tools to do so?
Lost and Alone
So what is left is a bunch of people foundering in a morass of expectations without definition, each one feeling that their experience is unique and they are in some way defective in not being able to figure out why they feel something is inherently missing in their lives. They feel out of control, lost, and alone – abandoned by their archetypal parent who has failed to help them define this area of their lives. This is the environment in which fear and anger blossom.
So, what is to be done? We are in a world where gender roles have broken down. In my opinion, this is a blessing. It provides a freedom of choice for both genders that has not existed in the past. But It is hard to choose when you don’t even know what your options are or how to define them. What we need now is some education on how to think and on what the possibilities and options are for the choices around who we want to be in the world now that we do have a choice. This means teaching people how to get to know themselves better. Perhaps, once we do this, we will find it easier to create a culture that takes responsibility for itself and for the effects that its choices have had on the environment and the world.
A Macro Look at the World: Part I – Revisioning Business
A Macro Look at the World: Part II – A Return to Tribalism in America
A Macro Look at the World: Part III – Think, People! Figure It Out!